What with President Obama about to bomb Syria and Republicans on Capitol Hill about to cave on defunding Obamacare we’ve been holding this for a few days, but we figured it was too important to sit on any longer.
Last week our friends at Townhall, and they are our friends, published a list of “The 25 Most Influential People On The Right For 2013” that was a rare miss for one of conservatism’s most influential web publications.
Our concern is not so much with the rankings compiled by columnist John Hawkins – we’d probably disagree on the preseason rankings for college football and this year’s inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame too. Our objection is to Hawkins’ definition of what it means to be “on the Right” and who qualifies to get on the list in the first place.
There’s an unspoken assumption in the article that if you are a Republican elected official on Capitol Hill or in a State House you are “on the Right” – you are a conservative – and that just plain isn’t true.
That Republicans are automatically “on the Right” is an assumption regularly indulged by members of the establishment news media, who are oblivious to what constitutes a “conservative,” but that shouldn’t be accepted by the conservative movement itself.
Conservatives should be careful about who among elected public officials is considered as being a “conservative” and we should not be intellectually sloppy about whether or not elected officials who don’t actually pursue conservative policies are considered to be “on the Right.”
And the most important principle that distinguishes those “on the Right” from the establishment Republicans who currently occupy many of the most important leadership positions on Capitol Hill is adherence to the principles of limited government constitutional conservatism.
Looking to the Constitution for the principles by which to govern is the touchstone of American conservatism and provides those “on the Right” with the direction to say “YES” to defunding Obamacare and “NO” to allowing the President the unilateral authority to start a war with Syria.
Thus, including Senators John McCain and Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner on any list of those “on the Right” is not only an error based strictly on their records as legislators, it is also an error because it ignores the major grassroots fault line that separates “conservatives” from the big government pork-barrel politicians and surveillance state apologists who constitute the leadership of today’s Republican Party.
And this isn’t something that we made up to keep the conservative movement an exclusive club – it is a matter of self-selection by voters in real outside-the-Beltway America who don’t think many establishment Republican elected officials are “on the Right,” let alone “in the right.”
It goes without saying that this analysis applies doubly to those on the list who aren’t elected officials, such as Karl Rove.
Karl Rove is a smart guy, but he’s a businessman whose business is influencing elections on behalf of his business-oriented donors.
In our observation Rove has no intellectual or personal commitment to a grassroots political movement based limited government constitutional conservative principles – and that’s perhaps as it should be – since his donors do not necessarily benefit from a government of strict constitutional limits and advancing his donors’ interests is Karl Rove’s job in what is essentially a commercial transaction.
Including any establishment Republican on a list of those “on the Right” merely because of Party affiliation, not the policies they pursue, misses the fundamental fault line at work in the Republican Party today and dilutes the definition of “conservative” to the point that it no longer distinguishes conservatism as a principle-based movement.
Conservatism is, and should be, a broad-based popular movement open to all who share a commitment to the governance of this country according to strict constitutional limits. John McCain, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Karl Rove are Republicans all right, but grassroots conservative voters, who at the end of the day are those who define what it means to be conservative or “on the Right” long ago decided these Republicans aren’t conservatives.