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Opinion: Conservatism v. Populism

The 1960’s British Invasion rock band The Who had a lyric which asked the question now facing the Republican Party.: “Who Are You? … Who? Who? … Who? Who?”

Shall the GOP drop its populist feint and stick to its traditional conservative values of fiscal and moral responsibility? Should it move to populism? What is “populism” anyway? Who are these working people who have now joined the party? Are we at a serious point in American history, or is it all just hype and we are only in a state of business as usual? Is the next election to be the end of democracy, as both sides always claim it is? Who wants to break down the American system and who wants to shore it up? Do traditional conservatives deserve more time?

I suggest there are ten dimensions to what the clever call “The Great Sort:”

1. A Lousy Country. Is America a lousy country, due to its slaveholding and warmongering past, or is America’s ordered liberty the best ever, for it conquered the indigenous people though Manifest Destiny and that battle is over, efforts to fix racism have made sufficient material strides that the cure is now worse than the disease for everyone involved and we should drop the issue, and is our system, whose integrity must be put before any other issue, the only system which allows individuals to blossom?

2. Subsidizing the Lazy. Do we productive people have to part with ever more of our cash to help the able non-productive people, particularly the able but lazy poor, or is the nation sufficiently rich that the productive may now stop paying the non-productive able people by actually cutting their benefits (to zero?)? May we leave solutions to charity and individual responsibility, which might lead bureaucrats to get real jobs where they will be productive and add to our standard of living, and which might also lead fathers to go home out of worry that their children would otherwise starve?

3. Elite Grandiosity. Are the great blobs of the (a) politicians, (b) bureaucrats and government contractors, (c) university administrators and professors, and (d) the chattering classes going to run the nation and keep the booty for themselves, all the while claiming to be acting in the people’s interest, or are the blobs going to be somehow starved of their money and power so they can’t get in the way of each person’s dignity of self reliance and blossoming? Should we start by stopping Congress from delegating its powers so the members have to take the hard votes?

4. Teachers Who Can’t Add and Subtract, Students Who Can’t Add and Subtract. Are we going to allow teachers’ unions to feed our kids intellectual oatmeal resulting in the lads and lasses being unable to function as traditional swashbuckling Americans, or are we going to create a parent controlled education market such that parents’ choices will determine which schools get funded and then we will get teachers who can add and subtract and those teachers will give us students who can add and subtract?

5. Naughty Speech. Are we going to let go freedom of speech, or are we going to defend to the death our right to spout what the esteemed elites think is false, cheerily telling snowflakes to put on their helmets?

6. Money Makes the World Go Round, The World Go Round, The World Go Round. Are we going to stop exponentially increasing federal deficits, with the deficit money mostly going to friends and families of the elite blobs, or are we going to let hyper-inflation trash everyone’s life savings and cause complete societal breakdown?

7. Smash that Cartier Display Case. Given that it is apparently going to take some time for a sense of respectful morality to develop among the urban lower classes, are we going let criminal flash mobs destroy our cities so everyone who can will scoot out to the ever deeper suburbs, (which is a loser’s game), or are we going to lock up the raging criminals and let business owners defend their establishments with bullets?

8. Immigrant Peasants Housed at the Ritz. Are the immigrants going to invade at a rate higher than can be absorbed into traditional American culture, or are we going to seal up the southern border?

9. Doctor, Doctor, Tell Me Your Finances. Is the health care system going to go all in with the federal government as the single payor and no market, or are we going to have a market-charity combo, with no government subsidy, which will lead to less paperwork and better health care?

10. Take Away the Guns! Take Away the Guns! Take Away the Guns! Are we going to take away the guns so the citizens can’t defend either their own lives or their neighbors’ lives against criminals, jack-booted thugs, and enemies foreign and domestic, or are we going to figure out that the right to have a gun which is of the same power as the criminals is self-evident because it is part of one’s self-evident right to life?

I suggest the GOP’s river of potential voters, including all the conservatives and all the populists, and including all that river’s main channels, back eddies, spring branches, side island rivulets, whirlpools, deltas and tributaries, are mostly on the same side on most of these issues.

-Ay, there’s the rub. For many of us think the situation is indeed more serious than business as usual. And although we aren’t quite sure what the definition of “populist” is, and although we know “populist” carries with it bad connotations such as mob attacks on the old regime à la the French Revolution, trade protectionism, and short-sighted isolationism, we do know we are “mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore.” That does not mean we are going to take to the streets, for we don’t want to undermine the system, but it does mean we are tired of working successfully to install conservative republicans in power only to have them do nothing.

Our traditional conservatives have been steadily losing ground on all these issues since, well, the Kennedy assassination.

And this brings us back to labels and time. The Democrats have ceded to the GOP the working people’s vote, even as the GOP has ceded to the Democrats the elite college educated vote. We traditional but frustrated Republicans now wish to join these new working people in fighting harder and louder to preserve the American way of life, that is, our families, our houses, our solitude, and our money. Whether the Democrats alleged values and beliefs are only in pursuit of power, or whether only the Dems have compassion, (the opposite of correct, for they profess compassion but their welfare policies are cruel to the recipients of the government beneficence while it liberals feel good about themselves), or whether they act that way for other unknown reasons, we are quite sure the Democrats are trying to trash what America has created and we want it stopped. Condemn us as “populists?” Who cares about the label? We the frustrated hereby tell the old conservatives who offer only the platitudes of fiscal and moral responsibility but no real change: “Gentlemen, your time has expired.”

Now, how do we – with more juice but still acting within the system – proceed?