Editorial: A worthy conservative movement
‘The New Politics of Character”
“The Conservative Governing Disposition”
“The Theological Politics of Irving Kristol”
“Regulatory Review for the States”
Those are some of the headlines on the website for National Affairs, “a quarterly journal of essays about domestic policy, political economy, society, culture and political thought.”
The journal’s founder is Yuval Levin, a former adviser to George W. Bush who also happens to be a leading “reformicon” – the name bestowed on a group of big-brained conservatives who are on a mission to gently retrieve policy debates that have been hijacked by Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Glenn Beck and other decidedly less thoughtful bearers of the conservative torch.
The cover story of the New York Times Magazine on Sunday, which profiled Levin and several other like-minded policy experts, posed the question: “Can the GOP be a party of ideas?”
We honestly hope so, because for too long policy debate in New Hampshire and the country at large has been mired in the muck of cheap-shot politics and snarky one-liners.
Republicans and Democrats alike can spin such behavior any way they want, but it always amounts to the same thing: contempt for voters. How else can one explain the reductive and patronizing dialogue that so often provides the thin roots for moldy stump speeches?
Politics at its highest ideal is a respectful, and sometimes passionate, exchange of ideas about the best and most efficient means of serving the public good.
Most voters, on the left and right, have never warmed to personal attacks launched by a politician against an opposing candidate, yet it remains the go-to play during election season.
The public perception of politicians would improve immensely if candidates sought votes by challenging people to think rather than encouraging them to react out of hatred and fear.
That is what Levin, with National Affairs, is up against. He is not only trying to refocus debate on the right, he is also offering those on the left the opportunity to counter-think instead of counter-punch, or at least think before punching.
Especially in New Hampshire, political season is long enough that the electorate and its candidates do not have to resort to the lazy evasion of legitimate policy debate, which appears to be the theme of the summer. It’s in a candidate’s best interest to dictate the debate, but that becomes much harder when voters demand – of their own party – illumination instead of obfuscation.
When you ask little questions, you get little answers – and that makes life a lot easier for the public servant. But do those kinds of questions really provide voters with the information they need to make an informed decision?
Yuval Levin and his cast of reformicons don’t think so, and neither should you. The solution is to demand clarity from candidates who rely on abstraction.
National Affairs isn’t light reading, and the ideas contained within certainly won’t sit well with many on the left (or, perhaps, the far right), but the sober, complex arguments – even when they are not intellectually pure – undoubtedly elevate the debate.
And if you don’t see the value in a more thoughtful discussion about complex issues that affect everybody, if you prefer to arm yourself with just enough knowledge for an anonymous hit-and-run in the comments section of a news website, if you exalt the candidate who reduces his or her opponent to a dozen catch phrases, you will, as they say, get the government you deserve.