By DAVID BEILSTEIN
IN 1925, H.L. Mencken wrote a scathing obituary of fundamentalist progressive William Jennings Bryan. The ‘Sage of Baltimore’ wrote,
“Bryan lived too long, and descended too deeply into the mud, to be taken seriously hereafter by fully literate men, even of the kind who write schoolbooks.”
That’s as congenial as Mencken got.
William Jennings Bryan, 1860-1925, was America’s egalitarian populist fundamentalist. Mr Bryan cut a trail through American culture and polity as prosecuting attorney during The Scopes Trial and Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson.
Mr Bryan ran for president three times and lost three times. His populist gait galloped across the American frontier, and glissaded across the plebian landscape a fundamentalist petard—railing against diversities, hailing an American exceptionalism based on social gospel glory. Mr Mencken’s obituary for Mr Bryan, To Expose A Fool, was a caustic lambaste to Bryan’s fundamentalist pretentiousness those on the political right—supposedly ‘conservators’ of classical liberalism—should heed.
Our times appear bewildered. Likewise, the conservative movement is broken. Not because it cannot win elections—but because what portends to be conservative, is not. Therefore, confusion reigns—ideological contours are conflated and things are not what they seem.
Former Senator Rick Santorum’s exit from the 2012 campaign deserves resounding jubilation among conservatives. It offers a clarion horn blast in our time. For many conservatives, Santorum seemed the proper antipode to Republican Party moderates. But Santorum’s populist sludge is not unlike Bryan’s, only worse. Worse, because Mr Santorum demands—and is called—a conservative. Nobody mistook William Jennings Bryan as anything but a progressive. Santorum’s rhetoric and his record derives, radically so, more from progressive instincts than conservative ones.
In this regard, Santorum’s record is impeccable. His support for President George W Bush’s No Child Left Behind bill was a boon to big government. It ensured Federal micromanaging of individual and family’s educational control. Santorum’s muscular support for President Bush’s prescription drug entitlement for Medicare added almost 16 trillion smackers in unfunded taxpayer expense. Santorum even pledged to use HHS funds to push Big Government programs.
Still, Santorum traversed across the striated campaign trail heralding himself the conservative’s conservative. He pounded his lectern with a progressive’s entheos. He raged with moralistic fervor and railed against individual diversities opposed to his evangelical triumphalism. He was feverous with big government ideas.
Taking a cue from progressive Mr Bryan, Santorum used Holy Scripture removed from its historical-redemptive root to champion a moralistic, state sanctioned social gospel asininity. His political cynicism knew no bounds. Like Bryan, Mr Santorum rolled up his sleeves and sweated freely,—gasped and awed even—preaching the commoners populist prayer and promising Big Government salvation of life, culture, and American exceptionalism.
Santorum intimated the federal government’s role involves the individual’s bedroom. Like many progressives before him, Santorum saw government’s proper place as the cultivation of a particular society, over and against individual autonomy.
The apokalypsis of history reveals political Progressivism morphs into statism. Whether soft or hard in form, statism usurps the U.S. Constitutional confine of a ‘constrained vision’ of individuals and government. It has many faces—paternalistic, progressive—but tilts toward government control over individual liberty.
In the past and in our time, Progressives have waged war against the Founding Father’s constitutional architecture for generations. And they have sought to impose a vision of the federal government’s ever expanding, perceived plenary powers, to encroach upon individual autonomy. President Woodrow Wilson, a progressive champion, once wrote in a paper entitled,Leaders of Men, that people’s inalienable rights were almost illusionary. On the stump, when Santorum unleashed his populist pomp, one could almost see the black & white vestiges of Woodrow Wilson and William Jennings Bryan in their progressive apotheosis.
Yet many conservative voters could make no such connections. There is, swirling around the highways and byways of American conservative circles, the presumption positive ideas about Christianity cannot be progressive; for it is thought, modern progressivism seems dogged about its attack upon the Christian science. Historically, however, the progressive movement was wedded to Christianity, whatever its legitimacy to do so. Look no further than Mr Wilson and Mr Bryan. Look no further than the Volstead Act, i.e., Prohibition. These movements were said to be inspired by Christianity. Whatever name is given to these progressive programs, they were in fact, progressive.
Clarity is palatial in seminal hours. The American marriage, as they say, is not well. There is bitterness between polarities and the odor of marital infidelity lingers. The threat of a national divorce is closer than it was generations ago.
But the mysteries of providence have defeated Santorum’s grim hoax. Unfortunately, his campaign and its popularity with conservative voters lingers. Its resonance with conservatives troubles the privacies of the classical liberal mind. The conservative movement is doomed if it is not conservative. And the financial realities of our nation demand a political party resolutely committed to limited government and a tight grip on entitlement spending.
In this, the conservative protects individual liberty from state intrusion at all costs. Liberty is the default position of the conservative, always. The conservative is not worried or concerned by the differing factions and diversities liberty produces in a nation. Founding Father James Madison echoed this sentiment in Federalist 51. No, the conservative is inspired and lifted and protected by liberty. The conservative is protected because liberty protects what is his or hers by natural inalienable rights. Fragile is life and centralized power historically wars against individual property, bodily, or materially.
Now Santorum rides into the sunset a moralistic progressive. Good people wish him no ill. But the good classical liberal, i.e., the American conservative, wish Mr Santorum would call himself what he is. A progressive.
Good riddance, Rick.