Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Kesler on ’08 and the Search for Conservatism

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."

Discussions - 7 Comments

"I will say that I am not nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races: that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters of the free negroes, or jurors, or of qualifying them to hold office, or to intermarry with white people. I will say in addition that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I suppose will forever forbid the two races living together upon terms of social and political equality, and inasmuch as they cannot so live that while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, that I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position being assigned to the white man." - Abraham Lincoln

Who wants to take up the cause of destroying this wise guy who thinks he's discovered some new stick to beat Lincoln admirers over the head with here? Because it's got nothing to do with my post above I should, perhaps, ignore it. But I'm not of a mind to let Lincoln be smeared at Christmas! Shall we start by observing that Lincoln did not say that he would not ever be in favor of those things . . . only that he was not in favor of them at the time he said it or at any time in the past. And this would have something to do with prudence and possibility and preserving the conditions that made freedom for blacks a more likely outcome than not.

Julie,


I take it you're not a fan of the "do and say what's right, even if it hurts" view?


Sounds more like you're a fan of the "Sceretly believe what's right, but only outwardly express your true beliefs when it won't hurt" view.

In her defense, Judd, I'd say Julie is a proponent of being effective rhetorically when one is shouldered with the enormous responsibilities of the presidency of the United States, as was Lincoln. She's against posturing; not truth-telling. "Rhetoric is the art of putting the truth in the most persuasive light." - Dr. John Senior

If we can leave Lincoln (who I also admire) I would like to actually comment on the post! At least one reason conservatives can't unite is a disconnect between the people and the Republican establishment. The party leaders want a candidate who will be conservative in the economic and military arenas'. However, many of the rank and file conservatives are concerned with more than this. Thus, while many "conservatives" try to push economics and the war, a great deal of the electorate is looking for a candidate who has a moral base. As a case in point, one can look at the last governor election in Ohio. The party leaders backed Petros. After the people of the party rejected him, to much damage and lost time had passed to get Blackwell up and running. The party should quite saying "anyone but Hillary" and back a social conservative that morally conservative people can vote for. Thus, the non-socially conservative candidates will lose the base of the party, just like Petros did in Ohio. If we need to uninte, then the party needs to back a socially conservative person. Only division awaits if the party doesn't.

Thanks Gary. You said it better that I could have done.

I think I follow you, Brutus. But maybe we can think about Lincoln here again . . . less in terms of whether we agree or disagree with what he did but more in terms of how he was able to accomplish what he did. He had to pull together some pretty discordant elements within the GOP too! There's some lessons there.

Gary and Julie,


So "being effective rhetorically" means publicly proclaiming the exact opposite of what you believe, on an as important issue as human bondage? I don't see how it's possible to be anti-slavery in thought, but pro-slavery in rhetoric. The two don't mix.


And as for Lincoln pulling together the party...It only happened after a civil war and + 600,000 deaths. If that's the price of party unity, I want none of it.


Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, from one NLT reader to another.

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