Conservatism, Amiss?


By David Beilstein

LET me take the indelicate step in waging war against former senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum — again! — and the supposed ‘conservatism’ he represents.

Doubtless, some social conservatives will wish to embark upon some kind of questioning of your humble correspondent’s conservative, testicular fortitude. But! Stalwart conservative writer and thinker Ramesh Ponnuru in an article published in the April 16 issue of National Review, stated what I’ve been vituperating about Santorum and his minions for more than a year.

Ponnuru unearths the fundamental problem with the politics of Rick Santorum, and, in consequence, illustrates how Santorum’s grim moralistic progressive march, whilst unintentional, causes harm to the conservative movement in general… a movement, which at its best, constantly tries to conserve the American interpretation of government duties from a liberal perspective in the classical sense.

The American conservative should, always, view his classical liberalism through the legal prism of the U.S.Constitution. This is an important distinction, to me, because classical liberalism has various interpretations, differing from nation to nation. American conservatives are not conserving classical liberalism in a vacuum, but derive it from a particular historical, written, and experiential context.

Ponnuru starts strong, commenting on Santorum’s ‘felt needs’ to lambaste contraception as a presidential candidate,

“Santorum would later criticize the media for dwelling on his views of contraception (“gotcha politics,” he called it). But the record shows that it was Santorum himself who raised the issue, essentially unprompted. His later attempts to backtrack suggest his belated recognition the obvious: Even in primaries filled with social conservatives, the remark was political harmful to him. The vast majority of Americans consider contraception to be morally unproblematic. Most Americans who oppose contraception have no objection to contraception, which makes Santorum’s train of thought hard to follow: How could Santorum “advance the pro-life agenda” by raising an issue that splits pro-lifers, and puts him on the smaller side?”

Further on, Ponnuru lands hard with a solid right hand lead,

“And why would Santorum think that a presidential lecture would change many Americans minds or behaviour with respect to contraception?”

This is an easier diagnosis then might appear. Santorum, though intelligent, does not know what conservatism is in my humble opinion. For Santorum, conservatism is about traditional morality, not the appropriate role of the Federal Government’s duties. In other words, if man considers abstaining from smoking and drinking to be of traditional values (someone ring a Baptist!), he may think of himself as conservative — a man of tradtional values. If that same man desires government to impose laws banning smoking and drinking for his fellow citizens, he is not conservative. Moreover, the fact Santorum believes the Holy Scriptures to be the very Word of God; the Pope in Rome the vicar of Christ — that fornication sinful, marriage and family good — does not make him conservative, politically.

Only in our superficial intellectual climate is this a logical connection. Nevertheless, Santorum has made such a descent into fetid egest — absent-mindedly connecting the duties of high office to consenting behaviours in relation to Federal Power.  Santorum’s visionless idea of conservatism cannot handle the reality conservatism, truly, within national politics pertains to a conserving and animating the restraints upon government by concrete, enumerated duties.

Worse still, Santorum’s abstemious panegyrics are untethered from American conservatism’s lavish intellectual anchors. History! Rather than illumining a philosophy of free minds and markets — of the preservation of individual rights to liberty and property, Santorum pivots widely, hardy in his micturition upon foundations already attacked by the statist left. This is bad news, for a defence of such constitutional principals — of liberty, free minds, free markets, freedom of religion, and property — would inherently argue against President Obama’s ideological and policy attacks upon such liberties.

Later, Ponnuru slips and counters,

“…The notion that it is a presidents job to instruct the people on their moral errors, on the other hand, is both wrong and unattractive. That stray comment has made it harder for conservatives to resist the Obama administration’s outrageous attack on religious liberty. The administration seeks to force almost all employers, including most religious employers, to offer their employees insurance that covers contraception, abortion drugs, and sterilisation. Its allies accuse those who resist this mandate of waging a “war on contraception.” The fact that a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination does seek to use high office to discourage contraceptive use, albeit non-coercively, made tis largely bogus story seem more plausible.”

In 2011 Santorum ended up in a cloister of night soil when he addressed the issue of religion and politics. Without need, Santorum attacked a 1960 speech by President John F. Kennedy about the separation of Church and state. Ponnuru points out how Santorum over steered, crassly, assuming President Kennedy intended to separate religion and politics totally. The problem is, President Kennedy meant no such thing.

Ponnuru’s footwork dazzles,

“The impression that many Americans reasonably got from the dust-up was that Santorum had criticised Kennedy for believing (or believing too much) in the “separation of church and state.” Anyone at all attentive to the debates over the role of religion and American politics should know that this phrase is the source of endless miscommunication. Someone denying that the Constitution works this separation may merely mean that (for example) a public high school’s commencement ought to be able to mark the occasion with a non-sectarian prayer. But plenty of hearers will conclude that what he (Santorum) is saying is that the government may legitimately impose religious law on the whole country. The combined result of just these two gaffes: Americans seeing Santorum a lot on TV for the first time learned that he dislikes separation of church and state and wants to discourage contraception. Is it any wonder that a lot of people leaped to the incorrect conclusion that he is hostile to religious liberty, wants to ban contraception, and sees the primary task of government as the enforcement of a moral code that not many people share?”

Let me go a thousand miles further than good man Ponnuru. Given statements from Santorum about not believing government should stay out of individual’s bedrooms, amidst other strange ramblings, it becomes problematic for me to presume with Ponnuru that these Santorum ‘gaffes’ are “misunderstandings”. Sadly, I think Santorum has erected a false edifice for himself of what conservatism is — of populism and moral progressivism, rather than the soil enriching the sentient of classical conservatism.

Nevertheless, little of what Santorum says, and consequently, teams of social conservatives too, convince me these nebulous canailles don’t see government’s sole duty to as being contrary to pursuing a uniform, moralistic and social code imposed on the individual. The Holy Grail for conservatism has always been a limited government consigned to its enumerated powers preserved in the U.S. Constitution. Such a lofty goal, therefore, can never spring from misconstrued conceptions of conservatism, especially when that misconception is based upon ideals outside the modest duties afforded the Federal Beast. The evidence is simple: government has grown outrageously since this vestment of ‘conservatism’ has stridden across our political landscape … and consequently, it failed to protect our land from the siege of Obama leftism.

Of course, Santorum’s orations concerning government are antithetical not only in light of the Founding Father’s extra constitutional writings, but also the U.S. Constitution itself. They, Santorum’s orations, agonise, too, the classical conservative roots and intellectual pedigree long established. That’s a problem — not hanging in the air, aloof . No, it’s problematic because such ‘conservatism’ is highly unattractive to voters — hence unelectable.

Conservatives not being elected to high office across our American vista conspires mightily against rolling back Federal intrusion upon the individual. Likewise, it opens the door for the statist left to continue to be elected, vigorously attacking liberties confused voters believe ‘conservatives’ do not believe in. This is clear despite a haggard media constantly blasting the airwaves with how conservative Santorum is. Worse, far too many outside of Ramesh Ponnuru and a few others have failed to dissect Santorum’s stew of ‘conservatism’ and reveal it for what it is.

It is time to label the former senator a progressive — socially, morally, — that’s his home, and where he feels his best. Santorum’s progressive loquacity amazes. Treacle man that he is, Santorum’s social progressive cortege becomes a casus belli. Its just reprisal, in our tabescent hours, must be a diligent attack by every classical liberal able to raise voice. We could, God forbid, be out of time. As such, we face an exigency — requiring the diligent action of conservatives illuming classical liberal expression within electoral politics. This in itself, will be a sharp rebuke to Rick Santorum’s imprudent moxie. We are not involved in this battle to tell fellow Americans what to do — or how to live. But we are — and should be — constantly engaged in removing the tentacles of the state telling citizens what to do and how to live.

This, understandably, will mean not legislating many private convictions on others. A conservatism removed from such principals — is not conservative and thus, weak sauce. We dare not embrace Santorum’s manner in a society supposedly free, in danger of losing such freedom, since conservatives should always be the guardians of individual liberty.


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