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Conservatives, Past And Future

There's an interesting and (to me) very heartening discussion in some of the more thoughtful environs of conservatism about differences in the ways older and younger generations view the trajectory of the movement, its relationship to the GOP, and its interest in a broader political dialogue. Here's James Poulos, for instance:

Suffice it to say that the roots of internecine glumfighting run very deep in conservative DNA, and as irritated as any public figure may be to find him or herself stuck sharing an affinity-group label (like 'the movement') with rubes or snobs, the bigger picture is unquestionably the health of 'the movement' in question. The kicker is that some are inclined to measure its health by its capacity to endure, in and out of political power, as a well-funded, high-profile machine that rewards its own. And some are not. To the extent that younger commentators fall into the latter camp, they're even gloomy about what might look an awful lot to some establishment figures like the success of 'the conservative movement.'

Poulos has more to say on the subject here. There's also this, from Michael Brendan Dougherty's smart, grim take on February's CPAC conference:

The conference flattens the political passions of these conservatives, channeling their energy into national politics and away from local concerns. Thus the range of activism narrows to immigration, foreign policy, and the solipsistic goal of sustaining the conservative movement itself. This is good for keeping Beltway institutions well funded but bad for the actual work of conservatism.

Ross Douthat weighs in here:

Are young conservative writers more heterodox than their older peers? At least superficially, the answer seems like yes: If you compare the right-wing twentysomethings flitting around Washington D.C. to their elders in the world of magazines and think tanks, the younger set seems to include many fewer writers whose ideas fit neatly into the "movement-conservative" box. I have a tough time thinking of more than a couple twentysomething conservatives whose writings I encounter regularly, in fact, who have precisely the "check-all-the-boxes" politics that's fairly commonplace in the movement establishment - who are pro-war and pro-life and Norquistian on size-of-government issues and so on and so forth. Instead, you've got paleocons and Paulites, Christian libertarians and uber-neocons, plus a host of unclassifiable types. (I suppose I fall into the "unclassifiable" camp, though perhaps for no more admirable reason than my inability to make up my mind about various issues.)

What does all this betoken for the future of conservatism? Possibly nothing.... [A]s Poulos notes, many of the people who make up today's movement establishment - the talk-radio talking heads, especially - didn't come up through the Young Washington world, and it's entirely possible that tomorrow's movement-conservative establishment will be dominated, not by today's inside-the-Beltway bloggers and associate editors and research fellows, but by kids from flyover country who didn't come to Washington, but stayed home and developed the next hit talk-radio show (or website) instead, and whose views are more or less indistinguishable from the views of Hannity and Limbaugh.

And Peter Suderman has this to add:

[W]hile I certainly would like to see a revival (of sorts) in right of center politics, I’d also very much like to see a revival in right of center conservative journalism. That’s not to say there isn’t quality material being produced right now, but I get the sense that it’s fallen a step or two as of late, as too much of it has become devoted to little more than ideological bullying. And while I don’t think that’s always unreasonable (it is, after all, opinion journalism), I’d also love to see, along with greater collegiality, more curiosity, more creativity, more observation, and less fist-pounding. Writers of the conservative persuasion, or anything somewhat resembling it, ought to spend more time wondering about how the world is and less demanding that it change to suit their whims.

I know, and like, Ross and Peter, and have met Michael once. Suffice to say that I've found them all smart, sensible people with whom it is easy both to have honorable debate and to find considerable common ground. I do not know Rush Limbaugh (obviously), or even Bill Kristol, but I'm fairly confident the same would not be the case with either of them, or with most of the partisan ideological enforcers familiar to anyone who watches cable news. As Ross notes, this may not tell us anything about the future of conservatism. But here's hoping that it does.

--Christopher Orr