Politics & Policy

The Way Back from Liberalism

Artists and teachers must lead a resurgence on the Right.

The inexplicable rise of Donald Trump is perfectly explicable if you accept the following: The Republican party has failed.

Since the New Deal, there have been six Republican presidents. But Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and both Bushes all failed to stop the growth of government. In fact, most of the Republican presidents since FDR have been willing and enthusiastic co-conspirators in the care and overfeeding of our government behemoth.

The federal government has now taken over one-sixth of the U.S. economy and stands in direct or indirect control of the entire health and finance sectors. The government knows who you are, where you live, and how much you make, and it can take whatever it wants from your paycheck before you even see it, thanks to the original Big Brother, Social Security.

Let us remember, the Founding Fathers set the Colonies ablaze over the most trifling of taxes. Indeed, the men who founded our republic were perfectly willing to die — and kill — over far, far lesser offenses than the modern American suffers daily.

That can only mean that conservative thinkers have failed to make the case to Americans that government is not the answer to our problems. Politicians of both parties know this, and so merely and justifiably give the people what they want.

Strategically speaking, the failure stems from two disastrous abdications. First, and particularly devastating, starting in the late 1960s conservatives surrendered academia wholesale to liberals, who are now in virtually total control of the education of our children, from kindergarten to university.

Second, the Right completely abandoned entertainment and the arts, which are often wrongly viewed by conservatives as frivolities, diversions to pass the time, something to look down upon. But it has always been through art that ideas, both large and small, both profane and sacred, are spread and absorbed.

Liberals, on the other hand, lost no time in making the most of their extraordinary coups in education and the arts. They knew the value of what they had captured.

Meanwhile, conservative intellectuals moved from academia into a cloistered think-tank world where people who already agree with one another write papers and give talks for their colleagues, while the rest of the nation goes to the movies and downloads favorite songs and shows — which contain the ideas and values of the liberals who made them.

It wasn’t always thus. Our greatest political figure was an artist who understood the power of his medium and its ability to shape thought. He used his knowledge of stagecraft and the psychological acumen his profession gave him to outwit his counterparts in the Soviet Union.

Reagan may be our last great politician, and our last great thinker. His long career as an artist was instrumental in preparing him for both roles. And yet, how many young conservatives these days long for a career onstage or onscreen? How many young conservatives long to be, and are encouraged to be, painters, novelists, poets, filmmakers, comedians? Instead, young conservatives flock to the Imperial Capital in droves looking to score internships at think tanks, in conservative media, and on Capitol Hill. The lucky ones will get jobs in these places — and change the culture not one little bit.

But imagine if a young conservative stays in her home state upon graduation and writes short fiction revealing the evils of Big Government in a new and entertaining way.

Perhaps our hypothetical young conservative will suffer a lifetime of impoverishment, as most writers do. But if she dedicates her life to her art and produces something beautiful in her course, she will be worth 10,000 D.C. interns.

Reagan was an artist. Not a great one, as he would have been the first to admit. But that is hardly the point. Reagan understood intellectually and intuitively that art shapes belief systems in ways both obvious and subtle. And he was quite open about his actor’s training and its usefulness to him in a myriad of ways. Once, when he was asked how an actor could be president, Reagan responded that he didn’t see how anyone could be president without that training.

The point is this: Those trained to express themselves in artistic media are trained necessarily to communicate feelings and ideas, to move emotions from one heart to another, to transmit ideas from one brain to another, via a page, a screen, a canvas.

Smart politicians have always known this. When a young Roman named Octavian became the first emperor a couple of decades before the birth of Christ, this ruthless political genius immediately began co-opting Rome’s great writers for the imperial cause.

Octavian, whom history knows as Augustus, knew that his new regime needed the hearts and minds of the people, and knew that the best and fastest way to those hearts was poetry. Hence, the poet Virgil was commissioned to write an epic history of Rome, culminating in the glorious and heaven-sanctioned rule of the Caesars. The result was the Aeneid, one of the great imaginative achievements of all time.

Today there is a veritable cottage industry of conservatives complaining about American culture.

If a fraction of these complainers ever decided to make something besides a blog post or a television rant, they would do more good for the culture than they could possibly imagine. Don’t like the quality of Hollywood films? Go to film school. And — even more important — encourage your children to do likewise.

How many young politically active conservatives want to be kindergarten teachers or university professors? To ask the question is to answer it.

It is the same with education. How many young politically active conservatives want to be kindergarten teachers or university professors? To ask the question is to answer it. And why not? True, there is no money in the gig, and yet, few professions are as rewarding as teaching. And few do more to shape the future.

So conservatives go to business school, or join the Washington D.C. career conveyor belt, becoming yet another cog in the vast machine that is grinding the blood from our people. For liberals it is the exact opposite. Liberal artists and educators pass their love for these noble pursuits on to their children and their students.

Pick up any textbook in any grade school in this country and you will find it loaded with liberal assumptions, myths, and lies. Conservative parents complain about this, but what do they expect? The teachers and administrators are all liberals for one very important reason: Liberals value education as a way of life. And they are right to do so.

As with art and culture, education is something that is made. The stunning failure of conservatives to see the value in making and contributing to art and education is perhaps the primary cause of our current politically debased condition.

My advice to conservatives: Make something. Fiction, verse, art, film. Make something beautiful that justifies its own existence, and, if you love liberty, that love will automatically become a part of that justification, whether obvious or not.

And whether obvious or not, that love will seep through the words or images, and may just stain some other heart.

It is the only way back. 

— Matt Patterson is executive director of the Center for Worker Freedom, a special project of Americans for Tax Reform. He can be reached at Mpatterson.column@gmail.com.

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