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Conserva-rrific Liber-lennials

Barack Obama

When a political movement changes labels, that usually means its adherents are unelectable.

Take the Democrats in 2004. When the presidential candidacy of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, a liberal protégé of the state’s senior senator, Ted Kennedy, went down in flames, their party almost immediately switched from the buzzword “liberal” to “Progressive.” Not only was this changing the subject, it was reaching for the latter term’s historically bipartisan connotations. The Democrat Woodrow Wilson had been adapting himself to a doctrine first put into circulation in national politics by a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt.

The initiators of the change in emphasis, Democratic consultants Paul Begala and James Carville, declared that the Democratic Party needed to reexamine itself. But then it turned out that the new label was only semantics. Four years later, Barack Obama, despite running from the center, showed that when off teleprompter (advocating spreading the wealth), he was very much in sync with his predecessor candidate. By the 2012 election, he no longer even donned the camouflage, but ran as an unapologetic liberal.

One could argue that in The Conservatarian Manifesto: Libertarians, Conservatives, and the Fight for the Right’s Future, the National Review writer Charles C.W. Cooke has tried the same trick, in which the ideology remains the same but travels under false colors. Is Cooke’s embrace of a new form of Republicanism, “conservatarianism,” real?

Today, establishment Republicans masquerading as conservatives offer the following recipe for staving off a third consecutive defeat come 2016: purge the “extremist” Tea Party from the ranks, embrace minorities, and avoid unpopular stances on social issues. Whatever the merits of this advice, and unlike what was true of the Democrats in 2004, this new animal, the “conservatarian,” was not born of election losses. It emerged as an expression of conservatives’ and libertarians’ disaffection with President George W. Bush a full year before the 2008 election.

That is to say, it is substantive.

For the “conservatarians” Cooke is talking about, President Bush masqueraded as a free market libertarian while enacting big government programs (No Child Left Behind), granting new entitlements (prescription drugs in Medicare), inventing new Cabinet-level departments (Homeland Security), and favoring big business cronyism over competitive capitalism.

Cooke’s account is not cynical or superficial like Begala and Carville’s post-2004 election analysis. Nor is it the full-throated roar so common to rightwing books headed for bestseller-dom. President Obama is not caustically called Barry in these pages. (He makes only spectral appearances, and when present, is only blamed for accelerating the big government policies of George W. Bush.) The Conservatarian Manifesto looks to be a hit despite that Cooke is not trying for that “Pavlovian relationship between these authors and their eager customers” which Andrew Ferguson noted a while back.

Cooke is both nuanced and tough. Like George Orwell, he is harder on those on his side than on his opponents. Libertarians can be “unreasonably ideological and unmoored to reality.” They fail to take into account the way “rights are used.” Conservatives don’t adapt to “new social and economic realities,” and instead cling to solutions from an inapplicable “particular time.” Tea Partiers, while being “independent-minded and ruthlessly effective,” are akin to the Occupy Wall Street movement in cherishing ideological purity over “tangible success.”

The author’s way of mediating between the conflicting stances of conservatives and libertarians is to emphasize the latter. Unlike others on the Right, he does not argue for a resurrection of Reaganism. The only thing he takes from our 40th President is his definition of conservatism as essentially libertarianism. Cooke boils down his electability message to three main issues: smaller government, the free market, and individual rights. This, he argues, is a big enough tent to house libertarians and conservatives.

But his target group is not just “conservatarians” disgusted by the status quo as determined by the much-lampooned RINOs (“Republicans In Name Only”). He also wants to reach the millenials. Occupy Wall Street’s failure to endure indicates that young Americans are capitalistically inclined, desiring consumer goods and low taxes. (Perhaps he’d concede that in this respect he does pine for a new Reagan, for the Gipper was gifted at appealing to youth.)

Cooke has done his homework on Barack Obama’s victories, and the key role played in them by younger voters. Once upon a time, independents were regarded as the group that put the candidate over the top. While still important, they are no longer enough (independents favored Romney over Obama by a margin of two to one). It was the idealistic youth who gave Obama electoral success.

Following in that line, Cooke recasts concepts for the millenials. The U.S. Constitution is a “radical framework,” the result of the most successful revolution in history. Capitalism is “a remarkable innovation.” Reducing the reach of government and restoring control to Americans at the state and local level is a radical and empowering idea.

Cooke argues that a policy of leaving the gay marriage issue up to the states can be defended without alienating the younger generation, which overwhelmingly supports gay marriage. It should be framed this way: the federal government’s wielding unwarranted power in the area of marriage means that, on the flip side, it could one day decide to withhold what it has granted. Millenials are thus exposed to a libertarian message they will rarely hear in the groves of academe.

When Cooke declares individuals the “smallest of minorities,” he has given Republicans an electable message.

This book is, as I said, intellectually rigorous. However, because it so studiously avoids spin and (thank God) triangulation, there are areas where it is vague. Such as foreign and defense policy. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), the libertarian presidential standard-bearer, is extremely cautious about U.S. military involvement and has, unlike conservatives, criticized President Obama’s use of force. Cooke likes this about Paul yet he does not offer the junior Senator from Kentucky as the best candidate to turn to in 2016. His refusal to back Paul or, for that matter, any candidate hints that he may want fresh blood in the race—and also that libertarians need to get their foreign policy act together.

Then, too, The Conservatarian Manifesto neglects realities, such as a grassroots that has in the past been fooled by a conservative message preached by Eastern moderates (Romney) or inside-the-beltway RINOs (McCain). Until idea men like Cooke find a way to educate this base that keeps electing people by whom they eventually feel betrayed—as in the case of the two million social conservatives who stayed away from the polls in November 2012 and helped bring a second Obama term—the Republicans will remain the party of anti-libertarian RINOs.

Reader Discussion

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on February 24, 2015 at 13:47:54 pm

"....educate this base that keeps electing people by whom they eventually feel betrayed—as in the case of the two million social conservatives who stayed away from the polls in November 2012."

You almost make it seem as if the people are to blame for electing *betrayers.*
What choice do they have but to hold their nose and vote for what is presented to them - either the RINO GOP or vote democrat.

This choice is all that is left to those who are not yet prepared to abandon hope.

Whereas, the two million *stay-aways* have reached the point of hopelessness.

Careful, GOP insiders that the number does not jump to 8 million in the next couple of cycles as I fear it may if we allow the Chamber and its ilk to have its way on immigration.
Incidentally, it does not help when certain "libertarian" and "originalists" see fit to claim that the President is acting within his Constitutional authority to grant deferred action and benefits (see Mike Ramsey at Originalism Blog and Ilys Somin at Volokh). Only the overeducated may present such a twisted rationale - why just blame poor dumb politicians?

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gabe
on February 24, 2015 at 14:23:39 pm

People keep seeking ways to unite the various wings of the Republican party – rather than recognizing the advantages of having multiple wings!

On a national level, Republicans are screwed. No, the party is not in eminent threat of being wiped out; there are a number of safe Republican strongholds where people can boldly proclaim a Republican agenda. Alas, these tend to be white, rural, aging, religiously conservative strongholds, and the spokesmen are people whose only concern is to ward off a primary challenge from the right. Thus they declaim the most conservative, doctrinaire version of Republicanism. This plays well in the home district – and drives moderate voters throughout the nation screaming for the exits. And in particular, it turns off ethnic minorities.

So this is the national face of the GOP – a party hopelessly tainted with religious fundamentalism and racism. And I can’t see a way out until nearly all the old, white, rural religious fundamentalists die.

But in the meantime, people still have conservative/libertarian policies they’d like to promote. And that won’t change merely because the Republican label is hopelessly tarnished.

What should Republicans do? Let libertarians be libertarians, promoting their separate agenda while voting with the Republicans. In the meantime, ride the white, rural, fundamentalist, vaguely racist GOP ship for as long as it stays afloat. Just before it finally sinks, step off onto the shiny new Libertarian Party ship! And at that point, wash your hands of the distasteful parts of Republicanism, and bid the label goodbye. Reassure the public that you have no truck with those racist obscurantists of the past; you care about small government; low taxes; autonomy; and yes, freedom of religion (don’t jettison that!); plus whatever parts of the agenda will appeal to the then-contemporary swing voter. You’ll continue to rack up all the votes on the right of the political spectrum, while making yourselves palatable to a new generation of voters that will have nothing to do with label "Republican."

Is this a strategy? Or is this merely making a virtue of necessity? Either way, for the future of conservative policies, this strikes me as the path of least resistance.

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nobody.really
on February 24, 2015 at 16:06:43 pm

Really, Nobody!

You are truly slipping. first paragraph seems incoherent).
So we are to accept your declaration that the GOP is RACIST - well because Nobody.really believes it!
I guess that is good enough for the folks at MSNBC - no doubt they had some input on this statement.
But there you go again - the mere REPETITION of the charge, as with the charge of income inequality, is sufficient to the minds (such as they are) of the left to establish proof of the charge.

One grows weary of the accepted leftist wisdom. Of course, if you are admitting that the brand name Republican has been so tarnished by 100 years of scurrilous slander and defamations propagated by the left, then I concede your point.

As for your prescriptions there is certainly some merit to advocacy of small government, taxes (lower for the middle class / working class / corporations) and liberty. Yet, it seems that neither our Republican elites nor the Democrat Part are at all interested in doing this. It would reduce their "opportunity" to be helpful - not to mention sorely reducing campaign coffers.

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gabe
on February 24, 2015 at 17:33:32 pm

So we are to accept your declaration that the GOP is RACIST – well because Nobody.really believes it!

I guess that is good enough for the folks at MSNBC – no doubt they had some input on this statement.

But there you go again – the mere REPETITION of the charge, as with the charge of income inequality, is sufficient to the minds (such as they are) of the left to establish proof of the charge.

One grows weary of the accepted leftist wisdom. Of course, if you are admitting that the brand name Republican has been so tarnished by 100 years of scurrilous slander and defamations propagated by the left, then I concede your point.

In 2012 Romney got 59% of white votes, 27 percent of Hispanics, 26 percent of Asians, 6 percent of African Americans, and 38 percent of “other.” And he lost.

In 2012 white votes represented 72 percent of the total, down from 74 percent in 2008, 77 percent in 2004, 81 percent in 2000, 83 percent in 1996, and 87 percent in 1992. Where do you suppose this trend is headed in 2016? 2020? 2024?

Meanwhile, as the percentage of white votes has been declining, what do you suppose has been the trend among the Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans, and others? Where do you suppose that trend is headed in 2016? 2020? 2024?

You can stomp your feet, shake your fist, and remonstrate to heaven about how unfair it is that racial minorities have an aversion to the Republican Party. Or you can count votes.

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nobody.really
on February 24, 2015 at 18:06:10 pm

And just for fun: According to 2012 exit polls, in what demographic groups does one party have a 5%+ advantage over its rival? http://www.ropercenter.uconn.edu/elections/how_groups_voted/voted_12.html

Democrats: Women, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Other (racial group), Ages 18-29 (a 23% advantage), Ages 30-44, Income $90K, Republicans, and conservatives.

Doubtless the polling would look different for the midterms. But for presidential elections, the trends look pretty clear.

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nobody.really
on February 24, 2015 at 19:29:02 pm

Hm -- something went wrong with that post. Somehow I lost the middle. Republicans dominate the demographic categories Whites, Men, Age 65+, Income $50-90K, and Income > $90K, (median household income is $43K), Republicans, and conservatives. Sorry for the glitch.

Anyway, the news isn't all bad for Republicans. In general I expect people will keep getting richer on average (if not in median). And people will keep getting older. But the other trends don't look so hot -- especially trends such as reliable Republican voters dying of old age and being replaced by reliable Democratic voters.

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nobody.really
on February 25, 2015 at 02:01:31 am

First off, there is only one political party in America the Demopublican party. It is basically a bird of prey with two wings. When it comes down to the basic paradigm of American politics the "system" is firmly in place. Basically this "system" is a fascist/socialist system or communism light. In essence,over the last 100 years or so all 10 Planks to the Communist Manifesto (albeit in modified form) has been woven into the American fabric. All the rest of the political debate and discussion is,to use the expression,"nothing but rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." Both of the "two" major political parties are mostly made up of megalomaniacs and sociopaths whose ambitious pursuit of power knows no bounds. Most could care less about the "average" American and are instead servants to "special interests" and campaign contribution contributors who are buying access to the levers of power. All the debate over "social issues" is a smokescreen to hide the real issues which are the loss of liberty,basic rights and the fact the government has it's hand in every productive person's pocket. In the end,America has gone down the same road as the old Roman Empire. The American Republic,with it's written Constitution and limited government, has morphed into a Democracy in which people have voted to loot their productive neighbors. This in turn will bankrupt the nation at which time the republic come democracy will evolve into a police state.This is America's fate. In the end the act of voting is meaningless.

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libertarian jerry
on February 25, 2015 at 10:38:13 am

yes, but none of this substantiates your assertion that the GOP is racist!

It only shows how effective the media and the academy have been in portraying the GOP / Right as racist.

And there is a difference between stomping ones feet, as you say, and recognizing the lie behind the occasion(s) for stomping those very feet.
Your approach, of constant repetition of the false charges / assertions, only perpetuates the lie.

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gabe
on February 25, 2015 at 10:42:45 am

"...being replaced by reliable Democratic voters." Not so fast. Many polls show a growing dissatisfaction among the youn with the Democrat Party - so there is that.

However, as it seems as if the Big 0 is going to get his way on amnesty - they will continue to "replace", as you say, voters with ILLEGALS.

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gabe
on February 25, 2015 at 13:14:42 pm

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