Traditional conservatism means the conservatism of Burke and Kirk, of limits, of place, of culture, and of faith really. Rush Limbaugh is the farthest possible thing from that. What does he stand for? Best I can tell, consumerism, individualism, nationalism (as opposed to patriotism), militarism, and maybe small government. Only one of those is a conservative position.
Rod Dreher has a lengthy takedown of the Limbaugh speech at CPAC that is somehow being celebrated on the right. As he notes, Limbaugh's basic philosophy is indistinguishable from that of the Left:
"Here's a transcript of the entire Limbaugh CPAC speech. Take a look at this passage, and please tell me what is conservative about it?:
'Let me tell you who we conservatives are: We love people. [Applause] When we look out over the United States of America, when we are anywhere, when we see a group of people, such as this or anywhere, we see Americans. We see human beings. We don't see groups.
We don't see victims. We don't see people we want to exploit. What we see -- what we see is potential. We do not look out across the country and see the average American, the person that makes this country work. We do not see that person with contempt.
We don't think that person doesn't have what it takes. We believe that person can be the best he or she wants to be if certain things are just removed from their path like onerous taxes, regulations and too much government.'
This is a comforting lie. It is Rousseau conservatism: the idea that man is born innocent, but corrupted by society, or government. Remove the chains of government, and man will return to his natural, good state, which is one of limitless possibility.
This denies two bedrock truths of philosophical conservatism, which are that 1) human nature is fallen, and 2) man must learn to live within limits. A conservatism that is not founded on a conscious recognition of those two truths is a false conservatism, and has a shaky foundation from which to criticize liberal utopianism.
'President Obama has the ability -- he has the ability to inspire excellence in people's pursuits. He has the ability to do all this, yet he pursues a path, seeks a path that punishes achievement, that punishes earners and punishes -- and he speaks negatively of the country.
Ronald Reagan used to speak of a shining city on a hill. Barack Obama portrays America as a soup kitchen in some dark night in a corner of America that's very obscure. He's constantly telling the American people that bad times are ahead, worst times are ahead. And it's troubling, because this is the United States of America.'
Got that? Any attempt to grapple in a public way with the sins and failings of America, the errors that got us into this ditch, is to be seen as unpatriotic. We must ever keep before us the America Idol, and the power of positive thinking.
'The freedom we spoke of earlier is the freedom, it's the ambition, it's the desire, the wherewithal, the passions that people have that gave us the great entrepreneurial advances, the great inventions, the greatest food production, the human lifestyle advances in this country, why shouldn't that be rewarded?'
Pure, uncut Progressivism. It's astonishing, really.
'We have a challenge. We've got factions now within our own movement seeking power to dominate it, and worst of all to redefine it. Well, the Constitution doesn't need to be redefined. Conservative intellectuals, the Declaration of Independence does not need to be redefined and neither does conservativism.
Conservativism is what it is and it is forever. It's not something you can bend and shape and flake and form. [Applause] Thank you. Thank you.'
Because, what, it was handed down from Sinai? One hardly knows what to say to this. Do they really believe politics is dogmatic religion? They must. And if so, they're hopeless. Can you imagine going to such a liberal gathering in 1985, after Fritz Mondale had his head handed to him by Ronald Reagan, and listening to the de facto leader of US liberalism talking this way, saying that, "Liberalism is what it is and it is forever. It's not something you can bend and shape and flake and form"?
If you were a conservative, you would have chortled and taken comfort in the evidence that the opposition was going to be spending a lot more time in the woods before the light of reality dawned upon their furrowed faces.
'So there will be different factions lining up to try to define what conservatism is. And beware of those different factions who seek as part of their attempt to redefine conservativism, as making sure the liberals like us, making sure that the media likes us. They never will, as long as we remain conservatives. They can't possibly like us; they're our enemy. In a political arena of ideas, they're our enemy.'
Anybody who challenges Limbavian orthodoxy is, ipso facto, the Enemy. If you suggest reform, even from the Right, you are a useful idiot for the Media, which are the Enemy, and can never be anything but the Enemy. Limbaughism sounds a lot like Leninism.
'I loved it when the Soviet Union went down and the wall went down and the liberals in our country said you know they may not be ready for freedom over there. They've been oppressed -- yes, liberals will gladly tell you who can have freedom and who can't.'
Um, what were the Nineties like in the former Soviet Union? That experiment proved that free markets and liberal democracy can't take hold without the cultural and social preconditions for same. Ditto Iraq. But the Limbavian ideologues, these Right-Wing Rousseauists, see human nature as essentially perfect, except for the corrupting hand of government.
Toward the end:
'As I say, we want the best: Happiness for everybody.'
I give up. It's going to be a long, long Lent for American conservatism.
I should say that there's something to like in the Limbaugh speech; I share a degree of his skepticism over the expanding role of the state in American life under Obama, and his confidence that the greater responsibility for our own condition lies in individual and private-sector initiative. But good grief, is this what constitutes popular conservatism in 2009?
This ideologically-driven right-wing Rousseauism, with Leninist overtones about the Enemies of the People? If so, then count me as an Enemy, because I want nothing to do with it, as I recognize it as simply a crudely politicized form of philosophical liberalism."