Friday, February 02, 2007


Paul at Alien & Sedition has a terrific three-part report on the National Review Institute's Conservative Summit held in Washington last weekend. A theme throughout the summit (as elsewhere) is that the GOP lost in 2006 because conservatives weren't conservative enough. Paul reports that Ramesh Ponnuru disagreed, saying conservatives
... cannot politically survive unless they provide policies that directly benefit people. So much of what conservatives propose is said to have the potential for indirectly benefiting ordinary folks, but the public good is never really the main idea ... Republicans lost, Ponnuru points out, because Americans don’t believe that conservative ideas benefit them.
At least, not those with incomes below six figures. Another quote that gives the flavor of Paul's writing:
Conservatives are funny people. Judging by my experience at the Summit, they’re people who’ll applaud wildly as speakers rail against the “liberal elites,” then turn to each other to discuss their houses in the Hamptons and what a shame it is that “our class” have to pay taxes to subsidize health care for all those poor people, who don’t even pay tax. (I’m serious – I overheard these conversations.) Similarly, they seem to have trouble squaring the circle they create among ideology, self-interest, and the notion that what they do politically maybe ought to actually help people besides themselves.
It's a worthwhile and eye-opening series. I recommend reading all three parts.

Other comments from the summit offer some insight into where a successful politics might be headed. Steven M. Warshawsky at the conservative American Thinker praised Laura Ingraham for recognizing that conservatives might want to rethink their focus on Americans as consumers. He makes this very savvy observation:
I think her conception of politics as, in essence, a battle for the hearts and minds of the American worker is far superior to the usual Republican emphasis on the American consumer, which focuses more on what people are able to do with their money than on how they earn their money. While each person in this country wears the hats of both worker and consumer, the two concepts are not identical. Most Americans think of themselves, indeed define themselves, in terms of where they work and how they earn a living, not where they shop and what they buy.
James Pethokoukis at US News also quotes Ingraham:
"The party that comes off as the party that represents the American worker best is the party that wins in 2008," she said, adding that the GOP will be relegated to the political wilderness if it goes back "to being the party of the elites."
That is, "back to the country club," as she says in Raising Kaine's expanded quote. He fires back, "The Republican Party won't be GOING BACK to the 'country club' because it never LEFT the country club."

Ingraham's conservative friends were clearly taken aback by Sen. Jim Webb's response to the Bush SOTU. [h/t Taylor Marsh] Webb seems to have impressed them more than he did me (I thought he was solid, but unexciting), and the response left Ingraham sounding a bit apprehensive.

In my congressional district, bringing Reagan Democrats back to the party was critical to our victory in November, and the GOP would be wise to heed the signs that they are indeed "coming home." Democrats need to welcome them back, take lessons from Webb, and work all the harder.

Some messengers at the Conservative Summit have read the signs, but it's not clear how many of their followers actually had ears to hear.


Paul said...

Thanks for the kind words. The bit you cite from American Thinker is interesting - I've been meaning to write more about the conservative problem with using the role of consumer as a starting point for the definition of a just society. I was thinking more in terms of their failure to respect the full ramifications of citizenship - holding an equal stake in government, unlike the private sector where stakes are not equal. But you're absolutely right - it's also just as much to do with identifying Americans as workers.

I also noted your reference in a previous post to Hacker's book "The Great Risk Shift." I'm about to start reading it - looking forward to it. I wonder if it offers a way of talking about the anxieties that conservatives seem to be starting to detect, but which they can't seem to bring themselves to squarely address.

Anyway, thanks again, and great stuff here. I'm blogrolling you, if you don't mind.

Undercover Blue said...

Hacker nails the general anxiety/malaise problem pretty squarely. And as you saw at the summit, conservatives live in a world of their own imagining. His hits on their "personal responsibility crusade" are the high point.

I said all last year that they (especially the Bush hard core) have been walking around with their hands in front of their eyes for years. They know what's on the other side. They know the truth. They just don't want to look and face the disappointment.

We cannot win the debate by being the ones who forcibly pull their hands away and make them look. That makes us the bad guys. Our job is to make it easier for them to take their hands down themselves, and to walk away from this philosophy by their own choice.

And thanks. I'll return the blogroll favor.