The Right Opinion

Time to Grow Up, GOP

By Jonah Goldberg · Jan. 16, 2013

It's hard for a lot of people, particularly on the right, to recognize that the conservative movement's problems are mostly problems of success. The Republican Party's problems are much more recognizable as the problems of failure, including the failure to recognize the limits of that movement's success.

American conservatism began as a kind of intellectual hobbyist's group with little hope of changing the broader society. Albert Jay Nock, the cape-wearing libertarian intellectual – he called himself a “philosophical anarchist” – who inspired a very young William F. Buckley Jr., argued that political change was impossible because the masses were rubes, goons, fools or sheep, victims of the eternal tendency of the powerful to exploit the powerless.

Buckley, who rightly admired Nock for many things, rightly disagreed on this point. Buckley trusted the people more than the intellectuals. Moreover, as Buckley's friend Richard Weaver said, “ideas have consequences” and, consequently, it is possible to rally the public to your cause.

It took time. In an age when conservative books make millions, it's hard to imagine how difficult it once was get a right-of-center book published. Henry L. Regnery, the founder of the publishing house that bears his name, started his venture to break the wall of groupthink censorship surrounding the publishing industry. With a few exceptions, Regnery was the only game in town for decades.

That's hardly the case anymore. While there's a higher bar for conservative authors at mainstream publishers (which remain overwhelmingly liberal), profit tends to trump ideology.

And publishing is a lagging indicator. In cable news, think tanks, talk radio and, of course, the Internet, conservatives have at least rough parity with, and often superiority to, liberals. It's only in the legacy institutions – newspapers, the broadcast networks and most especially academia and Hollywood – where conservatism is still largely frozen out. Nonetheless, conservatism is a mass-market enterprise these days, for good and for ill.

The good is obvious. The ill is less understood. For starters, the movement has an unhealthy share of hucksters eager to make money from stirring rage, paranoia and an ill-defined sense of betrayal with little concern for the real political success that can only come with persuading the unconverted.

A conservative journalist or activist can now make a decent living while never once bothering to persuade a liberal. Telling people only what they want to hear has become a vocation. Worse, it's possible to be a rank-and-file conservative without once being exposed to a good liberal argument. Many liberals lived in such an ideological cocoon for decades, which is one reason conservatives won so many arguments early on. Having the right emulate that echo chamber helps no one.

Ironically, the institution in which conservatives had their greatest success is the one most besieged by conservatives today: the Republican Party. To listen to many grassroots conservatives, the GOP establishment is a cabal of weak-kneed sellouts who regularly light votive candles to a poster of liberal Republican icon Nelson Rockefeller.

This is not only not true, it's a destructive myth. The Rockefeller Republicans were purged from the GOP decades ago. Their high-water mark was in 1960, when the Goldwater insurgency was temporarily crushed. Richard Nixon agreed to run on a platform all but dictated by Rockefeller and to tap Rockefeller's minion Henry Cabot Lodge as his running mate. When the forebears of today's tea partiers threatened to stay home or bolt the party in 1960, Sen. Barry Goldwater proclaimed, “Let's grow up, conservatives!”

It's still good advice. It's not that the GOP isn't conservative enough, it's that it isn't tactically smart or persuasive enough to move the rest of the nation in a more conservative direction. Moreover, thanks in part to the myth that all that stands between conservatives and total victory is a philosophically pure GOP, party leaders suffer from a debilitating lack of trust – some of it well earned – from the rank and file.

But politics is about persuasion, and a party consumed by the need to prove its purity to its base is going to have a very hard time proving anything else to the rest of the country.

© 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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11 Comments

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

If the Republicans in Congress were more conservative and less willing to allow the Democrats and the President pick their pockets we might see a major difference. They have allowed the President and the media to control the agenda. I don't understand why they aren't on talk radio, writing columns in newspapers, going on television, and countering the liberal policies. They might be surprised how many folks could be moved into the conservative realm if they explained their position better than they have for the last 5 years. A prime example is the President saying he wasn't going to raise taxes on the middle class and still did it. Why did the Republicans not hammer him on that issue alone? They knew payroll deductions were going up. I believe that is a tax any way you spin it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 6:07 AM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

Mr. Miller is right on target here. In addition, Liberals need to be shown that their policies are flawed, using all five senses! The punishing of Success, will bring everyone down to mediocrity, and less! The Tampa convention was story after story, of free enterprise SUCCESS, so why such HUNGER- to be like- Greece? Eastwood and Duval---two old Conservatives in Hollyweird!"The empty chair was sensational, but just short of Victory.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 6:36 AM

Jim Brothers in Houston said:

Jonah,
Please name a Republican leader whom fights daily for the return to Federlism and the Constitution? Karl Rove represents the GOP and all that is wrong with the Party. Please see the "fiscal cliff" deal brokered by the K street crowd and tell me, a Texan who believes in Federalism, that we need to grow up. 16 trillion and counting.....

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 10:43 AM

sfj in Alabama said:

What the hell is "a good liberal argument"? There isn't one. The real problem is there are too many "conservatives" that think like Jonah.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 10:52 AM

wjm in Colorado said:

Grow Up? How about crybaby Boehner and company grow a pair, and call the treasonous regime what they truly are, start the arrest and impeachment. Chairman Obamao is operating as King, and must be stopped.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 11:01 AM

Tex Horn in Texas said:

Amen to the comments above. And who is Jonah, an establishment dude himself, talking to true conservatives about wrong direction? It seems that all of Washington, virtually all media, keep trying to push the Tea Party folks back into their cocoon. Too late, Jonah, we're not running any more. Time to stand for what we believe. So, go ahead and whine all you want about us disrupting things. This government needs disruption if any ever did.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 11:13 AM

Tad Petrie in Westerville, OH said:

Actually Mr. Goldberg, it is not time for the GOP to “Grow Up”, it is time for the GOP to “Wake Up” and take a look around at what is happening in our country! The GOP establishment actually IS, “a cabal of weak-kneed sellouts”! They might not light candles on their Nelson Rockefeller altars any more, but they are anything but conservatives following a conservative agenda! Instead of backing conservative candidates who can actually defeat politicians like the President, they back “Moderates” who are actually LIBERALS, because they are afraid that the American people won’t vote for true conservatives! Instead of standing up and fighting for their people, they turn on them and help the liberals destroy them, remember what happened to Sarah Palin?!
Then you have the GOP establishment types in Congress, Boehner, McConnell, Cantor, McCarthy, and Price! That thrice-damned idiot Hensarling, McMorris-Rodgers, Lankford, Barrasso, Blunt, Thune, and Cornyn! Who have done NOTHING to stop the destructive policies of the President and his liberals and they allow the President and his liberals to VIOLATE the Constitution whenever they feel like it and they do NOTHING to stop it from happening!!! The GOP establishment types in the House and Senate are INCOMPETENT COWARDS that need to be REPLACED by men and women who are actually willing to work FOR the American people, not AGAINST them!!! The entire GOP establishment MUST be replaced by true conservatives who will not allow America to be turned into a bankrupt, Socialist dictatorship!!!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 12:01 PM

HP in KAlispell, MT said:

Jonah,
The Left seems to have no problem proving their purity to the base and to hell with the rest of the country. Our supposed conservative leadership can't seem to sell their purity because they aren't conservative. You can't sell a product that you don't believe in. The Republican elites have some unwritten rule ( maybe it is written) that we remain above the fray, look presidential, whatever. So we mere conservatives continually watch our leaders and candidates look like idiots as they debate the left. The left sees them look like idiots as well. Reagan won over Dems not by betraying his conservative principles but by selling them, explaining them. Remember, he was not the darling of the GOP. Bush Sr. didn't have the time to waste debating Clinton. W let years of lies and vicious attacks go unanswered. McCain couldn't be bothered with the religious right (think John Hagee) so the party put's up a Mormon next time. Romney's response to accusations of tax theft and murder was "Obama is a really nice guy". Again a big part of the base stayed home. If you want to sew-up your base you better figure out what it is. For now it includes the religious right, the Tea Party, the gun nuts, the patriotic constitutionalists, the anti-illegal immigrants, the Libertarians, as well as the Elites. Guess which ones form the majority of the party. I myself identify with all but one of the aforementioned factions. Unless you want to see a third party arise, quit giving us candidates that wouldn't say "cr@p" if they had a mouthful.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 4:01 PM

H Jandewerth in Saint Paul said:

Frankly my observation is that the Republicans (more correctly the Conservatives) have a lot to learn from the Democrats/Liberals/Progressives. Only a concerted and continued effort e.g. attack by the Conservatives against anything the Left dishes up will have an impact in the long run. We need to wake up the the majority of Real Americans and have them understand what THEY need to do e.g. VOTE and speak up whenever and where ever OUR values are being trampled upon. WE CAN NOT AFFORD TO LOSE ANY TIME.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 7:42 PM

H Jandewerth in Saint Paul said:

Frankly my observation is that the Republicans (more correctly the Conservatives) have a lot to learn from the Democrats/Liberals/Progressives. Only a concerted and continued effort e.g. attack by the Conservatives against anything the Left dishes up will have an impact in the long run. We need to wake up the the majority of Real Americans and have them understand what THEY need to do e.g. VOTE and speak up whenever and where ever OUR values are being trampled upon. WE CAN NOT AFFORD TO LOSE ANY TIME.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 7:44 PM

Jim in Western NC said:

It's beginning to appear very simple to me. In the great ongoing struggle, one is either for maximum freedom of the individual and protecting the traditions that have made our nation exceptional OR for more control over people's lives and decreased freedom. Aiding and abetting ("compromising") those on the side of collectivism surely puts you squarely in their camp, regardless of an "R" next to your name. We can compromise over less important matters, but when it comes to freedom there is no room whatsoever for surrendering even an inch. No phony deals. No reciprocal back-scratching. I'm with Mr. Henry on this one- "Give me Liberty or give me death!"

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 10:58 PM