October 16th, 2013
07:56 PM ET

Conservatism needs to lighten up

"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Fareed Zakaria

The current Republican fear derives from Obamacare, but that is only the most recent cause for alarm. Modern American conservatism was founded on a diet of despair. In 1955, William F. Buckley Jr. began the movement with a famous first editorial in National Review declaring that the magazine “stands athwart history, yelling Stop.” John Boehner tries to tie into this tradition of opposition when he says in exasperation, “The federal government has spent more than what it has brought in in 55 of the last 60 years!”

But what has been the result over these past 60 years? The United States has grown mightily, destroyed the Soviet Union, spread capitalism across the globe and lifted its citizens to astonishingly high standards of living and income. Over the past 60 years, America has built highways and universities, funded science and space research, and — along the way — ushered in the rise of the most productive and powerful private sector the world has ever known.

For some tacticians and consultants, extreme rhetoric is just a way to keep the troops fired up. But rhetoric gives meaning and shape to a political movement. Over the past six decades, conservatism’s language of decay, despair and decline have created a powerful group of Americans who believe fervently in this dark narrative and are determined to stop the country from plunging into imminent oblivion. They aren’t going to give up just yet.

The era of crises could end, but only when this group of conservatives makes its peace with today’s America. They are misty-eyed in their devotion to a distant republic of myth and memory yet passionate in their dislike of the messy, multiracial, quasi-capitalist democracy that has been around for half a century — a fifth of our country’s history. At some point, will they come to recognize that you cannot love America in theory and hate it in fact?

Read the full Washington Post column

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Topics: Politics • United States

soundoff (70 Responses)
  1. Carl Sartain

    “The crisis has been resolved, but this respite is temporary. We are bound to have more standoffs and brinkmanship in the months and years ahead. To understand why, you must recognize that, for the tea party, the stakes could not be higher. The movement is animated and energized by a fear that soon America will be beyond rescue.”
    Contrary to your flippant observation, America will be beyond rescue if we do not seriously address the debt. THE predominant, fundamental tenet of the tea party is resolution of the national debt. That is not a hard concept to accept.

    “Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) put it plainly at the recent Values Voter Summit in Washington: “We’re nearing the edge of a cliff, and our window to turn things around, my friends, I don’t think it is long. I don’t think it is 10 years. We have a couple of years to turn the country around or we go off the cliff to oblivion.”
    Sen. Cruz is correct on this matter. Numerous universally accepted economists have said this exact same thing, that at best, we may have only two years to genuinely alter government spending, or suffer irrevocable and catastrophic economic collapse. The media and media personalities have not educated the American people to this fact. We must reign in government spending if we are to survive, and that means we must make serious and painful reductions in spending, that will no doubt impact every citizen in this nation. The choice is do it now, or do it later. Later will cause immeasurable suffering the likes of which this nation has never experienced.

    “But what has been the result over these past 60 years? The United States has grown mightily, destroyed the Soviet Union, spread capitalism across the globe and lifted its citizens to astonishingly high standards of living and income. Over the past 60 years, America has built highways and universities, funded science and space research, and — along the way — ushered in the rise of the most productive and powerful private sector the world has ever known.”
    Do you even see how ridiculous this statement is? Every “achievement” that you cite was accomplished by driving this nation into further and further debt. Yes, we did benefit greatly from all of this, but at some point it has to be paid for, and the truth of it is, that none of it has been paid for.

    October 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm | Reply
  2. Donald

    There have always been undercurrents of fear, fear of change, of a country that's not familiar. Not enough has been said of how the Republican party cynically solicited those votes and in so doing fueled and expanded the ideologues who now will take over the party. Not enough is said about how the Republican party nominated those jurists who destroyed any semblance of control over money that now funds these groups. There's no going back, "moderate" Republicans cannot be moderate enough to win Democratic votes and will never win Republican primaries. It will take perhaps only another 4 years for the complete end of the Republican party as we knew it.

    The Tea Party is not conservative. It is reactionary. Their tactics are nihlistic. It's not sustainable, not productive.

    October 21, 2013 at 11:38 am | Reply
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