Any seasoned conservative worth his or her salt – that is, any conservative that has, in some manner or another, been voluntarily immersed in the world of political argumentation – knows the difficulty of defending limited government against liberal affect. No matter how well one seems to know the topics at hand, repelling emotive assaults from activists who carry around a set of finely-tuned and effective cliches always proves an arduous task, particularly in a forum that doesn’t easily warm to conservative thought. We may not care about the extent to which our views are catchy or memorable – as long as they are well-reasoned, we will hold them and defend them. But where exactly does the future of the enlightened ideology lie if it can no longer gain a foothold in the appealing world of pop culture? Such is the prevailing challenge inherited by a new generation of young, conservative thinkers: to make marketable the wildly unpopular view that the dependency agenda fails in every sense of the word.
And quite the challenge it will be, to convince the beneficiaries of wealth redistribution that excessive taxation is philosophically and economically corrupt. One need only examine the wealth of political debates that occur daily between liberals and conservatives to see that the latter struggle in a sensationalist culture: Whether the topic involves free-market economics and its iterative advantage over Keynesian counterparts, or the demonstrable successes of capitalism in creating wealth and alleviating poverty, the celebrated liberal reply remains the same – “profit is evil!” to choruses of eager applause. The discussion may concern republican ideals or the consequences of powerful bureaucracies; it may trace the legitimacy of conventional cultural values, or outline the necessity of personal responsibility in family and in society. But the responses it evokes from the Left never evolve, always having something to do with meanness and oppression, lauded by uneducated automatons.
A TV show that brilliantly illustrates this reality is Bill Maher’s Real Time, the intolerance and naivete of which I have previously decried in ample terms. Maher’s formula, however, is simple, devious, and effective: Invite a well-verse conservative who is generally loathed in pop culture over his or her controversial views (Ann Coulter, Nick Gillespie, etc.), litter the rest of the panel with three or so comedians, journalists, and scientists who are overbearingly liberal and secular (Rachel Maddow, Sam Harris, Neil deGrasse Tyson, etc.), and humorously watch as a pack of ravenous wolves devour an incongruent lamb at the fierce bidding of both Maher and his illiterate, Roman spectators.
It’s genius, but simultaneously maddening to watch, for you know that there is absolutely nothing you can do to isolate Maher’s idiocy from the likes of his cultish cronies so that the writer from National Review has the chance to demolish Maher’s predictable worldview. And just when you think the conservative will have an opportunity to defend his assertions, Rachel Maddow goes off on how nobody’s listening to her because she’s a woman, employing sexist rhetoric to mock her male opponent. The audience laughs, hoots, and hollers, and the cycle continues unabated – certainly an ironic way for Rachel to demonstrate her feministic independence and self-actualization! Meanwhile, the conservative sits awkwardly and wonders what it might take to convince his fellow panelists that the views espoused by millions of Americans across the country are not as debasing and frivolous as they seem – not as much, at least, as those which necessitate blind approval from the likes of undergraduate women’s studies majors and Starbucks baristas.
The point is that there is a science to the way in which liberalism overwhelms even the smartest conservatives’ voices in pop culture, appealing to boorish and rebellious sentiments in millennials whose attention spans last the length of a Miley Cyrus hit. Conservatives simply cannot win in forums designed to mock their policies; in the same way, they cannot defeat an opposition which is exceedingly hipper and craftier in its manipulation of the politically ignorant. No wonder it is so challenging for Mitch McConnell and John Boehner to appeal to certain demographics, demographics which are seemingly inbred to fight against the “outdated” elements of the conservative movement – fundamentally, conservative politicians hold views that, in their economic complexity and philosophical rigor, are too elusive to compete against their fast, cheap, and easy counterparts.
And as you may expect, such holds frightening implications for future elections in which millennials must (however unfortunately) be allowed to vote, darkening the prospects of electing reasonable politicians whose views are independent of the pop-culture behemoth. Conservatives can prove that social security will soon grow financially insolvent, but they have been hitherto unsuccessful in convincing many voters to support those who would do away with the fiscal nightmare – the devious financial alchemy – that is FDR’s undying legacy. The same holds true for the larger welfare state, in general: Do we honestly believe that vast numbers of food-stamp and Medicaid recipients will suddenly experience a change of heart, or the dose of objectivity needed to convince them to vote down the very measures on which they foolishly depend? Of course not, and that’s the critical thinking behind liberalism – the underlying mechanics that allow even the most unsupportable of ideologies to flourish. That dependency on government trumps both economic security and the prestige of principled policy is, itself, liberals’ greatest hope for the road ahead.
As suggested before, the notion of limited government appears bleak in a future in which conservatives fail to overcome this hurdle. Though their policies reiterate disastrous failures, liberals sometimes win because their advantage in pop culture – amongst actors and singing prima donnas who use their inexorable connection with immature minds to propagate rebellious nonsense – is palpable; because there is no stronger political impetus these days than a check from the government that emerges mysteriously from the vast ranks of “those who have,” as Marx might put it. If conservatives could only morph this strand of coolness and change the side to which it regularly attaches, then perhaps it is conceivable that Bill Maher, not Dinesh D’Souza, will have to defend his hysteric views on Republicans’ IQs as outraged audiences cheer his demise.
For that to happen, though, the conservative brand must change in a fundamental sense – seen to be held by both thinkers and farmers, lawyers and mathematicians, Baptists and agnostics. It must shake loose the assumption that membership within conservative circles naturally arises from having money, or that the sole association to be made with businessmen is the draconian cultivation of profit. In short, millennials must be convinced that big government absorbs, overwhelms, and destroys, despite any moralistic claim to the contrary; they must be shown that there is nothing rebellious about the centralization of power or the upheaval of natural rights. But more than anything, they must be reached by people who are hilarious, charming, confident, and, most of all, persuasively brilliant.