The Fifth Column(ist): Post-CPAC Edition

Notes and musings from a conservative living and working in New York City

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Sarah Palin - a highlight of CPAC
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Ed Kozak
On 19 March 2013 17:16

Well, a new week has begun and I’m back at the office after an absolutely killer CPAC. This year was my third attending the conference and the phrase “third time’s a charm” certainly held true.

There were Transformers (not kidding, and these costumes rivaled anything at ComicCon), a Psy-lookalike who had mastered both the lyrics and dance moves to ‘Gangnam Style’, and, to my continued amusement, a Head Start Program conference being held in the same place.

Having had Sunday to reflect on and recover from CPAC (mostly recover), I believe the US conservative movement’s future prospects to be better than I had thought going in.

***

I had a couple of very interesting experiences with liberals and the liberal-leaning at CPAC. First, I somehow managed to drag two friends who grew up with me along. One, who was never particularly political, was incredibly impressed and I believe (at least hope) is now a self-proclaimed conservative. The other, still a self-proclaimed liberal, was also very impressed, and says he is now more open to the conservative message.

Both agreed that the misconceptions they had about conservatives and the conservative movement were the products of a biased education system and media. Clearly CPAC worked in a way that hours of mostly-friendly arguments did not. I guess seeing is believing.

My second noteworthy experience with a liberal came when a somewhat-drunk state school principle (in town for the Head Start Program conference) came up to me and a friend at a bar and began to insult us for being Republicans. After quickly pointing out that we were in town for a conservative conference and not a GOP rally, and that she might do better in the future to not make assumptions about strangers, we began a conversation. That’s when things got really interesting.

Turns out Mrs. “I’m a public school principle and a Democrat and I hate Republicans” is actually a fan of charter schools, and wants to open her own school. I wonder if she’ll still be a Democrat after she tries to do that and all her friends in the teachers union turn on her. She then, astonishingly, went on to say how much she loves Dr. Ben Carson, a current darling of the conservative movement in America.

These experiences have made one thing clear, and the GOP needs to take note because it makes things very tricky:  people clearly have a problem with the Republican brand, but they also clearly like the conservative message.

The GOP cannot go down the path of the UK Conservative Party, sacrificing conservatism for an increased share of votes. Instead, it needs to find a way of detoxifying the GOP image while simultaneously promoting true conservative principles.

***

As a New Jersey native living in New York City, two of my favorite moments at CPAC came from the two speakers I thought least likely to impress me. First was Mitt Romney, whose gratitude, warmth, and honor were palpable, throwing two fingers up to the ACU by promoting purple state governors and mentioning Chris Christie by name.

The second was Sarah Palin throwing two fingers up to Mayor Bloomberg in the form of an already-legendary sip from a Big Gulp. In fact, Palin’s entire speech (when she stuck to the script anyway) was fantastic. I mean truly fantastic. (In case I’m not being clear, if you had told me a week ago that I’d not only enjoy a Sarah Palin speech, but that it would be a CPAC highlight, I’d have thought you completely mad. Whoever wrote that thing, give me a job.)

***

It was nice to see constructive conservative-libertarian dialogue for once, but this certainly needs to go further. I find doctrinaire libertarians can be tiresome, and this year’s CPAC was no exception. Their slavish, ideological devotion to the concept of liberty results in a dangerous short-sightedness. In their quickness to dismiss any advocate of traditional social and socio-political customs as merely a different shade of statist, they ignore crucial philosophical distinctions, and in doing so risk endangering the very liberty they claim to cherish.

Now don’t get me wrong – I consider myself an arch liberal and wish to see as much liberty as possible in society, but that liberty must be grounded in traditional values and society.

For it was traditional society itself that gave birth to the rights, liberties, and freedoms we of the Anglo-sphere cherish so, and it is traditional society that best protects them. This was a major point of Burke’s, also addressed by many great conservative thinkers thereafter, from Coleridge to Kirk to Kuehnelt-Leddihn.

Some of my friends will no doubt find these words surprising, as for many years I identified myself as a die-hard libertarian. But I really fail to see how anyone with half a brain could watch Obama get elected twice and still believe all men to be capable of reason.

It is this shortcoming that leads many alleged liberty-lovers to do strange things, like quote Thomas Paine (who advocated a minimum wage) and Thomas Jefferson (a man who, if his reaction to the French Revolution is anything to go by, might have cheered as the communists murdered the Tsar and his family). It is this shortcoming that leads Christopher Dawson to describe classical liberalism as a mere stepping stone from Christendom to totalitarianism.

In a traditional society which values true community, the individual is protected from the state by the various voluntary associations of his daily life – the church, guilds, local government, etc. In a liberal society, be it classical or modern, those protections are all but gone, and what remains is a sea of atomized individuals at the mercy of the state.

Libertarians fail to realize that liberty without order – just like order without liberty – will inevitably descend into tyranny. They think a modern socialist dictatorship no different from a traditional monarchy, but the difference couldn’t be greater. 

It is the difference between being a mere cog in a machine – a faceless part of a soulless system that does nothing but grow government or industry – and a musician in a symphony orchestra – a voluntary member of something greater than oneself, creating something more beautiful and meaningful than one man could ever achieve on his own. 

Ed Kozak is a political commentator, writer, and musician, working for a publishing firm in New York City

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