Lots of political yammer about who’s a real conservative and who’s not.
So, how do you tell?
Lee Edwards of the Heritage Foundation’s B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies calls the late William F. Buckley, Jr. “the St. Paul of the modern conservative movement in America.” So, what did Buckley have to say about it?
The essence of conservatism is the “proper balance between freedom, order, justice, and tradition,” said Buckley. To achieve such balance, Buckley called for persistent opposition to the growth of government, social engineering, intellectual conformity, the elimination of the market economy, and world government.
Buckley’s “National Review” magazine aggressively championed this conservative ideology in the face of growing liberalism. At the same time, Edwards writes, Buckley argued that “if conservative politics wanted to be successful, it had to steer a middle course between the ideal and the prudential.”
Appropriately, Buckley became a champion of Ronald Reagan’s pragmatic conservatism. He admired Reagan’s stand on conservative values and accepted his pragmatic compromises as necessary to nudge conservative policies ahead.
What did Reagan say about conservatism? “The common sense and common decency of ordinary men and women, working out their own lives in their own way—this is the heart of American conservatism today,” he said.
But, according to Dr. Paul Kengor, author of 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative, it was “his willingness to compromise and engage in horse-trading” that made him “the most successful conservative president in American history.”
Edwards notes that “during his presidency, Ronald Reagan would often say that he would accept 70 or 80 percent of what he wanted if he could come back for the other 20 or 30 percent later.”
Reagan also felt a traditional conservative’s sense of responsibility. Thus, while he passed the largest tax cut (1981) and the most significant tax reform (1986), he also raised Social Security taxes and corporate taxes to be fiscally responsible.
So, there’s conservative ideology, then there’s effective conservative leadership.
The yammerers about who’s a real conservative and who’s not don’t seem to get the difference.
“What are the characteristics of a ‘real man’ in God’s eyes?” posed the pastor. “Compassionate, faithful, selfless, committed, and courageous,” he answered. Buckley and Reagan saw real conservatives in a similar virtuous light.
Unfortunately, the yammerers have twisted pursuit of virtuous conservative ideology into a shameful political paradigm where it’s better to lose than get a partial win through compromise; where ideologues who get nothing done get accolades, while leaders trying to follow Reagan’s example of horse-trading to move a conservative agenda ahead get primaried; and where casting blame counts for more than winning concessions.
This new paradigm is the antithesis of the “proper balance between freedom, order, justice, and tradition” that Buckley fought for and the “common sense” that Reagan stood for. Indeed, key results among conservatives in Washington are the lack of order and blame game nonsense.
Perhaps nothing personifies the question of who’s a real conservative and who’s not than effusive blamer, President Donald Trump, and ebullient doer, President Ronald Reagan.
“He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” ― Benjamin Franklin.
» BILL CRAWFORD is syndicated columnist from Meridian (
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