Ron Radosh

Towards a More Effective Conservatism

It is no secret that the Republican Party and the conservative movement have been floundering  since their trouncing in the last election.  But, in the past few days some conservative posts and the formation of a new group indicate that a more nuanced conservatism may be emerging from the ashes.

First, I recommend reading David Horowitz’s essay today on, in which he comments on “Obama Derangement Syndrome,” and warns conservatives on replicating the kind of virulent Bush hatred that spewed forth from the mouths of liberals during the past eight years. As Horowitz points out, in foreign policy at least, Obama is carrying out the Bush policies in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iran, he has made it clear during the past few days, through both Richard Holbrooke and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, that sanctions against Iran will be increased, and that negotiations in a meaningful sense will not take place. “We are not,” Horowitz writes, “witnessing the coming of the anti-Christ.”

Writing in The National Post of Canada, David Frum continues to explain how and why he differs from Rush Limbaugh, and to delineate the nature of the conservatism he thinks can have a broad appeal and continue to grow. Denying that he has become a “mushy moderate,” as one of his friends wrote about him, Frum argues that conservatives have to do more than denounce the  policies of the Bush years in favor of a supposedly pure philosophical conservatism. This does not mean that he will cease to criticize the current administration for its “reckless spending and destructive taxation.”

According to Frum, conservatives are “bereft of answers for the economic challenges of the 21st century.”  And more to the point, this situation seemed to not worry many of his conservative friends and colleagues.  He believes that conservatives have to move beyond the old cultural warfare battles of the past and present policies that appeal and make sense to the majority of the American people.  And this means accepting some of the major changes in the nation on cultural issues—such as ending opposition to stem cell research, gay rights, and concerns about the environment.

Finally, a new organization in the realm of foreign policy has been created by William Kristol, Robert Kagan and Dan Senor. Called “The Foreign Policy Initiative,” the group bases itself on the principle that “The United States cannot afford to turn our back on its international commitments and allies.” The organization is non-partisan and welcomes the support of all who want our country not to retreat to isolationism and who want to work to defeat rogue regimes that threaten America’s national security.

It is clear from the phrasing of their mission statement that the Initiative wants the support of both Democrats and Republicans, virtually anyone who recognizes the need to support human rights abroad, a strong military and defense budget, and international economic engagement.

The group’s first event, to be held tomorrow (March 31st) is on the war in Afghanistan, and  features Rep. Jane Harman, a Democrat from California, and Rep. John M. McHugh, a Republican from New York, both of whom will talk about the view of Afghanistan from the House of Representatives. The impressive roster of participants ends with a plenary discussion of the issues with Sen. John McCain, moderated by Robert Kagan.

Already, the new group has received a somewhat skeptical welcome from the writer and former liberal hawk, George Packer on his New Yorker blog. Calling his column “Kinder, Gentler Neo-Cons,” he writes: Its leaders are in favor of international engagement, human rights, and strong alliances. They are against isolationism and retreat. So am I!” He is relieved that they do not talk about “benevolent global hegemony” or “a new American century.” In other words, Packer sees the announcement as something other than a recreation of the old Committee on The Present Danger of  the Reagan era. He hopes this marks a “recent chastening,” although he is a bit worried that the group might not be an important effort to have a “constructive and nonpartisan effort to keep America engaged around the world.” He has a slight fear that it could evolve into a “stick with which to beat the new Democratic administration for its craven appeasement of evil.”

Judging from the announced Afghanistan meeting, Packer has little to worry about. The Initiative seems to fit into the paradigm David Horowitz proposes, in which conservatives will work for bi-partisan unity on behalf of a sound foreign policy, and will support and encourage the Administration when it is on the right track. That does not mean one should not oppose policy when it clearly is getting off on the wrong track. But as of now, President Obama seems to be ignoring the “realists” who are arguing against a policy based on principles that both people like George Packer and William Kristol seem to agree on.