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Jewish World Review Apr. 5, 1999 /19 Nissan 5759

Paul Greenberg

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The problem with the Right

(JWR) ---- (
THE PROBLEM WITH THE POLITICAL RIGHT in this country is that it seems to think men will fight and die and live for ... the free market. But free enterprise is at best only a means to fulfillment --- and an uncertain means at that. The free market cannot define truth or virtue or duty or loyalty or beauty. It can only allow us to make our own choices.

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 values.


03/30/99: But can he convince himself?
03/26/99: Short bursts
03/24/99: Once more into the quagmire
03/17/99: Big time in Little Rock
03/15/99: Our own Roger Taney
03/09/99: A different ‘Waterfront’
03/05/99: Law and disorder
2/26/99: King Richard's revenge
2/25/99: Open season on the fetus, and a good word for the pagans
2/23/99: It never ends: Here comes the judge
2/19/99: After the storm: Going through the debris
2/17/99: Where's the closure?
2/12/99: Hussein the Hashemite: The wiliest player on the board
2/09/99: The social security game
2/04/99: Our own Inspector Clouseau
2/01/99: Night scene, night thoughts
1/28/99: The decay of the art of lying
1/26/99: Impeachment: Short subjects
1/22/99: Bounce, glitz and tedium: The State of the Disunion
1/20/99: Destructive engagement: How to encourage tyranny
1/18/99: Martin Luther King: The radical as conservative?
1/11/99: Why America is apathetic about Bill's date with destiny
1/06/99:The year of Moronica
1/04/99: Clinton’s janitorial crew of two
12/29/98:The Senate will be on trial, too
12/29/98:A look down the avenue
12/22/98: The surreal impeachment
12/17/98: Another moment of truth approaches
12/15/98: The President's defenders: witnesses for the prosecution
12/10/98:The latest miracle cure: CensurePlus
12/03/98: Sentences at an airport Sentences at an airport
12/03/98: Games lawyers play
12/01/98: Ms. Magoo strikes again, or: Janet Reno and the law
11/26/98: The most American holiday
11/23/98: Same game, another round
11/18/98: Guide to the perplexed
11/09/98: A vote for apathy
11/03/98: Global village goes Clintonesque
11/02/98: Farewell to all that
10/30/98: New budget, same swollen government
10/26/98: Of life on the old plantation -- and death in the Middle East
10/22/98: Starr Wars (CONT'D)
10/19/98:Another retreat: weakness invites aggression
10/16/98: Profile in courage
10/14/98: A new voice out of Arkansas
10/09/98: Gerald Ford, Mr. Fix-It?
10/07/98: Impeachment Journal: Dept. of Doublespeak
10/01/98: The new tradition
9/25/98: Mr. President, PLEASE don't resign
9/23/98: The demolition of meaning
9/18/98: So help us G-d; The nature of the crisis
9/17/98: First impressions: on reading the Starr Report
9/15/98: George Wallace: All the South in one man
9/10/98: Here comes the judge
9/07/98: Toward impeachment
9/03/98: The politics of impeachment
9/01/98: The eagle can still soar
8/28/98: Boris Yeltsin's mind: a riddle pickled in an enigma
8/26/98: Clinton agonistes, or: Twisting in the wind
8/25/98: The rise of the English murder
8/24/98: Confess and attack: Slick comes semi-clean
8/19/98: Little Rock perspectives
8/14/98: Department of deja vu
8/12/98: The French would understand
8/10/98: A fable: The Rat in the Corner
8/07/98: Welcome to the roaring 90s
8/06/98: No surprises dept. -- promotion denied
8/03/98: Quotes of and for the week: take your pick
7/29/98: A subpoena for the president:
so what else is new?
7/27/98: Forget about Bubba, it's time to investigate Reno
7/23/98: Ghosts on the roof, 1998
7/21/98: The new elegance
7/16/98: In defense of manners
7/13/98: Another day, another delay: what's missing from the scandal news
7/9/98:The language-wars continue
7/7/98:The new Detente
7/2/98: Bubba in Beijing: history does occur twice
6/30/98: Hurry back, Mr. President -- to freedom
6/24/98: When Clinton follows Quayle's lead
6/22/98: Independence Day, 2002
6/18/98: Adventures in poli-speke

©1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate