The Right Coast
July 18, 2004
By Tom Smith
Interestingish article in NYT about young conservatives. I guess tempermentally I'm really a libertarian, since I panic when I see a young person dressed like the young conservative in the photo. Did the Times photographer specify that the subject wear something nerdy? I know, there's nerdy hip, but there is also just nerdy. A good rule of thumb is, avoid madras. Avoid seersucker, too, unless you really are a Southern senator who's drunk all the time. Khaki or olive poplin is OK, but for heaven's sake, any salesman at a Brooks Brothers in a medium sized city can give you a dozen better options.
For what it's worth, here's my deep thought about the future of the American right. A big problem with the Ivy League traditionalist conservatives, the neo-conservatives and quite a few libertarians is that, like liberals, they swoon at the thought of being elites. Deep down, they don't have much respect for ordinary people, who really aren't very ordinary. Reagan understood this viscerally; he was a great communicator because of his respect for people. He was what used to be called natural gentleman. Bush Sr. was hopeless in that respect, which is why the "silver spoon in his mouth" cut so deeply. Bush the Younger, I'm not sure about. The neo-conservatives are hopeless intellectual snobs, which makes the accusation of starting a war by too clever behind the scenes machinations half-believable. And Bill Buckley, for all his historical accomplishments, was at his most tedious in his frequent adumbrations about how wealthy was his lifestyle and that of his father. "My limosine has miles to go before I sleep," etc. etc. I know it was a come back to endless whining about the poor, but as anyone west of the Hudson could tell you, showing off your wealth lacks class. National Review still has something of that flavor, though it has gotten better.
The only cultural hook-up the Right has with "the people" now is Christianity, and that raises various problems. It doesn't help that the free-market economic populism of Reagan has been undermined by its own success. Nor that Bush Jr.'s big government conservatism is incoherent to the point of defying characterization. I think what the American Right needs is not so much bright young things with connections to National Review, as some sound thinkers who can explain the connections between economic liberty, and preserving the cultural institutions that make liberty possible and worth having. Maybe we could make an exception to the ban on human cloning and get ahold of Hayek's hairbrush.