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Sterner stuff

By Daniel Ryan
web posted May 22, 2006

The liberal, being a person who is essentially enslaved by popularity, finds the conservative somewhat of an oddity. On the one hand, the conservative seems so acclimatized to his or her role as a "loser," he or she is sometimes relieved to be in the outs. On the other hand, the conservative shows a self-distancing from the need to be popular, which implies that he or she is a "snot" of some sort. Put the two together and mix ‘em up in the typical liberal brain, and what you have is the stereotype of the conservative as an arrogant loser.

Does this make sense? No, but few liberal stereotypes of the conservative do. Since we lack popularity lust, we always seem to be something between exotic and threatening to the liberal. No wonder we're so commonly portrayed as wicked, wicked people, as something out of an obverse Pandemonium.

There is a duality at work here. The conservative who is sure of him- or herself tends to be tolerant of such stereotyping, and when bored is tempted to encourage it somewhat. Part of the "arrogant" side of the conservative temperament is the practice of giving fodder to liberals which serve as nourishing stereotypes, ones which veer farther and farther from healthy realism.

If there's any commonality in the conservative temperament, it's probably caution in the face of universal applause. One of my conceits is that a true conservative, when finding that the masses are truly on his or her side, becomes somewhat tired, or at the very least cautious. (An obvious exception kicks in during times of war.) The variant of this psychological demur tends to vary from conservative to conservative: my own, now that I'm a full adult, tends to be: "Cripes! They expect me to live up to it!" This lack of exhibitionism is, of course, the flip side of the enduring man-versus-the-mob tradition in conservatism itself. If truth is to be found in the outskirts, then applause from the center of the city is cause for wariness.

Once again, the way in which shyness when facing a crowd is expressed varies from conservative to conservative. Some believe that any crowd has the inherent potentiality of becoming an unruly mob, and thus are skeptical of the democratic project, while others internalize such concerns out of respect for democracy. The question of whether or not a crowd is inherently mobbish, or is one only when set off, is really a solicitation of opinion in disguise, as the two alternatives focus in on two different aspects of crowds. It's really answered by one's own prior beliefs and upbringing.

Regardless of one's own take, a focus which is admixtured with natural self-love, there is a common bond amongst conservatives which stresses that popularity is for the action-oriented, not for the thoughtful.

No need to wonder why there's always part of us which yearns for a good spell of unpopularity so we can reflect and take stock...and/or pursue the kind of fun which is made possible by the spotlight pointing to a path which we are not in.

Canadian conservatives have been in this boat, until recently, since 1993. The ones who were not caught up in the bumptiousness of politics had a chance to pursue useful, private lives; the ones who were, fended for themselves as best they could. The American conservative, for the past five years, has lived with the opposite: Republican majorities in the House, the Senate, and a Republican President in the White House. It can be claimed that the good times, in terms of popularity, for American conservatives has existed since 1994's "Contact With America" election. Even some Hollywood stars have revealed themselves to be Republicans all along – publicly.

Unfortunately, if recent poll results are any indication, the good times for American conservatives, in political terms, are coming to an end. It's somewhat ironic that President Bush's approval ratings went from a level previously enjoyed by his father at the height of the first Bush presidency to a level slightly above Harry S Truman's at his most unpopular. It's an ill wind for the Bushites that currently blows from pollsters' mouths in the U.S. of A. A further irony is revealed in the contrast between the falling Republican fortunes in the U.S. and the rising Conservative star in Canada.

What if these American polls prove to be more than evanescent? What if they prove to be an accurate forecast of the fate of the Republican Party in '08, or perhaps even in '06?

Well, if so, then welcome to Canada. A lot of Canadian conservatives who were youths during the 1993 implosion of the Progressive Conservative party sought sustenance in the observation of conservative politics in the United States simply as a means of hanging on. If such a disaster should befall the current Republican dominance in the U.S., we'd be glad to return the favour. An American conservative on the political outs can learn a lot from watching Prime Minister Harper implement some eminently exportable policies, such as the Accountability Act and a tougher stand with respect to crime in the streets, and can join in the fun derived from watching the Liberals squawk over the recent defunding of one of their pet projects, the long-gun registry. "No, the monies held by the federal government are not your Tammany fund, kind sir."

As advance preparation for such a possibility, here's a list of principles to hang onto should the Republican majorities be unseated:

  • Beware instant analyses and recriminations. The ones which are around as of now conclude, if not assume, that President Bush is in trouble because he's too bellicose. Don't believe it: George W. Bush is a conciliator by nature. He tends to look mawkish when he's seeking a compromise that is out of reach when he steps in. A case can be made that he's more of a hawk by circumstance than out of principle.
  • There is such a thing as losing for the right reasons. Concluding that Bush is foundering because he's "wimping out" is a snare. Plain bad luck, as well as crowd temperament, should always be factored in.
  • Word from the wise: if the Republicans suffer an upset, it may be the result simply of a new Democrat trick that is kept away from the mainstream media. We conservatives do tend to be overly focused upon the media, sometimes to the extent of allowing blind spots to develop. Watch out for a squeeze play in which the media campaign is radically at variance with whisper campaigns.
  • Loser time is fun time. If conservatives suffer an upset, a more general de-focus might as well be indulged in. If we have a responsibility to be serious and cautious when in, then we have a corresponding right to have a little fun when we're out!

One principle derived from the wisdom of the ages is that no majority is permanent. If American conservatism founders at some time in the next two-and-a-half years, it may very well be the result of plain fate, or of the public's desire to see rotation in office.

This being noted, isn't there part of you which wants to see Hillary get her chance in the White House? If only to locate and cheer on "her Newtster"?...

Daniel Ryan can be reached at danielmacryan@yahoo.com. (c) 2006 Daniel Ryan

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