Conservative Political Correctness

E.J. Dionne hit an important nail on the head in a column today about the timorous nature of “reform conservatism.”

With occasional exceptions, [reformicons] have been far more interested in proving their faithfulness to today’s hard-line right than in declaring, as conservatives in so many other democracies have been willing to do, that sprawling market economies need a rather large dose of government. Conservatives, Levin says, are “eager to build on the long-standing institutions of our society to improve things.” Good idea. But somehow, the successes of decades-old governmental institutions in areas such as retirement security, health care provision and environmental protection are rarely acknowledged.

Many Republicans, especially reform conservatives, know that most Americans who criticize government in the abstract still welcome many of its activities. Yet stating this obvious fact is now politically incorrect on the right. Conservatives who condemn political correctness in others need to start calling it out on their own side.

Don’t hold your breath, E.J. We’re in a presidential election cycle in which it looks like we’ll have at least 15 Republican candidates, but not one of them is going to suggest conservative ideology needs to be significantly reformed (the closest thing to a real heretic in the field, Lindsay Graham, is too preoccupied with frothing for war to make any serious critique of The Cause). We’re at least one more Republican presidential defeat away from that kind of self-awareness, which is one of many reasons to hope for it in 2016.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.