Principled conservatism

Posted: Nov 02, 2005 12:05 AM

Last week, the conservative movement had its Rosa Parks moment -- we refused to give up our seat on the bus even for a Republican president. Regarding that event, liberals, mainstream mediacrities as well as conservative movementistas all shared a common impression: Something important happened last week for conservatism -- and thus for the broader political scene.

 The successful opposition to Miss Miers was not a triumph for just some faction of the conservative movement. If it used to be said that the Church of England was the Tory Party at prayer, then it also could be said that the conservative opposition to Miers was the entire conservative movement on the hunt -- at full regimental strength.

 From the market-oriented Wall St. Journal to my own Washington Times' classic Reaganite conservatism, to the social conservative opposition of Phyllis Shlafly and so many others on the social and Christian right, to the neoconservative opposition of The Weekly Standard and Charles Krauthammer, to the paleo-conservatism of Pat Buchanan, to the high Toryism of George Will, to the popular talk radio titans Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and their legions of regional voices, to the lawyer-turned-hip radioist Laura Ingraham, to the iconoclastics Michael Savage and Ann Coulter to most of the conservative blogdom (with the prominent exception of the always magnificent Hugh Hewitt who rode heroically and almost alone with the fox rather than us hounds) -- this was a never before seen moment of comprehensive conservative opposition to a Republican initiative.

 Of course, conservatism has often stood almost equally united in support of a Republican or conservative issue (e.g. Reagan, anti-abortion) or in opposition to a Democrat or liberal issue (e.g. Clinton, raising taxes).

 But such broad, shoulder-to-shoulder conspicuous conservative opposition to a Republican president advocating a not liberal nomination or position is, I think, without precedent.

 Of course, elements of conservatism have often been disgruntled with the actions of conservative presidents. When Reagan first reached out to Gorbachev, national security conservatives muttered deep concern. When G.H.W. Bush raised taxes, the House conservatives rebelled and beat his proposal on the floor, initially. But those were responses of only factions within the conservative firmament. Other factions may not have liked such initiatives, but they didn't move into loud, direct, public opposition.

 Whenever a seminal political event such as this happens, politicians and activists rush in to try to publicly explain and exploit it in a manner useful to their political objectives.

 The first to arrive at the scene of the fire with cans of gasoline were the ever politically resourceful (if substantively barren) Democrats and their dutiful echoes in the mainstream media.

 From the unctuous, faux-humble, faux-everyman Sen. Harry Reid, to the ever clever, ever-striving Sen. Charles Schumer, to their automaton stenographers in the mainstream media, this event was characterized as the triumph of the hard-right, extreme, radical, fundamentalist Christian, anti-abortion, doctrinaire, out-of-the-mainstream right wingers.

 Now, I will concede that they may well be sincere in making such characterizations. These days, the Democratic Party spokesmen and spokeswomen tend to see anyone much to the right of Joe Biden as falling into the category of out of the mainstream right wingers, if not actual lumpen proto-fascists.

 Poor old Joe Lieberman -- a classic moderate from the unconservative state of Connecticut -- could barely get 7 percent of the Democratic Party vote for president.

 But in fact, the conservative coalition that defeated Miss Miers' nomination last week is the same broad based movement that has elected its candidate president in five of the last seven elections, elected 28 currently sitting governors and a Republican congress for the last decade.

 Today, 34 percent of Americans are self-described conservatives, while only 19 percent are self-described liberals. When one adds only the most conservative third of the remaining 47 percent of self-identified moderates to the self-proclaimed conservatives, one has a voting majority in an American election.

 So when they say we are out of the mainstream, they are using words in a manner inconsistent with reality.

 If there was a uniting theme to the conservative opposition, it wasn't anti-abortion, or any particular substantive issue.

 Rather, conservatives respect the law. We have deeply resented its misuse for the last 70 years by clever and willful liberals who would usurp the law for their own policy purposes. We want its rectification, so the true constitution can return from its exile (somewhere in the Wyoming Rockies, along with John Galt, I think).

 This was a revolt for excellence. It was a revolt for a faithful scholar of the law. It was a moment of high faith in reason, and in the blessings that will flow from a fair and wise reading of our founding document.