Our Conservative Future

The New Republic Online is running an interesting daily series by Alan Wirzbicki this week critiquing the Fox News Channel’s coverage of the GOP convention. It is interesting because the author — whom I had not heard of before — does not seem to be a Fox fan, yet his assessment is mostly positive.

A short sample from the September 1 entry in the series:

…interestingly it’s on Fox News, the most Republican-friendly of stations, where the difference between the convention’s platform and podium is getting the most critical TV attention.

Fox’s anchors have raised the issue early and often. Shepard Smith, one of the channel’s talking heads, has been sounding practically like Terry McAuliffe. “Can moderates like a Schwarzenegger really be represented by a platform that is so far to the right?” Smith asked yesterday. “Are you just telling lies in these billion-dollar extravaganzas?” Meanwhile Bill O’Reilly interviewed conservative pundit Michelle Malkin, who complained that the Republican speaker’s lineup had a “metrosexual” tilt. Even Sean Hannity was on the case, criticizing the GOP’s golden boy of the moment, John McCain, from the right for his campaign finance reform bill. Fox, unlike CNN, was running the quixotic Log Cabin Republican advertisements yesterday, another sign that the network was the place where some version of an internal GOP conversation on touchy, intra-party issues was happening.

My opinion is that Fox’s coverage of the convention rightly is picking up on the simple fact that conservatives are very much engaged in policy debates. This is true in D.C. and in state legislatures but also in private conversations, blogs, etc.

I could go on for a bit about why this is so, but I’ll spare you. I’ll just toss out one theory: Historically, conservatives were out of power for quite a while, and were for most of the 20th Century perceived as the least popular mainstream American ideology (even when the GOP was dominant, by the way). As a result, conservative politics tended to attract only people sincerely interested in conservatism. Who would join a conservative group or party just because it was popular? Just about nobody!

So the GOP, these days, benefits from having a large number of activists and members who truly care about policy. I’m just guessing, but I’ll bet there are more people genuinely interested in policy at the GOP convention than were present in Boston. BUT — and here is a major qualifier — conservatism isn’t unpopular anymore.

So, here comes the big downside: After 20 years pass, what kind of conservative movement/Republican Party will America have? Will it be populated by people who joined because they saw it as the best route to obtaining status and political power, or can the interest in policy somehow be maintained?

History leads me to conclude that the answer won’t be pretty. But maybe I will be pleasantly surprised.

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