Theatrical politics misrepresent majority of conservatives

The conservative “silent majority” best regain control of the Republican Party

Jake Meador

In 1969, newly-elected President Richard Nixon, proving that even blind squirrels find nuts once in awhile, spoke of a âÄúsilent majorityâÄù âÄî a group of Americans who were not part of the counterculture, who werenâÄôt attending Vietnam War protests. They were a group ignored by the mainstream because the more extreme minority was significantly more vocal and more prone to headline-grabbing antics. Nixon thought most Americans tended toward less theatrical politics. Such an observation may turn out to be timelier in 2009 than 1969. As many have documented, the American civil square has degenerated into a not-so-distant cousin of pro wrestling where the winner is determined solely by their level of noise and vitriol. Whoever screams the loudest wins with bonus points for over-the-top antics or a kick-ass slogan. If we could take anything from the August town halls, surely that is it. This tendency has been especially alarming for the Republican Party, where the fringe has been taking over for at least the past two years. To be fair, every political faction has a redheaded stepchild on its fringe. Generally, these groups are ignored and on the rare occasion theyâÄôre addressed, itâÄôs in an unmistakably critical way. On the even rarer occasion that such a group does find itself in the mainstream âÄî such as the recent reports that Obama-appointed czar Van Jones signed a Sept. 11 conspiracy document âÄî the reaction is predictably swift and severe. Jones, for better or worse, resigned his post shortly after the story broke. So we have people on the fringe who sometimes find their way into the mainstream before outing themselves one way or another. ThatâÄôs typical. WhatâÄôs atypical about the current Republican quagmire is that the fringe has taken over. Thoughtful, reflective conservatives such as Colin Powell, Rod Dreher, Wendell Berry and Ross Douthat are shouted down by the juvenile name-calling of âÄúleadersâÄù like Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. Indeed, this strand of the American right seems almost proud of its extreme status, trying to equate hate-based paranoia with conservatism. Yet, I donâÄôt think the majority of American conservatives fit this profile. Rather, weâÄôre a new (much too) silent majority. Most of us are not so myopic as to ignore or flippantly dismiss those who disagree with us. We read magazines we disagree with and âÄî shocking as this may be âÄî we actually know their names. Moreover, weâÄôre just as skeptical of big business as big government. As Dreher writes, âÄúsmall and local and old and particular are to be preferred over big and global and new and abstract.âÄù We are not ready to sacrifice human beings to that great god of the other conservatives âÄî The Laissez-faire, the Free Market (praise its name). To state it more positively, weâÄôre still conservatives. In fact, weâÄôre conservatives in the purest sense of the word âÄî not in the George W. Bush sense of the word in which you spend money just as irresponsibly as the Democrats but with a bloodier, more invasive end game. WeâÄôre conservative because we desire to conserve that which matters most. WeâÄôre content to emphasize small things like growing local food, valuing family and local relationships and pursuing sustainable lifestyles. In short, weâÄôre a new counterculture in a nation gorging itself on consumerism. We want to conserve what Russel Kirk called the âÄúPermanent Things.âÄù These are intangibles that canâÄôt be assigned a market value âÄî family connection, humility and beauty. WeâÄôre skeptical of extensive government spending because weâÄôve seen too much money wasted already âÄî money that couldâÄôve been used in more life-giving ways by the individuals and families who earned it. And while we value national security, weâÄôre not naive enough to think that sacrificing all our principles can guarantee it. WeâÄôre what Dreher calls âÄúCrunchy Cons,âÄù âÄî âÄúBirkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip home schooling mommas and right-wing nature lovers.âÄù And there are a lot of us. Yet for whatever reason, the Republican Party has abandoned us. TheyâÄôve opted to appeal to the fringe, like a doting parent incapable of telling their spoiled 5-year-old âÄúno.âÄù Of course, when the parent does that itâÄôs not just the child theyâÄôre hurting. TheyâÄôre hurting the entire family by subjecting them to the immature and foolish whims of a tantrum-throwing hellion whose chocolate frosting-stained lips prove they want to have their cake and eat it, too. This is precisely what has happened to the Republican Party in recent years. When the fringe tried to take them down a path of racism, paranoia, fear-mongering and incoherence, the Republican brass let them. And when more reasonable types like Powell or Kathleen Parker spoke up, the RNCâÄôs leaders were silent while the fringe turned away from their leftist opponents just long enough to open fire on more reasonable conservatives who had the gall to point out that the emperor has no clothes. Now this fringe group, who once was relegated to the world of AM talk radio, has found its way into elected office through politicians like Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who apparently wants to slit her wrists and form a blood covenant with other representatives to stop health care. I wish I were making that last bit up. The consequence is that the Republican Party has become a runaway train conducted by pre-pubescent children blissfully unaware as they shatter sign after sign warning the bridge ahead is out. The choice presented to Republicans, then, is simple: They can either let the children have their way as they satiate themselves with juvenile histrionics and consumerist excess, or the RNC leadership can kick out the current child conductors and plot a new course characterized by commitment to truly conservative principles of simplicity, family, humility and a truly abundant, joyful life flowing from those values. If they opt for the former, the Republican Party will continue its slide toward irrelevance, gradually becoming no different than the many far-right parties of Europe characterized by a hateful, paranoid base (The only difference is ours have guns.) But maybe, just maybe, if we opt for the latter, we can move toward healthier politics characterized by personal integrity and a principled attempt to conserve KirkâÄôs âÄúPermanent Things.âÄù This column, accessed via UWire, was originally published in the Daily Nebraskan at the University of Nebraska. Please send comments to [email protected]