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The Republican Vision Cannot be Just the Conservative Vision

The one clear voice we keep hearing from conservatives -- who presume to act as if the Republican party is the "Conservative" party -- is that we need smaller government, for the purpose of greater freedom for citizens.

But is there any vision of what we citizens are? Is there a vision that Americans as individuals ought to adopt, and work towards, certain ideals?

On this, yes, we hear a number of things, such as: (a) honor our soldiers and police; (b) shoulder personal responsibility; (c) obey the law; (d) honor our country; (e) fulfill our promises and obligations to others; (f) donate to, and volunteer in the work of, charities that serve the poor; (g) support and vote for politicians who speak up for this list.

The problem with this "Conservative" list is that it is neither exciting nor inspiring. It does not call on citizens to be creative, inventive, or to explore into unknown possibilities. It is a list for people who are comfortable in life with things pretty much the way they are. Perhaps the deficiency in the list arises from the inherently narrow definition of what is a "charity." Basically, for conservatives, a charity is something that provides a little assistance to people to avoid the most catastrophic suffering, but not so much as to change society in a way that might raise up to a higher economic status whole groups of people.

I think that America is inherently unable to support a dominant "Conservative" majority -- this is the land of exploration, opportunity, and change.

Certainly the Republican party was not founded as a Conservative party. At its founding it was a revolutionary party, because it wanted the eventual end of slavery in North America, as territories entered the nation as free states and thereby eventually tipped the national balance to such a large free-state supermajority as to bring about an end of slavery by lawful Constitutional means. The Republicans led a Civil War to accomplish this, and then instituted efforts at integration known as Reconstruction. They also stood for development of the West, via railroads, and for development of other new technologies, which was led primarily by business.

Even through McKinley and T. Roosevelt, the Republicans were the party not of "conservatism" as listed above, but of exploration and innovation and out-reach. McKinley captured the former Spanish colonies; Roosevelt freed Panama, making possible the canal, and built the Great White Fleet and sent it around the world to signify expansionism; and he personally was a symbol of adventure and exploration -- witness his trips to Africa and South America.

The transformation of the Republican party into the "Conservative" party was really the work of Coolidge and Hoover. The country responded to that by electing Democrats for five Presidential terms and giving the Dems the House and Senate. After the uninspiring Truman, the country turned to the conqueror of Europe, Eisenhower -- and the conqueror of Europe is by definition an adventurous, expansionist figure. The fact that we look on him today as dull deceives us into seeing him wrongly. Truman and the Dems had gotten us in trouble in Korea and the country changed leaders to find a way to get out.

In 1960 both parties offered energetic young men, World War II junior officers, and the vote was so close that no great conclusions can be drawn based on differences between them. In 1964 the country resoundingly rejected the "Conservative" candidate, Goldwater.

While many would debate it, I think that the country chose Nixon in 1968 because the Democrats were responsible for the controversies of Vietnam protests and the M. L. King assassination riots; and chose Reagan in 1980 because Democrats were responsible for the problems with Iran, Russia, etc., as well as the economy.

In short, when given the choice between a party that stands for innovation and exploration, and one that stands for the list of conservative principles as I listed above, without also standing for innovation and exploration, the country chooses the party that stands for innovation and exploration, unless that party has been in office a while and the country has gotten into a major mess.

I think that this difference is symbolized in the academic credentials of the competing candidates. With rare exceptions, the Democrats ever since 1912 have nominated Presidential candidates who had tangible reputations for being superior in academics, going to or leading elite universities. These are people who, in their lives starting as young people, have demonstrated intellectual curiosity and intelligence -- people who have inquiring minds -- and who are, as a necessary aspect of that, somewhat detached from religious doctrines and denominations that have a reputation for telling people that they must think certain things because those things are written in an ancient book.

In an era in which practically all the mainstream journalists come from the same schools and evince the same intellectual mind-set, and in which even Hollywood TV and screenwriters more and more often have Ivy League degrees, it is becoming impossible for any candidate who lacks a similar personal history of intelligence and inquiry to gain any respect in the media. This is why Sarah Palin, as energizing as she was during the campaign and still is today, will never be able to achieve the level of intellectual respect that our national media demands of itself as well as of all political leaders.

In my opinion, the media is anti-Republican and anti-Conservative because the conservatives, and the Republican party they have dominated, do not really value intellectual inquiry and exploration, because at no point in the development of political leaders do they particularly gravitate towards, value, and nurture the political leadership development of young people who demonstrate those qualities. The press thinks that the leadership of the most powerful country in human history must be in the hands of the most intelligent, intellectually multi-faceted individuals.

And that, frankly, is the vision of our original founding fathers -- who, all of them, were such elite people of their day. Conservatives, who are so fond of quoting the Federalist Papers, ought to recognize that those papers were the product of the pre-eminent intellectual elite of their time. How, then, can people who call themselves conservatives so thoroughly dismiss a requirement for demonstrable intellectual achievement as a pre-requisite for serious consideration for national leadership? It is true that many Republican presidents have not had this background and yet have been very successful. But that does not justify sneering at the criterion as a generally-applicable rule.

Thus the Republican party must include some additions to the list of ideals, additions that are not part of the "Conservative" list but that are in the main compatible with their list. Foremost on the list of additions is the ideal that people have inquiring minds; that they pursue the highest level of academic and intellectual achievement that they can; that they actively look for nationwide defects and deficiencies in the way our society is structured, develop effective approaches to remedying those deficiencies, and seek to inspire the country to implement those approaches.

Some conservatives will argue that it is not the necessary role of a limited government to provide a broad vision for what an American should be. But it is human nature that peoples seek a vision of what kind of people they should be. Do conservatives want Americans to find this vision in their religions? What institutions, if any, do conservatives see as being valid sources of statements about what kinds of lives we should live?

My experience is that conservatives do not even recognize the problem. They do not see that peoples -- including the people that live within the boundaries of the US -- always seek someone to offer them a vision of how and why to live. They will seek this from whatever institutions happen to exist near them. And they won't be concerned that the documents that facilitated the formation of a particular institution might not have set-forth that role as being a role for that institution to perform. The demand of the people for a vision that makes life more meaningful will inevitably be satisfied, and they will accept and support the reshaping of institutions in order to get that leadership. I do not argue here that the people ought to do this, or ought not to do it; instead, I say that across human history and across the globe, this is what human populations actually do. And thus, those who fail to offer an inspiring vision will always lose.

Reagan described America as an inspiration to the world, a "City on a Hill." His doing this was not within the conservative definition of what the federal government is for. But conservatives are mighty glad he did that, because it made them look like people with an inspiring vision, too. Offering an inspiring vision must be a part of any successful political party. What the Republicans need now is someone with demonstrated intellectual achievement, an inquiring mind, who offers an inspiring vision.

If that kind of person is outside the boundaries of the kind of person "Conservatives" value and respect, then the Republican party must not be merely the "Conservatives'" party. It must reach out to a different kind of person, whom many Conservatives may find unsettling in certain respects. Success will not be found in looking around at the current leaders and constructing a definition of what constitutes an inspiring leader by starting with that person's resume, calling every element on that resume inspiring, and dismissing every element not on that resume as being unimportant.

-- written by Guest Poster Edward Sisson ("sissoed")


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Comments (20)

I don't know what the respo... (Below threshold)

I don't know what the response from the conservative folks to your post will be. But I just want to say thanks for a thoughtful, articulate statement of your point of view. Hopefully we'll get more posts like this from Jay Tea's replacement(s).

Wow! I have to say, this po... (Below threshold)

Wow! I have to say, this post is without a doubt, the longest bit of nonsense I have ever taken my time to read in the morning. Saying I totally disagree does not say it all. In fact, I would think this is a democrat posing as a republican. Sorry. ww

You are confusing conservat... (Below threshold)

You are confusing conservatives (in the modern sense), conservatives (in the old-world reactionary sense) and libertarians. From that follows incoherence.

Certainly, the Republicans are a political party, and as with all political parties, they exist only to win elections. As such, the Republicans, like any political party, cannot afford to be ideological. And indeed, the Republicans have been, since their inception, largely a party of Northeastern big-business interests. It is only with Goldwater, Reagan and Gingrich that we've seen the Republicans work towards smaller government.

"Leave me alone" is not an exciting vision of government, I grant you. But then, we don't have reality shows where married couples come on to say that, all things considered, yeah, they're doing OK and are pretty happy. Not "exciting" or "inspiring," but certainly to be preferred.

JFO likes it. That proves m... (Below threshold)

JFO likes it. That proves my point. Nice try. ww

Sophomoric reasoning, broad... (Below threshold)
David Marcoe:

Sophomoric reasoning, broad stereotypes, and the barest fragments of history strung together in a shallow interpretation that rivals the reasoning of a public high school civics student. You speak of intellectual curiosity and yet do not practice it. I will be making sure to link to this article so that others can laugh at it. Maybe that will motivate not to write ignorant drivel like this again.

I think the elitists - in p... (Below threshold)

I think the elitists - in politics, media and in academia have have gotten us in lots of trouble as a country - economically, culturally and philosophically. Too many have lost their common sense. They are too PC. Their sense of moral equivalency and seeming lack of faith is disturbing.
I guess that is why I still LOVE Sarah Palin and would be delighted to see her reappear on the national stage.

To add: If we expect a citi... (Below threshold)
David Marcoe:

To add: If we expect a citizenry to be "creative, inventive, or to explore into unknown possibilities," they should first be free to do so, correct?

And what about those boring morals? Honor, courage, loyalty, charity, heroism. A hunger for them runs deep in the human spirit and they've been the subject of ballads and epics for as long as there's been human remembrance. They are the pivot points of the titanic struggle between good and evil, as the great archetypes of heroes and villains fill our stories, even to this day. It is only a shallow mind and a tepid heart that does not find beauty in those things.

They are the substance of a good life and a healthy society; a solid moral/social foundation on which to build a country, a country where we value justice and justice and don't squander the liberty that our fathers gave us.

As conservatives, we trust that a free populace in a healthy society will use their own ingenuity to reach new heights. We don't need to "inspire" it from the halls of power. We let parents inspire it in their children, ministers in their congregations, and mentors in their pupils.

A free society is where exciting things happen (or did you miss the first first few hundred years of American history?). There is no legislative magic or social engineering that is going to "raise the economic status" of a person who is not first looking to work and make something of him or herself. Lemuel Haynes, Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, David Dunbar Buick (Buick Motor Company), Malcolm X, and a host of others never had this idea in their heads of the type of "charity" that you're talking about. Even for those who lived in times where they faced significant obstacles, like racism, the spirit of this country, which always aspired to its founding principles, gave them a chance and allowed them to rise on the merits of their character and accomplishments.

And let us speak of the intellectual elites among the Founders. Among the Founding Fathers, there was not one whose formal education extended past a middle school level. George Washington's stopped at about eighth grade. Benjamin Franklin ran away from home at sixteen, was a member of a self-improvement book discussion group as a young man, and would famously go on to accomplish a great many things; he became a publishing magnate; he was appointed Royal Postmaster to the Colonies (creating a mail system that's faster than our modern one); he retired to "purposeful leisure" and became a recognized inventor and scientist (the Franklin stove, bifocals, the lightening rod, an instrument called the Armonica...); he founded a university and the world's first public lending library. Thomas Jefferson, famously a self-educated man (who, by the way, recommended the Bible as an educational tool), eventually built a personal library of over six thousand books, which he sold to the federal government and would become the seed library of the Library of Congress. Degrees from elite universities do not make an intellectual.

We are a nation of bare-knuckle intellectuals. The American mind is no less vigorous, it just favors the eclectic, the practical, the common, and the experiential. Give me a common man with common sense, for even the most learned scholar becomes a fool when his intellect gives way to idle-minded insanity.

An aside, but how many of those ancient books have you read? Did you ever bother to study the moral philosophy or metaphysics of the Bible? Have you compared or contrasted the existential philosophy of Ecclesiastes against that of Sartre? Have you faced off against the nihilism of Nietzsche, the social thought of Hobbes, or the political philosophy of Machiavelli? Do you understand anything at all the Great Conversation of Western Civilization and the role of the classics?

Addendum: Conservatism isn'... (Below threshold)
David Marcoe:

Addendum: Conservatism isn't about "never wanting anything to change." First, it is about nurturing what is true and good. Second, it is about heeding the lessons of history and exercising prudence when making choices in society; kicking the tires and asking questions before we shiny new Change™. Third, it is about giving tradition--past wisdom, shared culture, and our collective identity--a place in society. And fourth, it is about having a solid foundation upon which to build, the difference between a house on sand and one on solid rock, so that each generation can add to the legacy and pass it on. It's the difference of giving them a mountain top on which to stand to reach for the clouds and dropping them out of an airplane without a parachute.

Purely IMO, but it's time f... (Below threshold)

Purely IMO, but it's time for some "style" lessons for the "guests"...

One para, then "the fold" - it's fair to say that the vast majority of readers don't have a steami'n cup o'joe waiting whilst they leisurly scroll down, so shorten the intro up a bit.

Second, writing "101" - in this format, tell, tell, tell. I've yet to see any of these "guests" write an opening that tells me what I'm going to see.

Here's a hint - if one can't make the topic du jour interesting in 5 lines, it's not likely to happen in 50... and this is the 'web, not "Introspectful Navel Gazing Monthly". Keep it interesting.


PS - was this for Wzbang Blue?

David, well said and here h... (Below threshold)

David, well said and here here.

Jess, you are correct. There is no doubt this poster is trying to parade as a republican but is really a democrat. Anyone with any sense knows conservatism IS the spirit of the country. The belief in the individual to achieve. It is the democrats that penalize success and inovation. ww

"I will be making sure to l... (Below threshold)
David Marcoe:

"I will be making sure to link to this article so that others can laugh at it. Maybe that will motivate not to write ignorant drivel like this again."

I apologize for that comment. It was a bit harsh.

"David, well said and here ... (Below threshold)
David Marcoe:

"David, well said and here here."

Thank you. And I did all that on a high school education.

Good stuff, David. Anything... (Below threshold)

Good stuff, David. Anything I add would be redundant. I can't recall a characterization of conservatism so far off the mark than Edward Sisson's post. Quietly allowing the liberals to define us has been an error and this string of cliches leaves little doubt that we have not been successful at authoring our own lexicon, to which the Constitution would be the key. Indeed, the classical has been ignored, limiting our participation in the conversation.

I apologize for that com... (Below threshold)

I apologize for that comment. It was a bit harsh.

Perhaps, but something must occur to make Mr. Sisson a bit more conscientious. Sheesh.

Edward, I give you props fo... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

Edward, I give you props for a well written editorial.

I do not have time for a full response this morning as you have touched on so many issues, but here are a few thoughts.

1) Your premise that "Republican" equals "conservative" and that the Republican party is dominated by conservatives patently wrong. The cadre of conservatives in the Republican party is a small one. The party is currently dominated by the country-club elite types you praise. George Bush is a well-educated man who is no friend to conservatism. Virtually every wrong the Republican party committed during the last eight years stems from appeasing Democrats or those beholden to Democrats.

2) Your definition of conservatism is quite narrow. David Marcoe said it well. Conservatism distilled in a nutshell means freedom. Conservatives believe in the absolute necessity of property rights as an essential element of freedom. For one to take the bread from the mouth of the person who earned it and give it to another is unjust. To distort the Constitution so that private property is forcibly transferred from its rightful owner to the rich and powerful is also grossly unjust. The concept of ownership is intuitive and easily grasped. Unfortunately, Republican allegiance to this ideal is chiefly devoted to lip service.

3) Your definition of education is also narrow. The state of elite college institutions is a joke. Leftists such as Ward Churchill, Bill Ayers, and Peter Singer are given high praise and nearly unlimited leeway for the sole purpose of anti-American indoctrination. Western Civilization classes are all but banned. Traditional education is dead. It is no comfort for our potential leaders to boast of ivy league educations.

Our K-12 institutions are in a woeful state and heading the same direction as the colleges. So-called intellectuals continually assert that we should be more like Europe. To wit: Britons are losing their grip on reality, according to a poll which shows nearly a quarter think Winston Churchill was a myth, while the majority reckon Sherlock Holmes was real.

Don't worry, we're getting there.

BTW. Barack Obama promised ... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

BTW. Barack Obama promised change and innovation. His idea of innovation is to resurrect the New Deal WPA from the 30's. Good thing he got that ivy league education. Sheesh. We're in trouble.

Now that's customer (reader... (Below threshold)

Now that's customer (reader) service!


I think you are mistaking c... (Below threshold)

I think you are mistaking conservatives for neo-cons.

The piece is laughable on i... (Below threshold)

The piece is laughable on it's face. You've created on strawman and then spent 1000 words batting it down.

Republican != conservative. This years Republican presidential candidate was not very conservative, which is you might have noted the luckwarm response from conservatives when he cinched the nomination. So to pose this election as a choice between a conservative party and a party of "exploration and innovation" is bogus at best.

The fundamental question that you've walked right passed is "What's the proper role of government?". To answer that question, you first need to answer the question, "What's the reason government exists?". I suggest the Founding Father's had it right and that re-reading the Declaration of Independence should help you on your quest.

Perhaps the argument presen... (Below threshold)

Perhaps the argument presented might be reasonable if the writer knew the fundamental principles of Conservatism.

As for 'progressive thought', there are numerous intellecuals who do really stupid things such as, using the power of government to force irrational premises for example anthropological global warming; only an insane twit could ever think they can control the weather.

A wise person knows that they would never consider intellectualism as a sign of great thinking; a wise person would never accept they are intellectual.

My experience is that conservatives do not even recognize the problem. They do not see that peoples -- including the people that live within the boundaries of the US -- always seek someone to offer them a vision of how and why to live. They will seek this from whatever institutions happen to exist near them.

This is why dictators, plutocrats, kleptocrats, Democrats make it their business to keep people stuck on their slave plantations from cradle to grave.

The author might wish to revisit this argument with these very valid question in mind:
The fundamental question that you've walked right passed is "What's the proper role of government?". To answer that question, you first need to answer the question, "What's the reason government exists?". I suggest the Founding Father's had it right and that re-reading the Declaration of Independence should help you on your quest.

If you understand the basic concept that Government Enslaves or rather, Government is the Problem and not the Solution then perhaps you might understand Conservatism.






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