The End Of Conservatism?

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on May 20, 2009

Lee Edwards asks whether conservatism as we know it is coming to an end. The answer is likely “yes,” but conservatism as we know it is always coming to an end–which basically just means that it is always changing to meet the changing political conditions. One might say as well that “liberalism, as we know it, is coming to an end.” Ideological movements are constantly in flux, there are neither any permanent political victories, nor are there permanent political defeats, and because fortunes can change ever so quickly, the winners of the moment cannot afford to be complacent, while the losers of the moment can take heart.

Edwards goes on to detail many of the advantages conservatism continues to enjoy, advantages that may help conservatives return to power. He is quite right to do so, but in fairness, it must be added that unless conservatives are able to recruit good candidates to run for public office, all of the built-in advantages of the movement are not going to amount to a hill of beans. Ideas are nice and wonderful things, and without them, political successes simply cannot be had. But ideas cannot get elected. Only people can do that. I have long believed that part of the problem with the center-right in general and the Republican party in particular is that the best of the lot end up going into the private sector, because people who are part of the center-right are led to believe (correctly, in my view) that the best things for the general advancement of humankind are done in the private sector. The thing is, however, that in order for the private sector–and by extension, society–to thrive, policies must be implemented at the governmental level that will keep government small, and remove unnecessary burdens from the private sector.

To keep government honest, we need center-right politicians with A+ skills to go into government and fight the good fight. Since many of these people end up going into the private sector instead, we oftentimes send our B team into the thick of political battles against Democrats whose ambition was and is to be in government (an unsurprising ambition, given the Democratic belief that government is a force for good). I think that our crowd has the better ideas, but too often, we see that they don’t have the right skill set to put those ideas into action, and get outmatched by Democrats who have those skill sets up the wazoo. Result? Losses for the conservative movement.

Is the above something of an oversimplification? Perhaps. But I won’t shy away from the general proposition that more of our A+ folks need to be urged to get into public service–at least for a while, and plenty need to stay in for a good long while to ensure that good center-right policies don’t get undone (yes, I know that the longer people stay in power, the more corrupt they may be apt to be, but at the same time, I don’t want some center-right politician to just stick around for a couple of years, leave, and then have all of his/her good works get overturned). Only by having top-notch people in the political arena will conservatives be able to make use of all of the residual strength the movement continues to have. Without quality candidates, however, the next time Edwards or someone likes him takes stock of the conservative movement, he/she may find that the very foundations of the movement crumbling.

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