April 26 2013
The Conservative as Revolutionary
In “Against the New Normal,” The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol touches on an interesting new phenomenon. Conservatives now find themselves in the awkward position of advocating upset, revolution, and the overthrow of the status quo. The “new normal” nourished by the Obama Administration and the progressives consists in a stagnant economy, broken families and communities, swelling welfare and food stamp roles, and increasing uncertainty in face of domestic terrorism. In short, in this political landscape, conservatives must be revolutionaries:
There are times when the conservative party ought to be and has to be the party of normalcy, standing against utopian or destructive or foolish change. But there are times—and this is one of them—when a modern conservative party has to be the party that refuses to accept what is said to be normal. This is a time for a serious political party to point out that the new normal is merely a new excuse by the powers-that-be for their deficiencies and failures.
As Kristol illustrates, this new role for the modern conservative party is hardly second-nature. Revolutionaries have to be visionaries: they must inspire change by describing a world that does not exist presently, but that could be just around the corner. They must give voters sufficient hope in a better future to convince them to trade what is familiar for what is possible.
Kristol concludes “The historic task of American conservatism is not merely to defeat the liberal party in the next election…It’s to refuse to accept, to boldly challenge, and to fundamentally reverse, an enervating ‘new normal’ that would acquiesce in American decline and say farewell to American greatness.”
Overthrowing the “new normal” requires both critique and vision. Conservatives are great at the former, but lousy at the latter. Widespread discontent with the modern welfare state fails to result in support for positive reform. Education is the perfect example: the public is in overwhelming agreement with conservatives that the public school system is an abject failure. Yet no one has a clear understanding of what success would look like. With healthcare reform, the Administration’s monstrous bill continues to be unpopular. Instead of converting this dissatisfaction into votes with a clear, inspiring alternative, conservatives let themselves be cast as supporters of the health care status quo, a position just as unpopular as the Administration’s.
It will not do for conservatives to pine for the way things used to be. Millenials have no memory of the Reagan years. The majority of voters have no experience with pre-Great Society America. Conservatives must illustrate what freedom, self-rule, and a robust economy would look like. At this point, they must channel Bobby Kennedy and “dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”