I wanted to write a scathing critique of Andrew Sullivan’s essay from today. It was full of his customarily tiresome hackery — and the almost unbearable allusions to our current president as the cure to our present woes.
But I can’t.
Because at bottom, he’s correct. There is something fundamentally wrong about conservatism today — although he’s entirely missed what it is.
I cannot say this is the moment the fever broke. The “movement right” is still furious at Roberts, pushing Romney as the principle-free instrument of their next round of institution-smashing (Medicare). But that a conservative placed the country’s institutional stability before ideological fervor is so rare at this point it deserves some kind of praise. It’s a start. If the GOP is beaten this fall, it may even be seen as the moment the tide began to turn, and conservatism began to reach back toward its less feral traditions and ideas. But I know I’m getting way ahead of myself here.
But at some point, conservatism must re-emerge, if only because we so desperately need it. Conservatism is, after all, a philosophy that tends to argue that less equals more, that restraint is sometimes more powerful than action, that delay is often wiser than headlong revolution. It reveres traditional rules and existing institutions, especially endangered elite institutions that the Founders designed to check and cool the popular will. Roberts took a small step toward resuscitating that tradition last week.
And he’s being tendentious — and full of the occasional bluster that takes over his prose when most anything related to our current president comes into the discussion. But he’s right — and someone had to say it. Because institutions (and the principles that undergird them) do matter. Senators, presidents and political parties come and go — and this city can make them go from omnipotent to the opposite in a matter of moments. What can’t be treated with such callousness are the institutions that safeguard our republic.
Give me the poseur award. Call me overwrought. Banish me from conservatism. I don’t care.
If conservatives — and liberals who claim to care about civic society, community, etc. — give a damn about preserving the best of our society, they’ll protect the institutions. That’s why I called for conservatives to exercise restraint in the event that we retake Washington in the fall. That’s why it would be a dramatic mistake to follow up on Newt’s suggestion that we end lifelong tenure for judges.
And it’s why I can never return to the political left — because the institutions most essential to individual liberty and limited government are disavowed by those who would burn them to the ground in exchange for the ends they desire. We learned that during the Progressive Era, and we’re seeing it again today.
Andrew, you say that you await the moment when the fever breaks.
I’d say you have to weather the storm.
Because, while both cliches suck, you’ve managed to be correct about the problem and entirely incorrect about potential solutions.