To some, it makes no sense that a demonstrably right-of-center nation would elect a decidedly-leftist President. To others, it's perfectly understandable:
People are mostly motivated by fear, because their imagination can easily grasp the concept: Fear of Rejection, Fear of Abandonment, Fear of Need. You feel it, too, just reading it. It's visceral and real and it's Today and not tomorrow. Now. Reward that fear with an easy freedom from it, and you've got yourself some kind of Real Power. Magic.
Not that anyone can reasonably expect the Republican leadership to be strong exponents of conservatism. George W. Bush really wasn't any sort of conservative, "compassionate" or otherwise: he presided over massive increases in governmental power and even more massive increases in governmental spending, anathema to the political right. And by and large, GOP members of Congress were just as enthusiastic for pork-barrel projects as their Democratic counterparts.
The Republicans, of course, are badly fragmented: an uneasy mixture of "traditional-values" folks, deficit hawks, neocons, and Arlen Specter. You'd hardly expect a consistent voice, conservative or otherwise, from this bunch. It occurs to me, though, that the advancement of conservative ideas often comes from people who aren't thought of as conservative at all.
For instance, Noam Chomsky:
Chomsky's theory of a universal grammar not only revived the study of human nature but provided a model of how complex features of human society could be explained more generally. It instantly discredited behaviorism and has become part of the bedrock of the critique of social engineering. (Indeed, Chomsky describes his politics as an attack on social engineering as he perceives it.) Without Chomsky's watershed discovery, conservatives' belief in human nature would be only a postulate.
So says Austin W. Bramwell in The American Conservative magazine (11/03/08), and Chomsky is hardly alone. Consider Jane Jacobs:
When Jacobs wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities, urban planners, flush with federal dollars and enamored of modernist designs, were obliterating old neighborhoods in favor of thruways and high-rise apartment complexes. They never bothered to study how communities actually work. Jacobs did. The unplanned order of old buildings, mixed uses, and formal conventions, Jacobs argued, protects people from danger and makes decent lives for them possible. Urban renewal, by contrast, was immiserating its intended beneficiaries by depriving them of the organic features of real neighborhoods.
The list goes on. It may well be, as Bramwell argues, that "[o]nly the non-movement conservatives have managed to upset the intellectual consensus, for they speak to the intellectual establishment rather than at it." In which case, the Republican Party, as the ostensible home of American conservatism, is destined to find itself increasingly irrelevant as time goes on.
Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn said on the occasion of Barack Obama's election to the Presidency:
Conservatives will no doubt take the lead in opposing the excesses and over-reaching of a Democratic Congress that hasn't yet signed up for change. However, conservatives should be the first to accept the olive branch President-elect Obama has extended to the opposition and help him achieve results in the areas where we agree, such as the need to review the budget line by line and eliminate programs that don't work.
Please note that he didn't mention the Republican Party even once in those three paragraphs.
So is the answer a new political party? It might be. But I'm persuaded that we've just watched the pendulum swing to one side, and eventually we'll watch it swing back to the other. In the interim, expect both major parties to try to screw around with the laws of physics.
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Copyright © 2008 by Charles G. Hill