By Alan Bean
Andrew Bacevich could easily be dismissed as a liberal. He is a political scientist who teaches at Boston University, and he has been a persistent and outspoken critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He thinks abortion and gay marriage are part of the American landscape and should be accepted as such. He isn’t in favor of gutting the American welfare system.
But Bacevich is a conservative and a Republican, just not the kind whose star is currently in the ascendancy. That is, he is a conservative and he is a Republican; but he’s not what is commonly understood as a conservative Republican.
Bacevich is a fiscal conservative. He believes America needs to get its fiscal house in order–but he thinks the cuts should come from our bloated military and our alphabet soup of national security agencies, not from programs that help the poor.
Bacevich is also a social conservative. A devout Roman Catholicm he believes the family is the primary building block of American society, and he thinks the family is in serious trouble. In his view, the problem isn’t that gays are getting married; it’s that straights aren’t staying married. But we won’t solve the problem by preaching personal responsibility; we’ve got to create jobs that pay a living wage.
Bacevich, in other words, wouldn’t feel comfortable among most Republicans I know or among most Democrats; he represents the kind of third-way thinking that I have long advocated.
That isn’t to say that I agree with everything Bacevich says below (for instance, he writes as if race isn’t an issue worthy of mention), but his kind of conservatism could revive the fortunes of the Republican Party. Heck, given the alternatives, I’d vote Republican if Bacevich was in charge of the party platform.
You can learn more about his brand of conservatism here.
How to revive the flagging fortunes of the Republican Party might matter to some people, but it’s not a question that should concern principled conservatives. Crypto-conservatives aplenty stand ready to shoulder that demeaning task. Tune in Fox News or pick up the latest issue of National Review or the Weekly Standard and you’ll find them, yelping, whining, and pointing the finger at our recently reelected president as the Antichrist.
Conservatives who prefer thinking to venting—those confident that a republic able to survive eight years of George W. Bush can probably survive eight years of Barack Obama—confront a question of a different order. To wit: does authentic American conservatism retain any political viability in this country in the present age? That is, does homegrown conservatism have any lingering potential for gaining and exercising power at the local, state, or national levels? Or has history consigned the conservative tradition—as it has Marxism—to a status where even if holding some residual utility as an analytical tool, it no longer possesses value as a basis for practical action?
To which a properly skeptical reader may respond, perhaps reaching for a sidearm: exactly whose conservative tradition are you referring to, bucko?
Well, I’ll admit to prejudices, so let me lay them out.
(Fans of Ayn Rand or Milton Friedman will want to stop reading here and flip to the next article. If Ronald Reagan’s your hero, sorry—you won’t like what’s coming. Ditto regarding Ron Paul. And if in search of wisdom you rely on anyone whose byline appears regularly in any publication owned by Rupert Murdoch, well, you’ve picked up the wrong magazine.)
The conservative tradition I have in mind may not satisfy purists. It doesn’t rise to the level of qualifying as anything so grandiose as a coherent philosophy. It’s more of a stew produced by combining sundry ingredients. The result, to use a word that ought warm the cockles of any conservative’s heart, is a sort of an intellectual slumgullion.