Absolutely wonderful and absolutely fascinating. Four well-established conservative thinkers at a virtual round table:
Political commentator George Will, first and foremost. Historian Anne Applebaum whose just published book proves she takes no second place to any contemporaries. Journalist Canadian-American David Frum who more than any other living reporter documents the preeminent importance of compromise.
With… Joe Scarborough, the Trump anti-thesis, yet a TV personality to rival Trump. The four of them were on “Morning Joe” today. Their unusually long panel together reminded me (hopefully) of the African clergy who were so essential in bringing real democracy to the continent.
When Jo Scarborough joined Congress as a right-wing Republican in 1994, David Frum wrote that he was too conservative for the Republican Party. David Frum later became George Bush’s speech writer. Anne Applebaum knows more about the evolution of modern democracy than any person alive, having chronicled the end of the Cold War from a long time living in Europe then afterwards beautifully refining her experience into remarkably sharp academic analyses.
Old George is the funnel for the former three, and hundreds other clear-thinking conservatives. Nobody in my life time can so perfectly condense conservative thinking into meaningful, simple phrases.
No offense to Jo, the other three are among my favorite thinkers. They provide clearly logical analysis to narrowed issues, something almost impossible to find in a world so politicized as today. Their use of English is exquisite, and by that I’m not suggesting at all manipulative. I mean straight to the point. (How little of that do we encounter today?)
And believe it or not coming from me, they espouse many crucial ideas that a stable and long-term society must adopt. Like free trade. The preeminence of Human Rights. Absolute sectarianism. And again believe it or not, a much more balanced budget than Republicans have managed over my entire adult life.
There are two critical differences between what I believe is main-stream progressiveness today and the four conservative thinking leaders above.
First, they joined the wrong clubs. Their grouping as a perfect mirror of contemporary conservatism is composed of two pretty sick old men, one renegade TV star and one very prim woman. All white.
Except for the TV star, this isn’t entirely their fault. But in the course of their ascendancy they chose not only conservative ideas but conservative pathways. They went with “the better offer” time and again, experimenting little. This meant most importantly that none of them have anything new to say. They are proletarians of old ideas.
Is there anything wrong with that? Yeah, a lot. Human society needs refreshing and new ways of thinking simply because we learn so much factually new all the time. Race to the top with this: is there a God?
Second, while you would think folks like this cherish first principles, it’s not true. As “originalist” as they argue they are, George Will revealed their flaw perfectly this morning when he agreed with the others that as soon as Trump is gone, none of his current supporters will agree to having ever supported him in anything.
Said Will: “This is both good news and bad news.”
According to Will the bad news is that this means the Republican Party, aka conservatives, will be annihilated. The good news, he contends, is that like all revolutions it allows the participants (annihilated Republicans) to “repurpose” their positions so that they can ultimately bring conservatism back into play.
Conviction of belief does not preclude later changing those beliefs. But it does beg the value of first principles and when accomplished – as Will suggests is likely so quickly – it guts substance for appearance. More simply, “means justifies the ends.”
I believe as we move out of this era we will leave much of conservatism behind. But we need to be cautious about discarding it wholesale. People like Frum, Applebaum and Will provide essential advice, the same way your mechanic tells you which of the spark plugs needs replacing. No era can survive without them.
But let the Kennedy’s and AOC lock up the garage and take us to the moon.