There was a time, not so long ago, when I felt great affinity with a certain type of conservatism, the Burkean, Kirkean, variety that valued family and community, that favored a human- and humane- scale to things, that viewed bigness, whether corporate or governmental, with suspicion.
That kind of conservatism, though it endures in certain hideouts like The American Conservative magazine, is invisible in power politics. It has been replaced by the politics of predatory capitalism, by the Randian world of “makers and takers”, by the sort of heartless policies that would break up families to deport undocumented workers and slash social programs while giving tax breaks to millionaires. The prophets of profit have taken over.
Some would say that Ron Paul represents this more decent sort of conservatism, but that is inaccurate. While Dr Paul has the folksy charm and the ill-fitting suits of traditionalist conservatism, this is wed with a vicious economic ideology that offers no protection to the poor and workers from the effects of unregulated capital. He may have the style in spades, but he lacks the substance.
The newer and meaner conservatism has found, in many ways, the perfect candidate in Willard “Mitt” Romney. Born to wealth, he then “earned” a bigger fortune not by creating goods or services but by manipulating money with no goal but profit. He seems intent on acting like a caricature of the Clueless Rich Guy, the one who views the peasants with disdain. And the peasants are reacting as they should.
It is too early to pronounce a winner; the debates are yet to be aired, and any number of things can still sway those relatively few voters who can still be swayed. But if things continue as they are Romney is going to lose. You can sense the desperation on the Right, in the fevered pronouncements of the talk show pundits: they know they are in trouble. Rush Limbaugh predicts the “end of the Republican Party” if Obama is reelected; in his view it will split, with a third, more conservative party emerging.
But other, more thoughtful types are rethinking the direction the conservative movement has taken. I linked to Michael Gerson’s remarkable editorial a few days ago. And now David Brooks has weighed in, saying “Some people blame bad campaign managers for Romney’s underperforming campaign, but the problem is deeper. Conservatism has lost the balance between economic and traditional conservatism. The GOP has abandoned half of its intellectual ammunition. It appeals to people as potential business owners, but not as parents, neighbors and citizens.” Read the whole column here: http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_21628164/david-brooks-conservative-mind
A caveat: both of these writers refer to Catholic social teaching as something the Right needs to return to. While it may occasionally overlap with it, I don’t recall that tradition as ever having been particularly influential on conservative thought.
Personally I would welcome the parting of ways on the Right; let the Limbaughs and Hannitys and Levins form their own squadron in the fever swamps. And I would welcome the renewal of traditionalist conservatism. Not that I would be tempted to join them, but at least I would feel like we inhabit the same moral planet. The GOP today is the party, not of Kirk’s “permanent things”, but of war and capitalism.
It seems like nothing if not the enemy of humanity.