Skip to content

Death of the Conservative “Movement”

July 7, 2018

Part One

During the 1960s and early 1970s, the Conservative “Movement” was the most exciting place to be in American public life. Feeling “rejected and afflicted” by the Establishment in every aspect of American life–politics, education, religion–Conservatives threw caution to the wind and attacked the Republican Establishment. They didn’t care because, as supporters of Barry Goldwater said, “In our hearts we knew we were right.”

As a young college student finishing my first year of college, I was one of them. I found a home among fellow conservatives who became my friends and shared a belief in free markets, a Constitution rooted in a philosophy of limited government, and firm conviction that we must defend our freedom and “the West” from the Soviet Union. Anti-communism was part of the package that we accepted when we joined the “Conservative Movement.”

Conservatives grew organizations that supported these ideas–Bill Baroody, Sr. at the American Enterprise Institute, Don Lipsett at the Philadelphia Society, E. Victor Milione at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Bill Buckley at National Review and Young Americans for Freedom–and we modern conservatives were also readers. We devoured Buckley’s National Review, Leonard Reed’s The Freeman, James Wick and Frank Hanninghen’s Human Events and ISI’s Intercollegiate Review and Modern Age (the latter founded by Russell Kirk) and books published by Henry Regnery. In fact, during two summers I worked for Henry Regnery standing guard at the Regnery booth at the first “conservative political action” conferences held at the Mayflower Hotel in 1961 and 1962 hosted by Human Events. That conference blossomed into the CPACs of today.

Those were heady days made even more exciting by the arousal from slumber of Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians who were attracted to Barry Goldwater. When Goldwater went down to defeat, they retreated to their churches until 1979 when Jerry Falwell organized the “moral majority” with Paul Weyrich. Though we voted for Richard Nixon against Hubert Humphrey, that did not compensate for more deaths of American combatants in Vietnam than occurred under LBJ.

By the end of President Lyndon Johnson’s Administration, Liberalism as a political force was exhausted and its fervor–developed during the New Deal–had  become mired in the grasping for government “pork” in the form of welfare programs that benefited Liberal activists and Democrat Party operatives.

Today, unfortunately, close to sixty years later, the “Conservative Movement” itself gives every impression that it too is exhausted and what remains of a “community” of conservatives that revitalized American politics for more than a quarter century–from Russell Kirk (1955) and Bill Buckley to Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan (1988)–blended into the general population.

Those Americans in utter desperation who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, now watch with concern as he defines what for the general public is “conservative.” As for us who read Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, Whitaker Chambers’ Witness, Eric Voegelin’s Order and History or the hundreds of books imaginative conservatives devoured, we know what “conservatism” is and we wonder if the GOP will ever generate a new leadership that had read some of those books.

Instead, we must ask “Is the great American Conservative Movement is dead?”

One answer,  surely, is that “Conservatism,” with a capital “C” became a very good “business” when conservatives were in opposition to Democrats when they were in power.  But, when Republicans governed, we trimmed our sails. Conservative policy organizations that rebuked Liberal majorities in Congress, or Democrat Presidents in the White House, found that they could make good business by not attacking Republicans when the GOP controlled Congress or elected a Republican President.

President George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush were criticized by a minority of old stalwarts like Richard Viguerie and the Libertarian Cato Institute, but not many more.

Even when George W. Bush’s deficit spending and imperial wars destroyed the Republican brand, nary a word in criticism could be heard from Washington “Think Tanks.” Their leaders either liked “W,” or held their breath while continuing to benefit from GOP control of the White House. Even I voted for “W”–twice.

Conservative donors, also, were part of the problem, and wanted to go to events with elected “leaders” more than they wanted to defend our country from bad conservatives.

Look for Part Two on July 9.







No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: