Thoughts on Rebuilding: The Dead Wood

As most of you know, I, several of us here for that matter, am a signer of Rebuild the Party. I have not written much about it here because too many people initially attributed it to me, but it is very much Patrick Ruffini’s idea. I did not want to start blogging about it and bolster an unfounded claim to it.

Now that some time has passed, let me share my thoughts indirectly on rebuilding. I’m dealing with the party indirectly in this post and will deal with it more directly later. I agree with Patrick’s ideas and gladly gave input to the document. But I think there is more to it and I want to be candid, frank, and honest with you all. In short, while we are rebuilding the party, let us not forget to rebuild the conservative movement.

One of the greatest failures of the conservative movement in the past decade was to join itself to the Republican hip. By necessity, conservatives and Republicans are linked, but they are not nor must they be the same thing.

Politicians are about politicians. Conservatives are about the advancement of freedom. There are too few politicians out there who would, when faced with the choice, put the advancement of the movement ahead of their personal advancement. Those that do put the movement ahead of themselves are often marginalized or ignored inside the party. And too often, the movement latches on to those who talk the talk, but do not walk the walk.

To a degree, this is all well and good. There are times when a politician recognizes he needs the movement and carries out the movement’s agenda. But, eventually, there will come a time or times when the politician will gladly toss the movement overboard for his own agenda. The left is getting a taste of that now with Barack Obama.

Let me stop here for a point of clarity: there are times a politician must compromise to advance an agenda. And I cast no aspersions there. Too many activists are willing to throw politicians under the bus who compromise when there would be no way forward for a conservative ideal without a necessary compromise. We should not throw stones at those people. And we should recognize that there are few litmus tests on the right to which we expect adherence.

We should, however, throw stones at politicians and others who co-opt the conservative movement to routinely advance themselves and their issues at the expense of freedom and opportunity.

And we should not just focus on politicians. Inside the conservative movement, there is a lot of deadwood — institutions and personalities who continue sucking up resources long after the usefulness of the organization is over.

If you’re having a hard time following me, play this mental game: pick a conservative organization. Do you know that organization because of what it does or because of who runs it? Now ask yourself this question: if that person died tomorrow, what do you think would happen to that organization? If you only know an organization because of its face or you are convinced the organization would die tomorrow without that person, the organization is probably dead wood.

There are few truly indispensable people in the movement and far too many dispensable people who think they are indispensable. Likewise, there are too many conservative organizations that operate as employment vehicles for out of work politicians still needing their egos stroked.

Conservatism must be about the advancement of freedom and opportunity, not the advancement of any one person. Thus we need to rebuild the movement and burn up the dead wood.

I have thought a lot lately about what RedState can do in that effort.

First, I think it is incumbent upon RedState to become more activist oriented. As I’ve said previously, we cannot, as a site, function without sound discussions of policy. We must be about ideas. But we must also ask, in all that we do, what we hope to get you all and ourselves to do? What action should be pursued and why?

Second, we here must make great efforts to highlight the good guys on our side. We need to highlight the fresh faces, the new faces, and the trusted faces.

Third, and going back to my original point, it is my personal preference that RedState start highlighting trusted, dependable, reliable organizations in the movement. We should be steering each other to the thriving, living liberty trees, not the dead wood.

Lastly, we should not engage in so much soul search that we forget the fight. It is all well and good to assess where we’ve come from and where we are headed. But let’s not forget the opposition is who we are fighting. I frankly have grown tired of fighting our side all the time. It is a necessary evil, but I hope in the minority we will be quick to purge those who deserve it and rally again together for the cause.

One point that must not be avoided: conservatives must recognize, as RedState does, that we cannot have a governing coalition by ourselves. The structure of our government necessitates a grand party working from the right and toward the center. We should embrace all those who share the goal of a small government, even though they may view certain aspects differently. We just cannot compromise on the idea that government is the problem, not the solution.

I was going to stop at this point. I wrote this on an airplane and when I landed and checked email, a number of people had emailed me this post by Jon Henke seeking my thoughts. He writes, in part

Our ideas have become brush strokes on a painting, fine-tuning a work that has already gotten too busy to be beautiful. The Right has replaced strategy with tactics …. We have to push reset on the movement itself – not by eliminating the old guard, but by developing a new guard to compete with the old guard – making it better or filling new roles, but always making it work harder.

Competition is a healthy thing, but let’s not be dismissive of the people who got us this far and have great latitude to lead us further. I think there is some validity to what Jon says, but I also think Jon misses much of the point.

The conservative movement stagnated because it became, in essence, a component of the Republican Party and let the standard bearer of the party, George Bush, (not to mention Republican leaders in Congress) drive the agenda. When it became abundantly apparent that Bush was not driving the conservative agenda (hat tip to Rush Limbaugh who for years has been saying Bush is not a movement conservative) a lot of the conservative movement had become entrenched in the bureaucracy.

So we arrive where ostensibly conservative organizations are pushing the bailout scheme and socialized medicine programs.

It’s not a reset that we need. It is not new ideas, per se, that we need. It is a conservative movement that purges the dead wood and returns to pushing a conservative, not a Republican status quo, agenda. The ideas stand the test of time. They may need some dusting off, but time does not invalidate the idea. You do not raze a house with rotten beams. You tear out the rotten beams and support the rest of the house. There is plenty right and working in the conservative movement.

Think about the two occasions where the conservative movement broke with Bush: Harriet Miers and Immigration. Who won the public fight on those issues? More of that please.