The Corner

Ted Cruz and the Power of Conviction

As I type this post, Senator Ted Cruz’s filibuster is winding down, and while the leftist outlets (and, sadly, some Republicans) spew forth their vitriol, I can’t help but think that moments like this and Senator Rand Paul’s “Stand with Rand” filibuster represent key turning points for the conservative movement. I’m far less interested in the Washington inside baseball of who’s mad at whom and far more interested in the effect of passionately demonstrated conservative conviction on our culture.

The Left has long understood the raw cultural power of conviction. How many of our key institutions have been transformed through the sheer force of will expressed by a passionate minority? People with conviction dictate the terms of debate, transform the decision-making paradigm of even the largest entities, and lay the groundwork for larger cultural transformation. This work is rarely, if ever, done with majority support but instead at the urging of the most committed, most dedicated, and most vocal. Thus, our great institutions often change without any public referendum, merely passive acquiescence. Indeed, one reason why people like Senator Cruz can be all-too-successfully labeled as “extremist” in the wider culture has been the power of leftist conviction at work in key cultural institutions.

The conservative pushback against our cultural drift was bound to be messy and — of course, since we’re all imperfect people — sometimes mistake-prone. Legitimate disagreements about tactics can needlessly escalate into destructive infighting, some self-described “true conservatives” have more passion than common sense, and there are always opportunists lurking around any new political movement, but I’m not sure the D.C. community is fully aware of the extent of the change in millions of conservatives, especially in red states. While the political press obsesses over the battles inside the Beltway, conservatives are asserting themselves in ways large and small — exactly as the Left has done for years — at work, at school, and in the civic organizations that shape our lives.

I can’t recall who made the observation that institutions not self-consciously conservative grow more liberal over time, but grassroots conviction is exactly the reason for that phenomenon. But that’s not an immutable law of nature. Change can occur.

When a movement transforms itself from essentially managing our national decline, on the constant defensive, to rebuilding a culture from the ground up, strains are inevitable, and the strains can be immense. At the risk of intruding on Jonah’s turf, I’m reminded of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (one of the better of the old-school Star Trek movies), Captain Sulu, at the helm of the USS Excelsior sends his ship racing to the aid of Kirk and the Enterprise. As he presses his craft to maximum speed, a crew member warns, “She’ll fly apart.”

Sulu barks back: “Fly her apart then!

Exactly so. It’s past time to push the limits.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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