Jewish World Review Apr. 5, 1999 /19 Nissan 5759
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The problem with the right is that it is so terribly earnest, repeating the most jaded platitudes as if they were startling new discoveries.
The problem with the right is that it can wind up sounding as dull and smug as the left.
The problem with the right is that it confuses rhetoric with eloquence, speechmaking with reasoning. Too often it seems oblivious to the transcendent power of humor. The right needs more P.J. O'Rourkes and Florence Kings, fewer Gary Bauers and Bob Barrs.
The problem with the right is that it doesn't laugh enough, and when it does, it may be laughing at something that's vulgar rather than funny.
The problem with the right is that it tends to confuse a sneer with a sense of humor, a puritanical scowl with a reasonable deduction, a blunt insult with incisive criticism.
The problem with the right is that it doesn't always realize that the ultimate victory in any political contest will go to the side that succeeds in raising the standard of public discourse --- whether it wins or loses a particular election, vote or seat in Congress.
While its principles can stand the test of time, and have, the problem with the right is that it loses patience and decides to take a short cut --- the low road. Nobody did more to discredit the right in this country than Joe McCarthy.
The problem with the right is that it worships Ronald Reagan but seems unable to recapture his simplicity, his candor, his perseverance, his good humor and, above all, his invincible good will. His would-be successors try to follow in his footsteps rather than seek what he sought, which will take new thought, new dedication, new insights, new energy and confidence.To conserve, one must change.
The problem with the right is that it doesn't produce happy warriors. It has forgotten that victory belongs to those who transcend politics and appeal to the spirit.
The problem with the right is that it isn't bipartisan; it has tended to put all its chips on one party rather than invest in both. The right has not cultivated the allegiance of New Democrats --- the kind of Democrat Bill Clinton pretended to be every election year. Instead, he turned out to be only a Dick Morris-style triangulator.
The problem with the right is that it tends to confuse nostalgia with a program. To quote Whittaker Chambers: "If the Republican Party cannot get some grip on the actual world in which we live and actively promote a program that means something to masses of people ... the Republican Party will become like one of those dark shops which apparently never sell anything. If, for any reason, you go in, you find at the back an old man, fingering for his own pleasure some oddments of cloth. Nobody wants to buy them, which is fine because the old man is not really interested in selling. He just likes to hold and feel.''
The problem with the right is that it tends to get so caught up in its own intrigues, it loses sight of first principles. Here's a problem the right shares with the left: The mechanics of politics become so absorbing that the object of politics disappears from view.
The problem with the right is that rather than celebrate its heroes, it prefers to curse its enemies -- when it should be trying to win them over. The problem with the right is that it seems to think it can browbeat Americans into agreement, rather than persuade, convince and lead.
The problem with the right is that it often invokes the past but learns so little from it.
The problem with the right (and left) is that it confuses mere political power with moral suasion.
And yet, despite all its problems, the right appeals because of its attachment to and understanding of the past -- not as something dead and gone, but alive and instructive. Because to the right, history is usable. The right does not despise the past but seeks to conserve and extend the best of it.
The right understands that if we know more than the past did, it is because of what the past teaches us even now.
The appeal of conservatism has proved hardy despite the unappealing habits of
conservatives. Maybe that's because, at its best moments, the conservative cause drops the
games and remembers its
03/30/99: But can he convince himself?