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