The debate about what conservativism will look like in the wake of G.W. Bush is not going to cool off anytime soon. Reason magazine interviewed Richard Viguerie, chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, over the phone and one comment stands out.
I think Palin was a brilliant choice. I was with 300 conservative movement figures the morning that she was announced, and our feet didn’t touch the floor all day long. I was with [Phyllis] Schlafly, [James] Dobson, and for the most part serious conservatives had been on the sidelines or not doing a whole lot [for McCain], unenthusiastic. Palin got the conservatives energized in a way I can’t think anything else would have done. We take the attitude that she has been so vilified by the mainstream media for only one reason: She’s effective. People don’t kick sleeping dogs. They see her as a serious threat so they are trying to destroy her.
Viguerie has, in the past, not been overly supportive of the combination of free-markets with social traditionalism. What is striking about this comment is that he does not give reference to the nature of how the conservative base was energized. The energizing happened with the slogan of “maverick” and that she clearly legitimated the social conservativism that the Bush administration represented.
Later in the interview Viguerie does mention that the only grass roots kinds of associations that the conservative base has managed have been focused on social conservativism as opposed to reduced government or individual liberties. I would go further to suggest that the very nature of social conservativism is what shifted political conservativism in reverse. It has made big government regulations of personal liberties protected by the Constitution necessary. The base and ideology that Palin envigorated was not political conservativism, it was ideological conservativism legitimated through assumptions of America’s religious nature and the so-called “natural law” that flows from them.
What was energized is a neo-conservative base which is selectively socialist, selectively liberal, and myopic with its application of values that ought to be applied in the social network of society that lives out the notion of the common good. The hijacked conservativism of ideological constraints that legitimate and even necessitate government bloat is what was energized. It backfired becuase people began to see how distasteful this brand of ceonservativism actually is. It’s legacy supports an anti-scientific, anti-intellectual, mythic traditionalism that demands social uniformity of everyoneat the expense of individual opportunity and equal regard for everyone. It promotes irrationalism at the expense of libery and freedom of conscience.
The hope is that while we can be sure it will persist, as many social conservatives are doing everything in their power to do, it will be relegated to a small corner of lobbying influence where it ought to be. Until then libertarians look to have work to do to convince Republicans on the one hand and Democrats on the other, that there is a better way to run a free government that is truly by the people and looks out for the interests of everyone while demanding that people work out their freedom diligently and honestly.