The Campaign Spot

Why the Right Is Growing Cynical About the ‘Common Good’

I’m scheduled to appear on Chuck Todd’s “Daily Rundown” on MSNBC around 9:40 or so this morning. It’s a busy media stretch for me, as I’ll go up to New York to appear on “Real News” on The Blaze on Friday evening, and then Sunday I’m on Howard Kurtz’s “Reliable Sources.”

The Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt features a lot about the Benghazi hearings, the notion of a conservative “ghetto” in media, and then these thoughts:

Why Conservatives Are Growing Cynical About the Concept of the ‘Common Good’

Pete Wehner wonders if conservatives have forgotten, or lost interest, in the value of community:

It strikes me that this ancient insight — of how we do not live in isolation, that we are part of a continuum — has been a bit neglected by American conservatives in recent years. The emphasis one hears these days has to do almost solely with liberty, which of course is vital. But there is also the trap of hyper-individualism. What’s missing, I think, is an appropriate appreciation — or at least a public appreciation — for community, social solidarity, and the common good; for the obligations and attachments we have to each other and the role institutions play in forming those attachments.

It’s not exactly clear to me why conservatives have neglected these matters. It may be the result of a counter-reaction to President Obama’s expansion of the size, scope, and reach of the federal government, combined with a growing libertarian impulse within conservatism. Whatever the explanation, conservatives are making an error — a political error, a philosophical error, a human error — in ignoring (at least in our public language) this understanding of the richness and fullness of life.

Conservatism has never been simply about being left alone. It is not exclusively about self-reliance, individual drive and “rugged individualism,” as important as these things are. We need to be careful about portraying life in a constricted way, since our characters and personalities and sensibilities are shaped by so many other factors and forces and people all along the way.

Permit me to offer a theory or two . . . 

We’ve always been a diverse country, but I suspect that a lot of conservatives click on the television or web or look at the morning paper or magazine and see a country they just don’t recognize anymore.

The sense of alienation isn’t racial, but it is cultural. How many conservatives look out upon large swaths of their fellow countrymen and feel as if they’re dealing with someone from another planet, someone whose thinking, values, worldview, and priorities are so alien, they simply can’t understand them?

Our political differences and culture wars are a big part of it. But I think it goes even further. How many times can a conservative encounter the low-information voters who don’t know who the vice president is, or watch the folks on the street get stumped by basic questions in Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” segments, and not lose some faith in the American people as a whole?

For starters, I really have only the vaguest idea who Jodi Arias is. According to cable news producers, this trial is a really, really, really big deal.

I remember reading the joke, “Far in the future, aliens will come and find the relics of our modern civilization and conclude that Kim Kardashian was our queen.” I really don’t understand why I’m supposed to care about this woman, and I don’t understand why it seems that I’m constantly being told things about her.

I suppose someone could argue that my interest in football or superhero movies or Star Wars is similarly frivolous. But a functioning constitutional republic relies on an informed public to hold its government accountable, and it feels like large swaths of our public checked out of this whole process, finding any duties of citizenship to be a drag.

Any American who worked their butt off through college and did the entry-level, low-pay jobs at the beginning of their working lives looks at the Occupy Movement and wonders how the heck someone can begin adulthood with such a ludicrous sense of entitlement. Anybody who’s interacted with the government looks at a takeover of the health-care system as a nationwide slow-motion train wreck happening before our eyes. We saw more of it yesterday; anybody who watched the Benghazi hearing is left slack-jawed, marveling at the raw cynicism at work at the highest levels of our government.

It’s very hard to be motivated to help “the common good” when you sense that a good portion of the folks you’re being asked to help are exercising bad judgment, unwilling to work hard, unwilling to make similar sacrifices, unwilling to take responsibility for themselves, and so on.


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