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Opinion: The ascendancy of the zampolit

I’m a Republican, and I enjoy our party’s rich intellectual history. We are the party of Lincoln, of Goldwater and of Reagan, drawing on the work of John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. We are also the party of Edmund Burke, the father of conservatism and Russell Kirk, who gave it its modern voice. We have, until recently, been a party that isn’t afraid of asking and exploring the big questions.

Now it seems that intellectual history is being enthusiastically ignored in favor of intellectual disdain. Instead of Burke, we have Beck. Instead of Goldwater, we have Limbaugh. Instead of honest and adult debate, we have people bleating slogans in a manner reminiscent of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

Who needs issues when you have “Four legs good, two legs bad.” or, in our case, “Conservative good, moderate bad”? Who needs nuance  and context when it’s so much easier to call everything you either don’t like or fail to understand “socialist”?

David Frum put it best when he wrote:

I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination.

The past is rich, but the future is uncertain. When did ideology become more important than intelligence? Simply explained, we are living in the ascendancy of the zampolit.

A zampolit is a Soviet political commissar who usually held more power than the unit’s commanding officer. They weren’t concerned with good strategy. All they wanted was an ideologically pure unit. They were rarely in the front lines, but were usually waiting to shoot anyone who tried to retreat. They enforced the will and views of the party without any regard to reality.

As an example, I took four statements from Burke, Goldwater, Kirk and Reagan, then paired them with what today’s zampolit might say in response.

“Whatever is supreme in a state, ought to have, as much as possible, its judicial authority so constituted as not only not to depend upon it, but in some sort to balance it. It ought to give a security to its justice against its power. It ought to make its judicature, as it were, something exterior to the state.”

– Edmund Burke

“Edmund Burke supports activist judges that don’t answer to the people.”

– Zampolit

“The big thing is to make this country, along with every other country in the world with a few exceptions, quit discriminating against people just because they’re gay. You don’t have to agree with it, but they have a constitutional right to be gay. And that’s what brings me into it… Having spent 37 years of my life in the military as a reservist, and never having met a gay in all of that time, and never having even talked about it in all those years, I just thought, why the hell shouldn’t they serve? They’re American citizens. As long as they’re not doing things that are harmful to anyone else.”

-Barry Goldwater

“Barry Goldwater is against traditional families and wants to tear down our military.”

– Zampolit

“Cannot swords be turned to plowshares? Can we and all nations not live in peace? In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our peoples than war and the threat of war?”

– Ronald Reagan

“Ronald Reagan is living a sci-fi pipe-dream. He doesn’t realize there are people in this world that hate our freedom and want to kill us.”


Any conservative is reluctant to condense profound and intricate intellectual systems to a few pretentious phrases; he prefers to leave that technique to the enthusiasm of radicals.

– Russell Kirk.

“Who is Russell Kirk?”


Could a Burke, a Goldwater, a Kirk or a Reagan survive in the ascendancy of the zampolit? Probably not. Of course I’m constructing a straw man here, but honestly this isn’t far from the truth. Zampolits demand that things boiled down to simple, easy to digest soundbites, and you can’t do that with the great thinkers or the big issues.

This is the world and the mindset of the zampolit. It’s enough to make one want to throw their hands up in despair and quit the field. I know I want to, especially after dealing with several zampolits while covering this primary election.

But quitters never win, and I want to win. I want my party reclaimed from those that act first and think later. I want my party redeemed from the zamploits who think it’s enough to bleat out a slogan instead of crafting a real, compelling adult message. I want my party restored to its former intellectual glory, instead of acting like a bunch of bickering pseudo-theologians arguing over how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

If you want to be pro-life, be pro-life. If you want to be pro-family, be pro-family. If you want to be conservative, or moderate/conservative, then be that. I believe we can have a big tent. If anything, we need one. What we cannot be, however, is a party that recklessly panders to the lowest and dumbest common denominator – the realm of the zampolit. We cannot allow the zampolits to control the rhetoric. That’s what we’re doing now. Make no mistake.

Yet, out there in the lands that idiocy seldom touches, are what Nixon called “The Silent Majority.” These are good people too busy living their lives to participate in zampolit games or be held to zampolit standards. They make their presence known when it counts. However, if I can ask one thing, it would be this. Don’t be so silent. Don’t shrug your shoulders and think of it all as politics as usual. Don’t let the zampolits hold the microphone, because they claim to speak for you as well. Don’t give them power by simply ceding the fight before it starts.

They might call you RINOs (which I’m pretty cool with if we’re defining it as a large angry animal that will gore someone with a huge horn when provoked ). They might call you moderates (nothing to fear, it just means you actually think about things, as opposed to jerking your knee at the speed of sound). They might call you any number of things. It doesn’t matter though, because in the final analysis, we’re right and the zampolit is wrong.


8 thoughts on “Opinion: The ascendancy of the zampolit

  1. I guess I’m not on the same page with Sean on this one.
    Yes, Beck and Rush are playing around in the realm of extreme, but as a result, I think there are more people really taking issues seriously. Yes, there are many who will just stop at that and become drones of their favorite radio jockey, but there are man others that will take it upon themselves to start comparing and contrasting those views and their own research with their own held views.
    I bet we’ve had more people read the Constitution in the last year than at any period in the last century, all due to Glenn Beck. That is not a bad thing.
    And when you start looking at the nation after reflecting on the Constitution, anyone can see just how far we’ve strayed. So that is why I’m biased to more conservative views of our world.
    The pursuit of intellectualism won’t get anything changed. Mobilization of frustrated and concerned people will. And things need to change.

    Posted by backroadsnewsroom | July 29, 2010, 11:09 am
  2. As far as that, I’ll gladly cede that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Perhaps Beck did inspire people to read the Constitution, but even a magnificent document like our founding principles requires a bit of context to fully understand and appreciate it.

    It is of no use to mobilize frustrated and concerned people without providing something more than base anger. It’s not enough to proceed on emotion alone. That’s just a mob. As for me, I’d rather have 15 informed and thoughtful people on my side than 1,500 angry and thoughtless people. That’s not a mob, that’s the beginning of a movement.

    We ignore our intellectual history and our conservative forefathers at our own peril.

    Posted by Sean Wardwell | July 29, 2010, 11:21 am
  3. And that is why it would have been really awesome, and I know we’ll agree on this, if the candidates would have spent most of their time talking issues, ideas, context and plans, rather than just trading snipes and throwing mud.
    That said, I still think there is value in angry people. Nothing ever changes when people withdraw to their books.

    Posted by backroadsnewsroom | July 29, 2010, 11:32 am
  4. Oh, we do agree on that one. Gravitas was sorely lacking. Tell you what, let’s replace the word angry with motivated. It’s better for our purposes. One doesn’t need to stay in the book as well. They just need to read it long enough to fully understand the scope and stakes of the fight. A soldier that retreats from the line long enough to acquire more ammunition is not a deserter or coward. They just need to reload. I find spending time with the greats provides ample ammunition.

    Posted by Sean Wardwell | July 29, 2010, 11:38 am
  5. I like that analogy.

    Posted by backroadsnewsroom | July 29, 2010, 11:53 am
  6. This is an interesting post Sean. I applaud your pre-discussion straw man concession. However, your argument fails.

    Citing David Frum as an authority is mistaken. His purpose has long been to make the Republican Party into a version of the British Tories, primarily to preserve his preference for abortion rights. If he were to succeed, Republicans would cease to be a competitive alternative to the Democrats.

    Your point on Burke falls short. You neglect the effect of time on the judiciary. We have every reason to believe Burke was correct when he penned those words. However, today’s judges do not ”make its judicature, as it were, something exterior to the state”. They are merely another extension of the state’s overweening reach. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton’s recent ruling on Arizona makes my point well. Consequently, judges cannot ”give a security to its justice against its power”.

    Recall that Burke (1729-1797) was a contemporary of Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780). For Burke, Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England defined the British understanding of justice. The judges he referred to were following English Common Law, derived from Natural Law and Natural Rights; as you know, our Constitution rests on those principles, and its success has been a result of that solid foundation.

    This preceded John Austin (1790–1859) and the damage his legal positivism has done. The legal realism of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (1841-1935) worsened it, and 20th-Century Liberals have reduced us to an Alice-in-Wonderland state where the law means whatever Liberals want it to mean. If you wanted to make your straw man look foolish, you should have selected something less affected by its anachronistic nature.

    Goldwater was a nominal Republican, but an operational libertarian. He was half right here. Serving in the military is always a privilege, and is a duty if needed, but it is not a right.

    The choice of Reagan is particularly inapt. Have you forgotten the response to his “evil-empire” speech?

    Kirk is the best of your choices, but he occupied a philosophical perch. It is unclear whether he meant his remarks to be as broadly interpreted as you have done. But if he did, I would counter them with Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech. I love Kirk, but he was not in the arena.

    ”If you want to be pro-life, be pro-life. If you want to be pro-family, be pro-family. If you want to be conservative, or moderate/conservative, then be that.”

    Had your endorsee, Jerry Moran, heeded your exhortation we would have had a very different campaign. Instead, Moran has voted as a moderate, but decided to run as a conservative. This is what Paul Moore’s eyewitness testimony confirms, though close observers of Moran have known this for two decades. Conservatives do not want a moderate as the US Senator from Kansas. So we have done our best to expose the true Jerry Moran.

    Consider an analogy. A suitor wants to date your single sister or daughter. Said suitor portrays himself as a well-to-do respectable businessman, but in reality he has a history of bilking women out of their savings. You discover the truth about the suitor/swindler. Would you initiate a philosophical dialogue about true love and waiting for the right man? Or plainly expose the deceitful defrauder? If it is the latter, would you be blunt in your denunciation?

    Your implicit, but unwarranted, criticism of conservatives (”it just means you actually think about things, as opposed to jerking your knee at the speed of sound”) does not advance your “overblown rhetoric” argument. If you are unwilling to condemn Jerry Moran’s deplorable tactics, but believe “overblown rhetoric” will destroy the Republican Party, your fear is misplaced. As I mentioned before, the Kelsey Smith Act ought to be reason enough for you to heap your opprobrium on Jerry Moran.

    Posted by jeffersonmorris | July 29, 2010, 7:56 pm
  7. I appreciate the breadth and depth of your knowledge Jefferson and I say that without a trace of sarcasm.

    First, let’s not equate my publication’s endorsement to personal enthusiasm. I will admit to having a hand in it, but let’s just say neither candidate really moves my feet. The best place to start here is separating an organizational endorsement from a personal one. My personal endorsement is, honestly, barely there.

    I’m glad you picked up the straw man admission. In a way I was using the ridiculous to illustrate the ridiculous. In contrast, Goldwater famously said extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue – hardly a moderate statement. Similar quotes can be found with Kirk, Burke and, of course, Reagan (who I’d still vote for in 2012 even if he were a corpse. One dead Reagan is worth three living Obamas).

    However, and I’d hope that you’d agree with me, that if someone cherry picked those quotes and gave them to someone with no context, no history and no explanation, it would be very easy to reach a snap political judgement about their character and leanings. We do this a lot on the right with a lot of things, and that worries me. That was the point I was trying to make.

    As far as Frum goes, I like the guy and make no apologies. Chalk it up to individual taste, and I still think he makes a great point. However, I didn’t cite him as an “authority” as much as an example I happen to agree with.

    Now, as far as your “sister analogy”, to me it all comes down to timing. Can I catch the suitor before he does any real harm by warning my sister off with said conversation? I’d like to hope so. My sister is pretty smart. However, if the timing is bad, if things are barreling along too quick, then yes, I’d take steps that I felt were needed to get rid of the guy. The point here is I’m reluctant to let fly with both barrels from the start, unless I absolutely have to. In the same vein, let’s start out with the soft sell before overusing, and thus diminishing, serious labels.

    Now, keep in mind that I’m painting with a small brush. I didn’t level my criticism towards all conservatives – just a specific kind of conservative. Unfortunately, they seem to be the ones doing all the talking and getting all the attention. Because of this, when I talk to my more liberal friends (and, in the interests of full disclosure I used to be both a liberal and a democrat – in my defense I got better) I get the inevitable “How can you be one of them?” question.

    The funny thing is, however, that when I calmly and rationally explain that the conservative philosophy embraces personal freedom, less government, respect for tradition, the importance of property and all of the other standards, they find that we aren’t bogeymen. They discover they believe a lot of those things as well. Calm and rational explanations go a long way. I know it did for me.

    I won’t deny being a moderate conservative though. I prefer “meat and potatoes” fiscal conservatism to hardcore social conservatism. In fact, socially, I’m quite libertarian. These divergent viewpoints, to me at least, complement each other rather than conflict. However, provided they don’t fit the zampolit example I offered, to which I still offer the same criticisms, I say more power to the social conservatives. I still believe in the big tent. I believe that our ideas are better and stronger than liberal ideas, and that strength comes from diversity of thought and opinion. It comes from vigorous and healthy debate.

    My only request is that the thoughts be thoughtful and the debate be serious and mature. I’ll admit that don’t always get the two right, but I try. I can see you do as well.

    Posted by Sean Wardwell | July 29, 2010, 9:29 pm
  8. Although I ought not be surprised, I am. It seems that we have traversed at least part of the same path. I also was once a Democrat, then Libertarian, then Republican. I too have experienced the puzzled looks, unbelief and occasional hostility of my Liberal, and later my Libertarian friends. Often their hearts are in the right place, but their perspective is skewed.

    My only request is that the thoughts be thoughtful and the debate be serious and mature.

    Fair enough.

    Posted by jeffersonmorris | July 29, 2010, 9:58 pm

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