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In America today, we have political figures who call themselves Conservatives, but whose notions of what constitutes conservatism seem drawn from certain political movements in Europe between the wars. They think, for instance, that balanced budgets are a thing of the past and that deficit spending is the fashion of the day. They believe in big government that grows in size every year and becomes more intrusive into the lives of citizens as every day passes. Among what Thomas Jefferson called the “essential pillars of our Government,” the new “conservatives” don’t feel that any are essential, indeed, they tend to think of all of the “pillars” are quaint and obsolete.
Indeed, they have already suspended one of Jefferson’s “pillars,” habeas corpus and they’re busy working on the others. And in the area of foreign affairs, the new “conservatives” have never seen a war they didn’t want to fight, nor have they ever seen a war they would trust the uniformed professionals of the armed services to manage. This is balanced by the fact that none of them ever served in the armed forces, because they had better things to do. But then again, they know exactly how to conduct a war and they don’t need to be bothered by the advice of the professional military. So much for the new “conservatives,” who, as David Brooks readily acknowledges, have a “more authoritarian orientation.” Indeed. On the other hand, America still has a supply of the genuine article, and some of them have been outspoken about the usurpation of the label. Charlie Savage and the Boston Globe report:
A new political group recently asked Mitt Romney to promise not to wiretap Americans without a judge’s approval or to imprison US citizens without a trial as “enemy combatants.” When Romney declined to sign their pledge, the group denounced him as “unfit to serve as president.” Such rhetoric might be expected from liberal activists. But these critics, who call their organization American Freedom Agenda, are hardly leftists. They represent what they insist is a growing group of disaffected conservatives who are demanding that the Republican Party return to its traditional mistrust of concentrated government power.
“Mitt Romney’s ignorance of the Constitution’s checks and balances and protections against government abuses would have alarmed the Founding Fathers and their conservative philosophy,” said Bruce Fein, one of the group’s co founders and a Reagan administration attorney, in a press release last month attacking Romney for not signing the pledge. The American Freedom Agenda, which intends to put all candidates in both parties to the same test, is aiming to revive a strand of conservatism that they say has been drowned out since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The conservative principle of limited government, they say, means not just cutting the budget, but imposing checks and balances on those who wield power.
“Conservatives have to go back to the basics,” said co founder Richard Viguerie , a veteran direct-mail strategist and author of Conservatives Betrayed: How the Republican Party Hijacked the Conservative Cause. “We have to go back and re launch the conservative movement. And for traditional conservatives, it’s part of our nature to believe in the separation of powers.”
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:
A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.
Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”
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“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”