Where should conservatives be?

P.J. O’Rourke offers an acerbic template, and he views a conservative America as a “land of freedom and responsibility, knowledge, opportunity, accomplishment, honor, truth, trust, and one boring hour each week spent in itchy clothes at church, synagogue, or mosque.” His thesis is that we had the opportunity to move the country in that direction and we blew it, and it’s a thesis I agree with. In one sense, we didn’t lose by much, but in another, we lost by a lot. The election of Barack Obama sealed the deal on the Southern Strategy:

Since then modern conservatism has been plagued by the wrong friends and the wrong foes. The “Southern Strategy” was bequeathed to the Republican party by Richard Nixon–not a bad friend of conservatism but no friend at all. The Southern Strategy wasn’t needed. Southern whites were on–begging the pardon of the Scopes trial jury–an evolutionary course toward becoming Republican.


There was no need to piss off the entire black population of America to get Dixie’s electoral votes. And despising cracker trash who have a laundry hamper full of bedsheets with eye-holes cut in them does not make a man a liberal.

Blacks used to poll Republican. They did so right up until Mrs. Roosevelt made some sympathetic noises in 1932. And her husband didn’t even deliver on Eleanor’s promises.

Kiss 11% of the electorate goodbye for another generation. We we are going down a similar road with Hispanics by our wrong-headed approach on immigration:

Our attitude toward immigration has been repulsive. Are we not pro-life? Are not immigrants alive? Unfortunately, no, a lot of them aren’t after attempting to cross our borders. Conservative immigration policies are as stupid as conservative attitudes are gross. Fence the border and give a huge boost to the Mexican ladder industry. Put the National Guard on the Rio Grande and know that U.S. troops are standing between you and yard care. George W. Bush, at his most beneficent, said if illegal immigrants wanted citizenship they would have to do three things: Pay taxes, learn English, and work in a meaningful job. Bush doesn’t meet two out of three of those qualifications. And where would you rather eat? At a Vietnamese restaurant? Or in the Ayn Rand Café?

There goes 12% of the electorate. Obama and McCain had similar positions on immigration legislation, but Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Obama. Why? Perhaps because McCain is a Republican, and Hispanics are repulsed by the positions taken by a good number of Republicans. O’Rourke’s takes on immigration and social issues are more libertarian, and they should be conservative positions. It is intellectually inconsistent to call for a smaller, less intrusive government while at the same time calling for larger, more intrusive bureaucracies. On immigration, I think we should have comprehensive reform to recognize the fact that around 12 million are here illegally. I don’t know if O’Rourke and I are in synch on policy, but I think our attitudes toward immigration are.

On abortion:

If the citizenry insists that abortion remain legal–and, in a passive and conflicted way, the citizenry seems to be doing so–then give the issue a rest. Meanwhile we can, with the public’s blessing, refuse to spend taxpayers’ money on killing, circumscribe the timing and method of taking a human life, make sure parental consent is obtained when underage girls are involved, and tar and feather teenage boys and run them out of town on a rail. The law cannot be made identical with morality. Scan the list of the Ten Commandments and see how many could be enforced even by Rudy Giuliani.

Personally, I’m pro-life and I think Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, but conservatives need to spend more time persuading than legislating. We can do some common-sense things on the margins, but that’s about it.

O’Rourke derides the GOP for participating in the growth of government and our approach toward taxes:

Anyway, a low tax rate is not–never mind the rhetoric of every conservative politician–a bedrock principle of conservatism. The principle is fiscal responsibility.

Conservatives should never say to voters, “We can lower your taxes.” Conservatives should say to voters, “You can raise spending. You, the electorate, can, if you choose, have an infinite number of elaborate and expensive government programs. But we, the government, will have to pay for those programs. We have three ways to pay.

“We can inflate the currency, destroying your ability to plan for the future, wrecking the nation’s culture of thrift and common sense, and giving free rein to scallywags to borrow money for worthless scams and pay it back 10 cents on the dollar.

“We can raise taxes. If the taxes are levied across the board, money will be taken from everyone’s pocket, the economy will stagnate, and the poorest and least advantaged will be harmed the most. If the taxes are levied only on the wealthy, money will be taken from wealthy people’s pockets, hampering their capacity to make loans and investments, the economy will stagnate, and the poorest and the least advantaged will be harmed the most.

“And we can borrow, building up a massive national debt. This will cause all of the above things to happen plus it will fund Red Chinese nuclear submarines that will be popping up in San Francisco Bay to get some decent Szechwan take-out.”

Yes, this would make for longer and less pithy stump speeches. But we’d be showing ourselves to be men and women of principle. It might cost us, short-term. We might get knocked down for not whoring after bioenergy votes in the Iowa caucuses. But at least we wouldn’t land on our scruples. And we could get up again with dignity intact, dust ourselves off, and take another punch at the liberal bully-boys who want to snatch the citizenry’s freedom and tuck that freedom, like a trophy feather, into the hatbands of their greasy political bowlers.

McCain was clearly on the side of fiscal responsibility before he ran for president, and he never sold me on continuing all of the Bush tax cuts. He may have had to take that position during the primaries, but he didn’t have to make it a focus in the presidential run. I don’t know about other conservatives, but I worry less about tax rates and more about a permanently imbalanced budget and an ever-growing national debt.

On free markets:

What will destroy our country and us is not the financial crisis but the fact that liberals think the free market is some kind of sect or cult, which conservatives have asked Americans to take on faith. That’s not what the free market is. The free market is just a measurement, a device to tell us what people are willing to pay for any given thing at any given moment. The free market is a bathroom scale. You may hate what you see when you step on the scale. “Jeeze, 230 pounds!” But you can’t pass a law making yourself weigh 185. Liberals think you can. And voters–all the voters, right up to the tippy-top corner office of Goldman Sachs–think so too.

We, the conservatives, who do understand the free market, had the responsibility to–as it were–foreclose upon this mess. The market is a measurement, but that measuring does not work to the advantage of a nation or its citizens unless the assessments of volume, circumference, and weight are conducted with transparency and under the rule of law. We’ve had the rule of law largely in our hands since 1980. Where is the transparency? It’s one more job we botched.

You can’t have free markets without rule of law and sufficient transparency to allow oversight. The bottom line is that most people live their lives conservatively, so the O’Rourke brand of conservatism should not be a stretch for a majority of Americans. But this means that the leaders of the conservative movement need to change their priorities. It should be about freedom, free markets, rule of law, individual rights and fiscal responsibility.