This morning in the Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes summed up one condition of the Republican Party:
"What's their problem? In Senate races, it's bad candidates: old hacks (Wisconsin), young hacks (Florida), youngsters (Ohio), Tea Party types who can't talk about abortion sensibly (Missouri, Indiana), retreads (Virginia), lousy campaigners (North Dakota) and Washington veterans (Michigan). Losers all.
"And those are just the Senate contests decided yesterday. In 2010, it was similar. Republicans threw away two of their best chances to gain seats, choosing pathetically incapable candidates in Nevada and Delaware."
Indeed, conservative and libertarian teachers, writers, and intellectuals have to wonder why the candidates they have to choose from are precisely that, "pathetically incapable" mouthpieces who can't talk about controversial issues such as abortion sensibly.
Here's one reason why: those politicians didn't study any conservative thinkers in college. When they talk, they say nothing that suggests they have read much serious discourse on the right side of the spectrum from Burke to Charles Murray. Leftists have their nostrums down pat (against racism, sexism, imperialism, economic inequality . . .), and however dated and predictable those utterances are, liberal politicians stick to the point and press it again and again. Again, one reason is that they received ample helpings of liberalism in freshman English, history, any "studies course," sociology, etc., reading some Marx, Foucault, Dewey, Malcolm X, a bit of feminism here and multiculturalism there. In school, those future conservative politicians likely rejected those texts, but they didn't plunge into the other side's corpus
It shows in the absence of depth in so many Republican candidates. When you hear them speak, nothing in the tradition comes through--no Franklin on work ethic, Madison-Hamilton-Jay on power, Emerson on self-reliance, Hawthorne on Federal employment, Thoreau on Big Government, Booker T. Washington on individual responsibility, Willa Cather on the pioneer spirit, and Hayek on social engineering. This is a fatal deficiency, and it neglects one of the strengths of conservatism (superiority in the battle of ideas). Worse, when conservatives don't have the tradition in their background, when they lose elections, they tend to look forward by examining their relationship to the electorate instead of their relationship to first principles and values. Conservative candidates don't need more political calculation that competes with liberalism, but rather more intellectual heft that presents a better alternative to liberalism.
It won't happen in college, so maybe organizations such as
the Manhattan Institute should run two-week seminars for office-seekers.
Not policy-making or campaign strategy sessions, but short courses in
conservative words and ideas. Have them read