The Corner

Politics & Policy

Conservative Ideas and the Question of Confidence

Reagan at his ranch, April 1985 (National Archives)

Last week, Jonah Goldberg had a column whose main message was, “Conservatives need to argue about ideas.” And this reminded me that I’ve long wanted to say something about California.

A lot of us conservatives have long written it off. California is too changed: too brown, too illegal, too bloated, too listless. All the good people have left, and all the bad people have stayed. You know the rap. Usually, we don’t put it this crudely, but this is what it amounts to.

What about trying to persuade people? What about trying to sell our ideas? Now, it’s usually not like me to be Mary Sunshine. It’s hard to out-cynic me. Over the last ten years, I’ve said a thousand times, “If you think Ronald Reagan could have a political career in California today, you must be smoking something. For all his talents, he couldn’t be elected dogcatcher, much less governor.”

That’s what I say — but I may be wrong. This one thing I know: You’ve got to try. “Never up, never in,” we say in golf. In other words, if you don’t get the putt to the hole, it’s not going in. If you don’t pitch your ideas to people, those ideas aren’t going to have a chance.

I wonder: Do we have so little faith in our ideas and their power? Do we think our ideas are for limited demographics? What pitiful ideas those must be, then!

Over and over, my whole career long, I’ve met people who say, “I was on the left, but Bill Buckley changed my mind.” “I was on the left, but Ronald Reagan changed my mind.” WFB and Reagan were always talking to people, always making a case for their ideas.

Are we doing that sufficiently today? Am I? Jonah does it. Arthur Brooks does it. Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico, does it. She is a conservative Republican who wins in a state that’s 3 to 1 Democratic. She goes to places that have rarely seen a Republican and talks to people about ideas, without attaching partisan labels to them.

Today, we often have one tribe screaming and sneering at the other. And tribes multiply into tribe-lets, screaming and sneering some more. (A lot of people on the right don’t regard Jonah Goldberg, Arthur Brooks, and Susana Martinez as conservatives at all. That’s another problem, another post.)

I depart from some of my Reaganite brethren in that I don’t believe that the Reagan playbook is inoperative today. For one thing, it wasn’t really his. He was a popularizer of, an evangelist for, ideas that existed long before him and will exist long after him. Of course, there are always new and necessary applications.

Jimmy Carter liked to quote a schoolteacher of his, Miss Julia — Miss Julia Coleman: “We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles.”

You know what I would sell, if I were in the arena? Personal freedom. The rule of law. The Constitution, and adherence to it. Equality under the law. Equality of opportunity. Free enterprise. Property rights. Free trade. Civil society. The right to work. A strong defense. American leadership in the world. A sound, non-flaky educational curriculum. The primacy of the family. A sensible environmentalism, as opposed to green madness. Pluralism. Colorblindness. E pluribus unum.

Give it a whirl. Never up, never in. You never know whom you’ll reach, even in California. Of course, practitioners may say I’m naïve . . .

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

Why Wasn’t Andrew McCabe Charged?

The Justice Department announced Friday that it is closing its investigation of Andrew McCabe, the FBI’s former deputy director, over his false statements to investigators probing an unauthorized leak that McCabe had orchestrated. McCabe was fired in March 2018, shortly after a blistering Justice Department ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Why Wasn’t Andrew McCabe Charged?

The Justice Department announced Friday that it is closing its investigation of Andrew McCabe, the FBI’s former deputy director, over his false statements to investigators probing an unauthorized leak that McCabe had orchestrated. McCabe was fired in March 2018, shortly after a blistering Justice Department ... Read More
Elections

There’s Zero Chance Bloomberg Would Pick Hillary

There’s no better evidence that Mike Bloomberg’s chances of getting the Democratic nomination are on the rise than the fact that the opportunistic Hillary Clinton is already trying to grab a piece of the action. The Drudge Report startled the political world on Saturday by noting that “sources close to ... Read More
Elections

There’s Zero Chance Bloomberg Would Pick Hillary

There’s no better evidence that Mike Bloomberg’s chances of getting the Democratic nomination are on the rise than the fact that the opportunistic Hillary Clinton is already trying to grab a piece of the action. The Drudge Report startled the political world on Saturday by noting that “sources close to ... Read More
Elections

The Media’s Bernie Sanders Makeover Begins

Just you watch: By the time Election Day rolls around in November, liberal columnists will be telling us that Bernie Sanders is the “real conservative” in the presidential race. Many among the center–left commentariat are struggling to come to terms with the likelihood that the Democratic Party will ... Read More
Elections

The Media’s Bernie Sanders Makeover Begins

Just you watch: By the time Election Day rolls around in November, liberal columnists will be telling us that Bernie Sanders is the “real conservative” in the presidential race. Many among the center–left commentariat are struggling to come to terms with the likelihood that the Democratic Party will ... Read More
Religion

Getting Real About Christianity

Charlotte, N.C. -- There were women weeping in a chapel here. One woman named Veronica was nearly inconsolable. She was talking about the crucifixion of Christ as if it was happening right then and there. She was feeling it. She was seeing it as the consequences of her sins. She was overwhelmed by the love of a ... Read More
Religion

Getting Real About Christianity

Charlotte, N.C. -- There were women weeping in a chapel here. One woman named Veronica was nearly inconsolable. She was talking about the crucifixion of Christ as if it was happening right then and there. She was feeling it. She was seeing it as the consequences of her sins. She was overwhelmed by the love of a ... Read More