People don’t vote for ideologies. Regular people, I mean. Voting for something just because it’s the most accurate reflection of some “-ism” is something you’d expect from either a college sophomore or some dead-ender who has political newsletters instead of friends and always ends up in line behind me at Starbucks.
Normal people vote based on what works for them. Ideologies are useful for grouping some policies together and giving them a shorthand name. But you’re never going to rally significant numbers of voters by saying, “Let’s do it for Agrarianism!” or “Let’s do it for Ecofeminism!”
Or, if you hope to rally voters around those ideologies, you have to first explain how voters will see practical benefits from supporting them. And as they often say in politics, if you’re explaining, you’re losing.
We’ve learned a lot of things in our current election season. Painfully, many of these lessons have involved finding out that things we thought were valuable are in fact worthless. Or even less than worthless. The Republican Party, for instance, is like an antique dresser that you inherited from your grandparents and took into your home only to discover that they actually bought it at Sears in 1997. And it’s infested with termites and mold. And haunted. And on fire.
We also found out that there are some problems with the political ideology of “conservatism.” The biggest of which being that most people don’t know what it is, or care. This is evidenced by the fact that Donald Trump, of all people, ran claiming to be a conservative, and a whole parade of conservative thinkers, writers, talkers, pundits, and activists said, “Yeah, sure, that sounds good.” Even though the only thing lifelong-Democrat-donor Trump has ever tried to conserve was the fine print on his many prenuptial agreements. And large numbers of voters bought into this because they think that “conservative” is just shorthand for “someone who thinks like I do.”
Lots of Americans are conservative, but the efforts over the past few decades to sell conservatism as a cohesive, mass-market ideology have failed miserably. And I think the reason is that somewhere along the way, promoting the purity of the ideology took precedence over promoting the benefits of the ideology.
To see what I mean, let’s look at a converse example. When liberals are pushing their agenda, they are all about benefits, with zero ideology. No liberal politicians have public arguments about who’s the true progressive (Bernie Sanders tried it in his campaign a little bit, which shows just how weird and rare it is). In conversations with voters, ideology gets pushed entirely to the background, to the point where the politicians pretend like it doesn’t even exist.
Political players on the right, however, are constantly arguing about who’s the most conservative. This argument might be worth having if American schools did anything to explain why American government is what it is and why that’s worth conserving. But that ship sailed a long time ago, and we’re now bringing up a 4th generation of voters who won’t give a rat’s ass about the separation of powers or federalism or any other words that aren’t spelled with numbers and punctuation marks (“F3dral!sm, yo!”).
Debates over political ideology are all well and good, but they belong in the realm of academia or think tanks or political journals. Not in retail politics.
So, over here at the business end of retail politics, I am done with defining myself as a conservative and with caring about which politician most earnestly claims to be the same.
Does that mean I’m becoming more liberal? Not by a long shot. If anything, I’m even farther to the right than I was before this whole goat rodeo started.
So what am I now, if not conservative? I haven’t really figured that out yet. But I am the kind of person who doesn’t get all in a twist about ideological purity. I do know I want to see more political leaders who value liberty above all, and I want them to fight to win, and I want them to be able to do it with a constituency that hasn’t read the collected works of Edmund Burke.
Conservatism thought it had a handle on the Republican Party, and it got lapped by the Sopranos’ real estate agent. Time for a change of strategy.