Turbo-conservatism might be, however.
It‘s the talk among some pundits that conservatism is dead, after political hodgepodge Donald Trump presumptively won the nomination of the Republican Party.
Not so fast.
It is also fashionable nowadays to claim we need to stop wistfully harking back to Reagan. Maybe that’s partly true. Culture has changed for the worse since then. But he did manage to build huge coalitions, and they win elections. Success still speaks volumes today.
To start, let’s define conservatism basically as he did: (1) fiscal discipline, free enterprise, constitutionally limited government, and low taxes (economics and freedom); (2) moral standards (social); (3) and peace through strength (defense).
The need for these fundamentals is too great to conclude conservatism is dead.
What we need, however, are the right people to speak about it in the national media and implement it through legislation in the government.
First we need to get our bearings about our spokespersons.
1. Where are you on the right side of the political spectrum?
Let’s start with you and me and Reagan. Are you a moderate-centrist? A plain conservative? Or hard-core?
Reagan, a plain conservative (as am I), resisted conservatives on his right flank whom he labels in his autobiography: “Right wingers” (p. 153); “radical” (p. 171); “diehards” (p. 206); “hard core” (p. 322); and “ultra pure” (p. 322).
Let’s wrap them up into one term: turbo-conservatives.
People get this spectrum confused, and I believe this confusion is the source of the problem. It’s a sad fact that so many people (not all, by any means) who have access to the national media, particularly the radio mics, are actually turbo-conservatives, while they thunder. “I’m a Reagan conservative!”
No, it’s their brand of conservatism that is so ugly and repulsive. He would distance himself from them.
To quote Trump, “You’re fired!”
How do we change this bad image (moving beyond my fantasy of firing about
75% 90% of them)?
2. Conservatism is (or should be) all about people.
Do you sneer at “compassionate conservatism”? Don’t. We need it.
In the church culture where I have spent my adult life, a would-be leader needs to spend time with people before they take him seriously. If a hot-shot seminarian comes around spouting Bible verses, we don’t pay much attention to him until and unless he is willing to work in the Compassion Ministry and ladle out soup in the kitchen, distribute food in the park where the homeless hang out, and teach Bible studies to the unsophisticated.
The old slogan is true: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Said more relevantly to this post: people don’t care about how many arguments for conservatism or constitutionalism you know until they know how much you care for them.
Challenge: Have the national TV and radio pundits and politicians spent time literally ladling out soup in the Food Bank — even once in their life, not to mention once a month? Have they distributed food to the homeless in the park? (I don’t mean contribute money to charity only. Please do.) Have they done the nitty-gritty, dirty work without the national spotlight during the campaign? Or are they too busy strutting around like prima donnas and knocking people over to get in front of the camera?
(Yes, I have done this at various seasons in my life.)
While governor, Reagan actually showed up in person — in the barrios in East Los Angeles and into black neighborhoods and listened to them.
Turbo-conservatives wouldn’t dream of doing such things. Instead they thunder against “populism!”
Well, if populism = caring for ordinary people, then turbo-conservatives, both politicians and national pundits, and normal conservatives should embrace it.
One criticism against Romney is that he was perceived (wrongly) not to care about ordinary people, while voters believed (also wrongly) that Obama cared about them. Obama won.
It’s no good to say, “I care!” A politician or national pundit must actually show it and send out the vibe that he really does.
In today’s campaign Trump is always using American superlatives (we’re good at that), if not grammatically, then in spirit, to build people up. “The wonderful people of Indiana! I am sooo grateful! They’re great, great people!” It feels genuine.
And he relates to people: “Hillary talks about the West Virginia coal miners as if they’re not real people. Well, they are! She wants to shut down their industry! I promise to get it back! We’re going to win again!” Uplifting. Hopeful.
His vocabulary is limited, but then so are ordinary people’s vocabulary. Cruz went around telling his small campaign audiences how he’s the only conservative in the race. That was true, but making the case for conservative values was too abstract.
A recent book says politicians need to do retail politics in certain sections of swing states, if conservatism has any chance of succeeding in winning elections. True. But caring for people needs to be a way of life; it needs to get down into one’s soul.
With Trump’s caring vibe manifesting in populism, he just might defeat aloof, self-regal Hillary in November.
Formula: sincerely caring for humans = winning elections.
3. Incremental decrease in the scope and reach of government is the only way to succeed.
Reagan writes in his autobiography: “I never thought we could cut costs so fast that we’d balance the budget overnight. I knew it would take time. There were too many programs that people based their lives and businesses on; you couldn’t pull the rug out from under all of them at once” (p. 335).
Too many government programs on which people built their lives. Amazing. He wanted to trim them, but he had to do it gradually. A sharp contrast with today’s turbo-conservatives. They have gleefully shut down the government, just on purity of principle alone.
It is a true criticism that Trump doesn’t understand the national debt and the need for entitlement reform. But at least people are reassured that he won’t pull the rug out from under them — certainly not Social Security and Medicare (note the word “care” in Medicare). Irresponsible of him? Perhaps, but he may come around in his first term (if he wins) and conclude entitlements need incremental reform.
4. Winsome, attractive, friendly conservatives must represent conservatism.
In addition to the caring message, here’s what we need in the future from politicians who represent conservatism:
They are secure and comfortable in their own skin (Trump has this in spades);
They have lots of charisma, a nice smile; the “it” factor; not angry, but uplifting and hopeful (Reagan);
They’re intelligent, but not necessarily intellectual; they’re very effective speakers, without abstractions and big words (Trump has the small, concrete vocabulary down pat);
They think quick on their feet, before talk shows, debates, interviews, and town halls; not a lot of verbal gaffes (Cruz and Rubio were very articulate);
They reach out to centrists and build a Big Tent (Trump might be able to do this); they don’t needlessly offend voters (Trump might lose because of this).
They have great souls—titanic stature (Reagan again).
We won’t get all of these attributes in one person, but some would be enough.
Let’s wrap it up.
So far Trump is not the nominee to represent conservatism. We will have to wait four more years (if he wins).
Conservatism today, however we repackage it, is not dead. It can be appealing, if we get the right conservatives—the people—to represent it.
Gov. Reagan’s Secret Missions (his outreach to minorities)