‘ReserCons’: Reservation Conservatives

Longtime blog buddy Craig Henry at Lead and Gold uses the term “resercon” for “reservation conservative.” This is evidently a play on the term “reservation Indian,” denoting the harmless, domesticated breed (e.g., David Brooks) as opposed to us buck-wild conservatives who are prone to guzzling constitutional firewater and taking some liberal scalps.

Back in March, when David Frum attacked Rush Limbaugh, Henry quoted Daniel Flynn:

When liberals adopt you as their token conservative, kiss your credibility among conservatives goodbye and say hello to writing gigs at the Atlantic, appearances on Keith Olbermann’s program, and lectures at the Kennedy School of Government.

And Henry added:

Liberals love those kind of “conservatives.” It lets them define both the liberal and conservative position on an issue.

This is exactly right. Such is the dominance of liberals in the MSM, they can exercise influence over who is, and is not, a “respectable” spokesman for conservatism. Thus, liberals are able to control the terms of debate to their advantage.

Referencing Michelle Malkin’s criticism of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, yesterday Henry applied the “reservation conservative” concept to the man who was once every liberal’s favorite RINO:

California’s budget mess casts an interesting light on the debate over the GOP. Ah-nuld was the epitome of the resercon ideal: a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. Yet, once in office, he was not eager to battle for smaller government, less spending, or less regulation.
That seems to be true of many FC/SL Republicans. They are happy to bash the Religious Right or NRA; they bask in the MSM praise for their courage. In the end they never fight that hard for conservative economic ideas.

You should read the rest. Henry is dead on target in observing that Republican officials who claim to be fiscal conservatives but liberal (or “libertarian”) on social issues usually end up supporting a big-government agenda in economic terms. This was definitely true of Bush 41, and although Bush 43 cut taxes, his “compassionate” agenda included No Child Left Behind and Medicare prescription drugs, both of which were anathema to limited-government conservatives.

Republican strategists who are trying to figure out how the GOP can recover its mojo need to think hard about this problem. The GOP’s brand is damaged by these “reservation conservative” types — whether elected officials like Schwarzenegger or pundits like David Brooks — who function as Republican echoes for liberal criticism of the core conservative message.

Some of my friends mistake my frequent criticism of “centrists” like Brooks et al. as a call to “purge the RINOs.” I don’t go in for that urge-to-purge stuff, and understand that ideological purity tests are a losing approach to pragmatic coalition politics.

The problem, rather, is when “centrists” (a word whose meaning is sufficiently nebulous as to require the scare-quotes) criticize conservatives in terms that undermine morale on the Right by suggesting that conservatism is not a viable alternative to liberalism.

This was what made Brooks’ “National Greatness” so odious. Brooks took dead aim at the essence of Reaganism — a limited-government domestic agenda, hostility to bureaucratic centralization, Grover Norquist’s “Leave Us Alone Coalition” — and suggested that it was both unpopular and unworkable. What Americans wanted, Brooks argued, was a federal government devoted to grand projects of inspirational uplift. To which I would reply, in the famous words of Rahm Emanuel . . .

Conservatives must regain confidence in the basics of Reaganism, and recover the belief that the core principles of our nation’s founding — individual liberty, individual responsibility and organic local government free from the stifling bureaucratic interventions of centralized authority — are legitimate and honorable, appealing to all Americans of all conditions.

This matter of confidence — conservative morale — is what the Not One Red Cent project is about. Grassroots conservatives don’t need self-anointed “leaders” in Washington to pick candidates in GOP primaries. And the “reservation conservatives” don’t speak for us.

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