It seems there are a lot of people on the right, scholars, pundits, bloggers who have thoughts about the 2008 contest for the GOP nomination which parallel those I expressed in the piece, 2008 Presidential Election: the GOP in Search of Itself, I posted on Monday. Either there’s something in the air or we’re all onto something. I think it’s the latter, given the number of political observers who have come to similar conclusions.
Scott at Powerline links this insightful piece by the Claremont Institute‘s Charles Kesler. (While we’re on the subject of books, his Keeping the Tablets: Modern American Conservative Thought, is a superb anthology of essays articulating the basic ideas of modern conservatism. Perfect for conservatives who want to better understand the background of our ideas and for liberals who would like to better understand this political philosophy.)
In his piece, Kesler notes the incredible flux of the Republican race, finding that many Republicans still haven’t made up their minds, even discovering uncertainty among those “who’ve endorsed a candidate.” He observes, “There are a lot of Republican contenders to choose from, too, and most are plausible as president.”
He does a better job of discerning what he calls “the perplexity” Republicans experience than has any recent political commentator, at least those I’ve read. Perhaps, that’s because he’s spent so much time studying American conservatism. He does see the various political philosophies at play in the party and understands the difficulty of forging a consensus:
Unlike the defeat of Communism and socialism, goals shared by all conservatives and functioning as the movement’s great amalgam and inspiration, shrinking the state and rehabilitating American morals are the favorite causes of different, and to some degree differing, parts of the Right.
Conservatism’s slow loss of focus after the Cold War’s end was predictable (and often predicted). That the “crack-up” never occurred quite as predicted, however, shows that a broad agreement persists among conservatives. Nonetheless, the bonds between libertarian and social conservatives have weakened. Although 9/11 revealed a new common enemy, the effect was more to change the subject than to forge a new consensus on the Right. After all, the issues that remain–how to limit government again, whether and how government should promote virtue, and more generally, how to restore the republic along the lines of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution–are difficult.
He goes on to look at how each of the leading candidates embodies some aspect of modern conservatism, but notes that “that Republican voters don’t recognize any of these trial versions of conservatism as the real deal, a distillation of American principles for our time.” I think he’s onto something.
This may well be the most important short piece (at least from the standpoint of ideas) on the contest for the GOP presidential nomination. So, without further ado, I suggest you read the whole thing!