With the rise to enduring power of president Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1933, a new type of Republican emerged in reaction to FDR’s attractive and overawing power - the-me-too Republican. Until the election of president Reagan five decades later, these me-too Republicans supported, rather than opposed, Democratic Party policies, but claimed they would administer them better. Of course this led to a half-century of Democratic dominance of American government and politics.
FDR himself cruelly mocked this pathetic breed of spineless, protect-your-career-at-any-cost, Republican politicians: “Let me warn the nation, against the smooth evasion which says, ‘of course we believe all these things, we believe in Social Security, we believe in work for the unemployed, we believe in saving homes - cross our hearts and hope to die, we believe in all these things. But we do not like the way the president’s administration is doing them. Just turn them over to us. We will do all of them, we will do more of them; we will do them better, and best of all, the doing of them will not cost anybody anything.’”
Now, on the cusp of what some think will be a major Obama victory, we are beginning to see emerge what I will call “me-too conservatives” - initially amongst conservative commentators (politicians to follow). I have in mind, among others: Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, Chris Buckley, David Frum and Kathleen Parker.
Of course, they are not quite saying they are giving up conservatism for whatever it is Barack Obama would bring. They are initially focusing on style or, in the newly arrived cliche: temperament - a term made famous, interestingly, to describe FDR as possessing a second-class intellect but a first-class temperament.
The hopelessly enthralled David Brooks wrote recently: “[Obama] doesn’t seem to need the audience’s love. But they need his. The audiences hunger for his affection, while he is calm, appreciative and didactic. He doesn’t have F.D.R.’s joyful nature or Reagan’s happy outlook, but he is analytical. … His family is bourgeois. His instinct is to flee the revolutionary gesture in favor of the six-point plan.” That is, amusingly, almost exactly what Vladimir Lenin’s admirers, such as John Reed in “Ten Days That Shook The World,” used to say in contrasting Lenin’s style’ to the more fiery Leon Trotsky. (Note: I am making a style, not a substance point here.)
But they all cast their admiration for Mr. Obama in contrast to Sarah Palin - who they mischaracterize through a process of intellectual and historic dishonesty tempered by cultural snobbery and fear.
For example, Miss Noonan charges that Mrs. Palin’s: “political decisions seem untethered to a political philosophy. She does not speak seriously but attempts to excite sensation: “palling around with terrorists … But it’s unclear whether she is Bushian or Reaganite … she has spent her time throwing out tinny lines to crowds she doesn’t, really, understand. This is not a leader, this is a follower. She could re-inspire and re-inspirit; she chooses merely to excite. She doesn’t seem to understand the implications of her own thoughts.” Oh my.
Has Miss Noonan been napping up there on Mount Olympus through the last several generations of American politics? She accuses Mrs. Palin of not engaging America in a Socratic dialogue, of using phrases untethered to a political philosophy. Exactly what philosophy are the slogans “Change” and “Hope” tethered to? American presidential campaigns, with very few exceptions, have been little more than slogans shouted in the hope of exciting a crowd. The much admired Obama campaign has been the greatest exemplar of style over substance. However, it is Miss Noonan’s completely unsupported sneer at Mrs. Palin’s mental capacities that is most revealing.
I think that Miss Noonan may have unconsciously touched on what is really going on here when she accuses Mrs. Palin - who is attracting crowds as big if not bigger than any Reagan ever drew - of being a “follower … not a leader.” Miss Noonan’s unconscious fear may be that it will be precisely Mrs. Palin (and others like her) who will be among the leaders of the about to be re-born conservative movement. I suspect that the conservative movement we start re-building on the ashes of November 4th (even if Mr. McCain wins) will have little use for over-written, over-delicate commentary.
The new movement will be plain spoken and social networked up from the internetted streets, suburbs and small towns of America. It certainly will not listen very attentively to those conservatives who idolatrize Mr. Obama and collaborate in heralding his arrival. They may call their commentary “honesty.” I would call it - at the minimum - blindness.
The new conservative movement will be facing a political opponent that will soon reveal itself to be both multiculturalists and Euro-socialist. We will be engaged in a struggle to the political death for the soul of the country. As I did at the beginning of and throughout the Buckley/Goldwater/Reagan/Gingrich conservative movement, I will try to lend my hand. I will certainly do what I can to make it a big-tent conservative movement. But just as in every great cause, one question has to be answered correctly: Whose side are you on, comrade?
Tony Blankley is a syndicated columnist.