What is the most obvious question to which the 2008 Presidential election points but, it appears, we’ve all been too timid to ask? Charles Kesler is not afraid to tell us in the latest issue of the Claremont Review of Books.
The reason it seems that Republicans cannot make up their minds about who to choose for their nominee is simple:
Republicans lack a clear criterion by which to make up their mind. Not so long ago, that standard would have included a definition of conservatism—ragged at the edges, but still serviceable. But American conservatism’s meaning, even in its heyday never uncontroversial, is less clear today. And the implications of that meaning—where conservatism should go from here—are more up in the air than at any time since the movement’s founding in the 1950s.
Kesler argues that conservatives have lost focus since the end of the cold war and have been turning inward . . . trying to resolve those unanswered questions from our "founding." This has left us with a cache of candidates trying to "reinvent" conservatism or "recast" it in terms that appeal to today’s conservative voter (whatever that means). The problem is, we don’t much like their offerings--at least not in numbers sufficient to give us a clear front-runner. As Kesler puts it:
The problem is that Republican voters don’t recognize any of these trial versions of conservatism as the real deal, a distillation of American principles for our time; and they’re right.
The problem is that we’re fighting each other . . . it is a fight that, perhaps, was inevitable and maybe even necessary. It’s come to a head because we’re not focused enough on a common enemy. Why we’re not so focused is, in a sense, beyond me. It’s not as if we don’t have one (or a dozen). But convincing some people that there are bigger problems in this world than neo-conservatives or, even, paleo-conservatives (!) is not so easy to do. This is not good . . . because (as Kesler also notes) "[i]n the meantime . . . there is a president to nominate and elect."