Lack of Leadership Isn't the Biggest Problem
By David Bozeman
One of the staples of current discourse is the notion that conservatives are void of leadership, at least in the political sphere. Rush Limbaugh certainly has a powerful voice, but no elected conservative can begin to rival President Obama's star power. Even the beloved Sarah Palin is tucked away in Alaska and, according to perception, fighting, not lefties, but her daughter's ex-boyfriend. It is a truism on both sides of the aisle—conservatives are desperately awaiting their next leader, and a certain talk radio show recently featured a series of 'What Would Reagan Do?' segments. More than a few on the right are wishing they had their own Daniel Hannan, the member of the European Parliament who slammed British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's economic policies, even accusing Brown of sounding like a "Brezhnev-era apparatchik."
But does modern conservatism really demand greater leadership? Certainly, yes, if they are to advance a cohesive, effective agenda. The conservative movement is in disarray—but maybe not solely for the reason conventional wisdom claims.
Lacking confidence, even grassroots conservatives too often default to pessimism when looking down the road. With the media, culture, academia, etc., against us, they reason, what's the use? We could win majorities if conservatism was boldly and confidently presented -- but we have no effective spokesperson. The lament that we need a modern-day Reagan, while to a certain degree true, has become an all-purpose excuse for self-imposed exile.
When Reagan was elected in 1980 there was no Internet, no Fox News, no talk radio, leaving a mere handful of outlets in charge of news and opinion dissemination. The Internet, which is the new public square, has accelerated political discourse and let every citizen in, uniting like-minded individuals all over the world. Technologically, one can do now what was much harder in 1980, and that is don't mourn—organize.
Furthermore, leadership is more than uplifting oratory. Conservatives can claim a respectable, if not outstanding, slate of governors—Bobby Jindal (LA), Rick Perry (TX), Haley Barbour (MS), Mark Sanford (SC), Tim Pawlenty (MN) and, yes, Sarah Palin of Alaska (sorry she slipped your mind, Senator McCain)—who are busy running their states, leading by deed and not sound bite. Calvin Coolidge said to, "Let men in office substitute the midnight oil for the limelight." One could argue that the task of opposing the Obama administration should fall to Republicans in the Senate and the House.
Part of the blame for the conservative malaise is the simple ebb and flow of politics. The Democrats, after two decisive elections, could well make the case that they are entrenched for at least a generation. Republicans, coasting after post-9/11 wins in 2002 and 2004, were equally sure. Great leaders -- and, yes, they are needed to unite various factions within a single movement -- don't generally announce themselves before entering the public arena. The president in 2016 -- or even 2012 -- could well be someone currently unheralded and anonymous. Conservatives are frantically looking above for a telegenic smile, soaring oration and a Washington-Ivy League pedigree when perhaps they should be looking around for deeds, diligence and character if they are unsatisfied with the current crop of would-be leaders.
Conservatism, like any successful movement, is predicated on advancing certain shared ideals. Conservatives should unify and find strength in one another—and many do, but many still are notoriously individualistic. Nonetheless, through strength and unity, despite various levels of political exile, the right defeated the ERA and launched tax revolts in the 70s and stopped Hillary-care in the 90s, a decade that also saw the meteoric rise of talk radio and other alternative media.
Nothing written here is meant to disparage the importance of conservative leadership. We need it. Instead, the preceding words are meant to underscore the overwhelming force of positive ideas and the necessity of individual citizens in preserving freedom. Barry Goldwater, a great leader who launched modern conservatism without ever becoming president, once noted, " We Americans understand freedom: we have earned it, we have lived for it, and we have died for it. This nation and its people are freedom's models in a searching world. We can be freedom's missionaries in a doubting world."
Note: I write this on April 15 as citizens gather nationwide in protest of a massive expansion of government. Kudos to everyone who participated for proving that patriotic Americans do not need glib, charismatic leaders to advance their cherished ideals. Indeed, don't curse your leadership—BECOME IT.
David Bozeman is a syndicated columnist.