Progressives are often, and correctly, accused of re-writing the past in order to endorse their current claims about the present. It is a necessary habit that has been incorporated as a feature of the movement. Since most of what they currently believe about humanity and human organization is contrary to observable reality, they have to no choice but to reinvent the past. Something similar seems to be happening with the Buckleyites as they fall into obscurity. They are creating alternative realities to explain the present.
This piece by Henry Olsen is a good example. He makes the point that what so-called conservatives consider to be “conservative” has not been a winning formula for them in Republican elections. He then picks some representative examples of liberty-conservatives, presumably the sort championed by the Buckeyites, who went nowhere in the GOP presidential primaries. The main point Olsen is trying to make is that what he calls the liberty-conservatives have not had a lot of success in elections.
The subtle normalization of Rand Paul is interesting, given that NR types savaged Ron Paul when he was a real candidate. I’ll also note that National Review was prone to calling the utterances of George W. Bush “Reaganesque” and they praised “compassionate conservatism” as some sort of advanced form of Buckley conservatism. It’s what makes their current fetish for timeless principles so comically bizarre. The definition of timeless conservatism is a set of goal posts on wheels that they push around to fit the moment.
That’s the thing about re-imagining the past. You have to cherry pick and time shift in order to make it work. Barry Goldwater, for example, has not been salient in American politics for going on 40 years now. The youngest person to have voted for him is now 74. On the other hand, the “liberty conservatives” were ebullient when George W. Bush won in 2000 and the GOP controlled both houses of Congress. Of course, there is no mention of Reagan, who was a Goldwater conservative, and the GOP’s most successful President.
The general point that Olsen is making is that today, the constituency for libertarian-conservatism is small, even within the Republican base. This is probably true, but the question is why? All of the megaphones of Conservative Inc. have been tuned to blast out the message of libertarian-conservatism. Talk radio, websites, Fox News, the commentariat, all of the organs of the so-called Right have been preaching about shrinking size and scope government for as long as anyone reading this has been alive.
So, why is that position a loser within Republican circles?
One obvious reason is no one believes it. When the GOP had opportunities to shrink government, they grew government. When they had chances to normalize our foreign policy, they went empire building. When they had the chance to defend the domestic economy, they threw in with open borders and globalist trade policies. The most egregious sin off all, however, has been their liberal use of Progressive rhetoric to denounce dissenters as racists, excluded from acceptable pubic discourse.
There is one exception and that is immigration. The one big win for liberty-conservatives was the 1986 immigration reform act. This made it possible for tens of millions of foreigners to flood into the country. Ann Coulter the other day noted that one in eight Virginia residents is foreign born. That means there are more foreigners in Virginia right now than the liberty-conservatives said they needed to amnesty in 1986. The one thing these guys were good at doing has been a disaster for their alleged love of liberty.
You see that in a post from J’Onquarious. The sort of civic minded libertarianism, that is popular with Conservative Inc., is really unpopular with the sorts of people they are hellbent on importing by the millions. The reason their favorite bugman was trounced in the Virginia election is that the sort of people liberty conservatives are fond of championing, are not interested in supporting liberty conservatives. It turns out that a policy of wishing death on your voters and their culture, is not a good way to win elections.
That’s not a reality these so-called liberty-conservatives can face. Olsen does not bother to address this, as there is no way to explain away the mathematical and demographic realities. His only mention of immigration is to be gobsmacked at a Cato-backed study that shows Trump voters are not in favor of their wholesale demographic replacement. The fact that their one success has been a disaster for them, never registers. Instead, it is ignored. Olsen’s suggestion is more of the same, just even more of it.
This is where you see that all forms of mainstream conservatism share the same assumptions as Progressives about the nature of man and human organization. It’s also why they have developed the habit of rewriting history, especially their own history, in order to explain the present. When you start from the premise that biology is unimportant, that all people everywhere are essentially the same, you are condemned to a life of disappointment, unless you can endlessly redraft the narrative to avoid facing reality.
The one major difference between the retconning of so-called conservatives and what we see from Progressives, is that the latter controls the institutions. Rewriting and replaying old fights is a proven way to distract people from current failures. When you control the levers of power, an unpredictable past becomes a useful tool in maintaining control. When you are allegedly challenging the status quo, an inability to clearly remember yesterday undermines your credibility. No one believes these guys and they keep reminding us why.