02.08.2012 1

Spotting Conservatives: A Field Guide

By David Bozeman — The defining traits of conservative leadership are too varied and detailed for this limited space.  But as the GOP’s 2012 nominating process continues, a few pertinent points bear further examination, lest the voters be fooled by spin-meisters and charlatans.

Pertinent point #1 is that conservatism and ego don’t really mix.

Now, one could well argue that without a moderate degree of ego, most ballots would be empty come election time.  Still, voters must discern between candidates who want to do important things and those who want to be important people.

Speaker Newt Gingrich may well embody many traits of the former, but conservatism is wedded to a belief that traditional institutions (social mores, religion, family, the free market, etc.) are the best checks on the foibles and limitations of human nature.  We, ourselves, don’t really cures society’s ills, our founding values do.

This talk about a “safety trampoline” (as opposed to Governor Romney’s notion of a mere safety “net”) bears further scrutiny.  Sounds a bit grandiose for the conservative ideology most of us know.  As do neighborhood boards to review amnesty applications from illegal immigrants.  As does the Speaker’s now infamous Post-it note to himself twenty years ago:  “Gingrich — primary mission.  Advocate of civilization.  Definer of civilization.  Teacher of the rules of civilization.”

Definer?  Gingrich resembles one of his political idols, Teddy Roosevelt, who is inexplicably revered by many conservatives.  Another colossal ego, his machismo and bluster are certainly a welcome contrast to the metro-sexualized, blow-dried male image of today.  His admonition against hyphenated Americanism (we’re either Americans or we’re not, he basically said) still inspires today as much as ever, but can you say “progressive”?

This man was beyond moderate or RINO.

Roosevelt once remarked that “great corporations exist only because they are created and safeguarded by our institutions, and it is therefore our right and our duty to see that they work in harmony with our institutions.” Not to say that conservatism cannot lend itself to grand ideas, but intellectual firepower is one thing — intellectual grandeur, flights of fancy and progressivism are quite another.

Pertinent Point #2 overlaps somewhat with the first, but is no less important.  Beware of imposters.

Speaker Newt, for instance, fashions himself a political heir to Ronald Reagan and reportedly kept a life-size cut-out of the 40th president in his Florida campaign headquarters.  A cut-out of FDR may have been more fitting, given that the Speaker has often dubbed Roosevelt the 20th Century’s greatest president.  But Newt’s been so great in the debates, right, defending conservatism and sticking it to the media?  Surely he would mop the floor with Obama.

Or would he?  National Review (admittedly a pro-Romney publication) described his 2007 global warming debate with John Kerry:  “The former speaker spoke first and announced that man-made global warming was a real threat… He praised as ‘a very interesting read’ Kerry’s unreadable book on the subject.” Now imagine it’s late October and candidate Newt is down ten points and is about to debate Obama.

The Speaker could, conceivably, turn out to be the most viable choice against Obama, but conservatives do their cause no favor by inventing Mr. Smith Goes to Washington scenarios of Newt as a hapless outsider.  The Washington establishment has served him quite well, thank you.

Future conservatives will likely find nuggets of inspiration in his political life, but they will illuminate ideas greater than his own bloated sense of his importance — refer to Pertinent Rule #1.  Definer of civilization, indeed.

David Bozeman, former Libertarian Party Chairman, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer.

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