No, this isn’t about an alcoholic binge. Instead it addresses the conservative set-back after conservatives spent money like Liberals. After the Hangover: The Conservatives Road to Recovery seems less about finding a new future and more about continuing a growth already in place, despite the obituaries of critics, following the conservatives lapse of judgment. R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., sees the conservative movement from a longer historic perspective that he has observed first-hand, and his contention is that, far from dying, the movement is just reaching its fullest expression among American voters, exemplified in particular by the last election. More to the point, the American people have become more conservative. The impact of the Tea Party movement has made this even more clear, since Tyrrell wrote After the Hangover.
The movement started weakly with the nomination of Barry Goldwater to be President in 1964. He lost, but people like William F. Buckley, founder of the National Review, and Ronald Reagan, who would become the 40th President of the United States, took the movement to the next level. After Reagan’s election, conservatives virtually took over the Republican Party for a time, a situation definitely not appreciated by the moderates who’d apparently enjoyed their minority status.
Of course, moderates of various stripes still exist, some enjoying the conservative label; they are a part of the chorus of those predicting the end of conservatism. Terrell labels them in different ways, and he points out that their purpose is to enjoy the positive regard of non-conservatives, particularly those who see themselves in the mainstream, such as the media and the Democratic Party. Of course, Terrell’s position is that conservatism has taken over the mainstream, even as it appeared to suffer defeat with the election of Barack Obama and a Democratic Congressional Majority.
One of the best parts of After the Hangover is this historical perspective on the conservative movement. My own interest began with discovering National Review back in my 20’s. I thoroughly enjoyed William F. Buckley, despite my sharing little else in common. I have heard bits and pieces, over the years, about him, Goldwater, and their history up until Reagan, when I was more interested and aware of what was happening. Even then, my consciousness of what was happening behind the scenes, beyond the cameras and news reporters, was minimal. Terrell’s descriptions of that history are helpful, especially in understanding the direction of the movement, both where it has been and where it needs to go.
One of my favorite sections was Tyrrell’s discussion of kultursmog, his word for the intentional confusion created by Liberal media, politicians, and educators. I would be happy simply to label this falsehood, especially its intentional misdirection, as lies, but that would omit the very important distinction of the purpose of such dishonesty. Kultursmog seeks to manipulate the gullible public; plainly it is propaganda that has moved beyond exaggeration and subtle distortion into full-fledged deceit. One recent example is “Bush lied,” regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He may have been mistaken, along with all the leading authorities among our allies, previous President Clinton, and the Congress, a mistake created by Saddam Hussein himself, as Tyrrell notes. Never mind the facts, kultursmog quite effectively confuses the issues, besmirches character, and turns truth upside down.
Related to and part of kultursmog is the conventional wisdom, which Tyrell calls “the epistemological category” in Washington which “for mainstream journalists and believing Democrats is Irrefutable Truth” (page 13), but also “at any given time nowadays is stupendously in error” (page 17). Such conventional wisdom has included “Hilary Rodham’s Democratic Nomination Is Inevitable” as well as “Conservatism is Dead” (17). The reason the conventional wisdom is so frequently wrong is that it “is simply an amalgam of the hackneyed fatuities shared by popular pundits, who would rather get along with one another than be right” (page 17).
Tyrrell agrees that adopting the big government, big spending priorities of the Liberals (as distinguished from the classic, freedom-loving liberals) was a prescription for disaster. Less obvious to many, however, has been the transformation of a conservative movement led by intellectual powerhouses like William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk to one led by personalities, seemingly more in tune with the public in a media-driven age. Nevertheless, the movement still tends to be one of ideas, compared to the Liberals’ increasingly unpopular, grossly overspending yet still uneffective approach.
Of particular interest, following the victories of the Tea Party candidates, is Tyrrell’s discussion of the collegiality of conservatives during the years of progress of the movement. The conservative movement has always been diverse, but during its years of development and growth, its leaders emphasized their agreement for the sake of their overarching commitment to individual freedom. Yet he notes that such cooperation for the sake of shared concerns has suffered in recent times. Perhaps, in no place is this more apparent than the break, at times, between libertarians, economic conservatives, and social conservatives. Tyrrell warns that this continued internal division could give Liberals the edge in future elections.
Tyrell’s prescription for the conservative movement, then, is to continue to work and work together, not just politically, but culturally. He notes that this has begun already with the development of conservative think tanks, conservative talk radio, and the increasingly active conservative presence on the Internet. He notes that the movement has reached a point of acceptance that is itself a hazard as conservative and pseudo-conservative personalities often seek to gain popularity at the expense of other personalities or try to find acceptance in the more liberal mainstream by attacking fellow conservatives. He offers the collegiality of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin to examplify what is needed to discourage self-destruction withing the movement itself.
Not many books warrant a second read, and even fewer a re-reading, right away. After the Hangover is one of that few, and I’m already half-way through it again. This second time, I am marking the substantial number of words I don’t know, enough of them to challenge my respectable vocabulary without totally annoying me. I find that I not only regard After the Hangover itself as a worthwhile book but also its author R. Emmett Tyrrell as an author and publisher worthy of my regard and futher attention.