Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – Yesterday, Mike interviewed Daniel McCarthy from The American Conservative Magazine on the the future of conservatism post-Romney, here’s a quote from that interview and you can find the rest of the interview right here at mikechurch.com, “It’s not really the case that everything is constantly changing and conservatism has to therefore have no principles and float free on the ocean, so to speak, and keep transforming itself. It is a case, unfortunately, that even in a constitutional republic — and unfortunately we’ve moved away from being a strict constitutional republic and become much more of a sort of plebiscitary democracy, a mass democracy. In a government like that, unfortunately, there is a very, very large amount of change. Conservatives have to be aware of that, and they have to be aware of it sort of on two levels: not only on the superficial level of seeing what’s actually happening, seeing how people are in fact voting. If people are voting for things we don’t like, we have to acknowledge that and be able to persuade them. We have to address them where we are. ”
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: Try The American Conservative magazine. That’s amconmag.com. Its editor, Daniel McCarthy, is on the Dude Maker Hotline with us right now. Daniel, happy two days after the greatest election in the history of elections in our lifetimes to you. How are you?
Daniel McCarthy: I’m great, Mike. Thanks very much for having me on.
Mike: You heard a little bit of what I was just talking about. I was anxious to talk to you about a couple of the essays that you’ve posted, what the magazine is up to and a general review of what happened over the course of the last two years. What do you think? Is the conservative movement, is the GOP, which is supposed to be the home of the conservative movement, are they going to be contrite in analyzing what happened? Are they going to actually try to discover maybe where the intellectual fault lines are? Are we going to get into this, what I think is counterproductive, discussion about how the demographics are changing, therefore you’re going to have to change your principles to meet the demographics? What do you think?
McCarthy: You’re exactly right. Here the Republican Party is not reexamining their policies in the slightest. They think you can continue to have war and massive spending, and all you have to do is translate these disastrous policies into Spanish and then they’ll suddenly be very popular and succeed.
Mike: [laughing] You hit me with a joke on the first answer. Let me expand the field a little bit. I was reading with great interest your post yesterday about the country has already changed. I was reading this and told the audience I’m going to ask Mr. McCarthy this because I’m curious. You and I were at the Academy of Philosophy and Letters in June. You and I spoke on the same day. Your talk had a little something to do with we can’t be, as conservatives, always running around, screaming and hollering about the neocons and what we’re against and how they screwed this up and that up, have this little black Pigpen (from the Peanuts cartoons) cloud over our heads.
At some point in time we actually have to present alternatives and try to spin this in a positive light. As I read your essay last night about how the country has already changed and there’s more change coming, it struck me, and my question to you is, are you saying the only thing that is constant in American life and therefore for American conservatives is change? Is there anything that you conserve that is old and traditional, or does everything have to give way and you have to constantly be changing conservatism to conserve new things?
McCarthy: No, it’s not really the case that everything is constantly changing and conservatism has to therefore have no principles and float free on the ocean, so to speak, and keep transforming itself. It is a case, unfortunately, that even in a constitutional republic — and unfortunately we’ve moved away from being a strict constitutional republic and become much more of a sort of plebiscitary democracy, a mass democracy. In a government like that, unfortunately, there is a very, very large amount of change. Conservatives have to be aware of that, and they have to be aware of it sort of on two levels: not only on the superficial level of seeing what’s actually happening, seeing how people are in fact voting. If people are voting for things we don’t like, we have to acknowledge that and be able to persuade them. We have to address them where we are.
We also have to keep our eyes on this fundamental issue as well, which is as we move away from federalism, as we move away from the states as being the center of people’s political activity or people’s local communities as the center of their activity and move towards the federal government — or in fact U.S. intervention in the world as a kind of ersatz world government — as we move away from local self-government to this more kind of tutelary or administrative massive federal or world state, the possibilities for people having the kind of discipline and habits of self-government that the founding fathers were counting on get diminished progressively. We have to be able to remind people that the founding fathers had a very different model of society and government in mind, and we have to try to restore that by addressing basically where we’ve gone wrong on a fundamental level as well as at the more superficial policy level.
Mike: So all is not lost for the old order. The way I read your essay was a bit of a dystopia, that all of the old order is pretty much lost because of the demographic trends, and conservatives better get about the business of figuring out what they can do to participate in the process. You kind of answered that. Answer the question or talk to me about that, about conservatives participating in the new demographic. How do you see that happening in the future?
McCarthy: I think a lot of it has, again, to do with getting the policy right instead of simply trying superficially to pander to different demographic blocks. It’s not a question of Republicans are not offering enough affirmative action to African-Americans or to Latinos. It’s not a question that we all have to get behind someone like Marco Rubio or any other number of politicians just because they happen to be the right color. I think instead it’s a case that what we need to do is have policies that are actually good to the country as a whole, and point out to everyone, not just the people we’re most comfortable with, not just other conservatives or other Evangelicals, in the case of many Republicans, but actually be able to make the case to Latinos, to African-Americans, to everyone that, for example, peace is a good policy, that going abroad in search of monsters to destroy is a fundamentally bad idea, that it’s not something that the United States should be engaged in.
It’s hard but I don’t think anyone even attempts to make the case for this more principled, constitutionalist conservatism to a large block of the country. In fact, the Republican Party has given up on making it — even within the Republican Party, even to people who already identify as conservatives — there hasn’t really been any effort to have outreach with this, the major exception being Ron Paul. Ron Paul has never pandered. He’s simply gone out there and made the case that liberty in fact brings people together. That’s been overwhelmingly true. He was able to pull together a coalition of people who were oftentimes not conventional Republicans. He brought a lot of young people into the conservative fold, and he did it because he was into principle and not simply going out there and pandering to demographics the way that, for example, Barack Obama did.
Barack Obama’s approach to getting new people and new demographics and blocks involved in his coalition is simply to offer them goodies. He goes out there and says, “If you’re a young person, I’m going to give you no-interest college loans,” things like that that are shameless and ultimately will lead the country over a financial precipice. Ron Paul did the very opposite. He went out there and talked about constitutionalist principles in terms that everyone could understand, in terms that everyone could relate to whatever their demographic background. That began to have some traction. If conservatives tried that on a much larger scale, I think it will have great success.
Mike: Daniel McCarthy is the editor of The American Conservative magazine. Read it every day of the week. It’s updated a lot of times per day now with a lot of great writers I believe you will admire and come to rely on greatly. It’s amconmag.com. He’s on the Dude Maker Hotline with us. Let’s stick on that subject for a moment here. One of the things I heard, one of the “major players in talk radio” yesterday thundering about we’ve got to go after these youth votes, go after these young kids. What, do we have to go out there and give birth control pills away?
I immediately thought what you just said. I immediately thought of all the people, this old geezer — and I’m a bit older than you, Daniel, this 50-year-old — of all the people that I met in the last four years through various speaking engagements, through going to political events and rallies and conventions and what have you, of all the people I met that called themselves part of the Ron Paul Revolution with the “LOVE” spelled backwards, most of them were predominately young. They were young people. It just occurred to me that that is just so shortsighted and sophomoric to say, “I guess we’re going to have to give away birth control pills. We’re going to have to give away college scholarships in order to attract them. We’re just going to make them more frugal.” That is the exact opposite of what a principled individual and a principled movement would matriculate towards. As you pointed out, Congressman Paul just kept doing it. He never wavered. There’s something to be said about this arcane practice of discipline, isn’t there, Mr. McCarthy —
Mike: — whether it’s discipline in education or discipline in political practice? Elaborate on that a little bit.
McCarthy: People like Rush Limbaugh and most of the talk radio sets, and also Fox News, their demographic, the people who actually tune into them and watch them is quite an older demographic. I think their median age may be in the 60s at this point, maybe a little higher in some cases. They really have very little understanding of where young people are coming from. It doesn’t surprise me that they come to such superficial conclusions, that contraception was somehow the issue that reelected Barack Obama. No, it absolutely wasn’t. It was the fact that the Republican Party, first of all, was offering basically only a variation on what Obama had already been offering, a rather inept one as well.
The GOP still has this cloud hanging over it. Much in the same way that Lyndon Johnson in the Vietnam War destroyed the Democratic Party for a generation and kept it out of the White House for almost a generation, I think you’ve seen exactly the same thing happen with George W. Bush with his wars, with his spending, with his unprincipled accumulation of federal power. If these guys really are serious, what they would try to do is not simply go moment to moment and try to come up with new sort of cheating ways of getting young people involved. They would actually look back to the republic’s founding principles and say these are timeless principles and they should appeal to young people just as much as they appeal to people throughout our history.
Mike: I think the term “timeless” is something that we don’t use often enough. Another word we don’t use often enough is we don’t use — I’ve just begun, as my old brain gets retrained, in large part due to great critical thinking that is done by The American Conservative magazine’s staff. You’ve really put a nice table of very diverse thinkers together and they update often. It keeps me thinking all the time. Transcendent — what does the word transcendent — it’s almost like in the 18th and 19th century you use the word republicanism interchangeable with good government or with preservation and conservation of liberty. The term republicanism has gone the way of the Edsel until I tried, and others have tried, to revive it here. There’s another word, though, and that is the word transcendent. Doesn’t the transcendent order also have to be part of what conservatives conserve and preserve?
McCarthy: Well, traditionally it is, that’s right. I think you find a tremendous appetite among young people right now for a connection with the transcendent, with the idea that our earthly and material existence is not all there is to life. Young people don’t know where to turn to find an informed view of what the transcendent would be and how it would connect with their daily lives. Again, I think you’ve seen so many conservatives put all their eggs in one basket. They have a very narrow view of what the religious rights and how politics and religion should combine. What you’re finding is that actually a lot of young people, where they want to see religion expressed most firmly is at the local level, even at the dinner table, for example, and not simply at the ballot box.
This idea of the transcendence, it’s transcendent, yes. It goes beyond the material world. It’s metaphysical. It’s also connected with daily life. People want to feel as if they have meaning in their lives. The GOP and the conservative movement, instead of trying to reconnect with that, which used to be so much of the base of what informed conservative thinking and constitutionalist thinking, instead the right wing tends to prefer talking in apocalyptic terms about how the left and Barack Obama or how some other force is going to completely destroy the country and instead we have to embrace Republican politicians or right-wingers who have more or less identical policies to Barack Obama, but who nonetheless will somehow be the saviors of the country if we adopt them and cast our ballots and souls for them in the ballot box. Most people, I think young people especially, can see that this is a fundamental fraud. They’re hungry for something different, but what that difference would be and what kind of alternative it would be isn’t really made clear to them by the existing conservative coalition.
Mike: So that’s our job to do that then, right? Isn’t that the task that’s laid out in front of us?
McCarthy: Absolutely. It’s a difficult task. It’s something that, because it’s been neglected by conservatives for decades now, it really requires a lot of hard thought, a lot of reinvention, a lot of going back to the sources. That’s what I was getting at in my blog post, in fact, about the need for conservatism to be dynamic. It’s not that conservatism changes moment to moment and becomes a completely different mutant every year. It’s rather the case that we have to apply our principles to changing circumstances, and that’s actually very hard work.
Mike: Are you really a tory anarchist? That’s a question I’ve always wanted to ask you.
McCarthy: Yes I am, yes.
Mike: That’s your handle on Twitter. I thought: I’m really going to ask Daniel one of these days if he really is a tory anarchist. Speaking of tories, one of the other things that comes up from time to time — you just mentioned constitutionalism and young people longing for something maybe a little higher than the satisfaction they can get in the moment. When we broke away from the tories in the 1770s, we did establish some kind of a governmental order. One of the tools that the framers of the Constitution left us with in that governmental order was the ability to amend the foundational law that the union would be organized under. They left it to us in Article V of the Constitution. Twenty-eight times we have used Article V, the Congress has used it. The states have yet to wield the power that was bequeathed to them, thanks to the efforts largely of the great George Mason in the Federal Convention of 1787, to insert the edit into Article V that says if two-thirds of the states call for a convention, you guys can have a convention too, exactly like the one that we’re currently attending. If three-quarters of the states agree, then you can propose an amendment.
Your young whippersnapper author who I met, and AG you met him too, in Tampa, Florida, Jordan Bloom, a William & Mary guy, has a great piece about this today, about considering the nuclear option, as he calls it, for a balanced budget in an Article V Amendment convention. I’ve done work on this for years. There are other groups out there, the Goldwater Institute, that’s done work on this for years. I guess my question is, my longwinded monologue notwithstanding, isn’t that something that conservatives could unite behind, an Article V Amendment convention to systemically repair some of the damage?
McCarthy: Well, I think if an Article V convention is going to be attempted, it has to be more than just a conservative effort as a conservative coalition exists right now. It has to be something that connects with Americans on a more fundamental level. One of our reporters, James Antle, went and gave an account of an event that was actually held at Harvard University last year, I believe, which brought together a Tea Party organization and one of these more liberal organizations that had been connected with a Harvard professor to discuss an Article V convention. I think there’s a broad-based American interest in having a constitutional convention.
I am personally a little bit skeptical of doing a convention simply because it seems to me that the bigger problem with the country today is not that the Constitution is not sufficiently articulated right now to serve our needs. It’s rather that the people themselves have been led into corruption. Perhaps I sound like an anti-Federalist saying this, but I’m skeptical that amending constitutions or creating new formal mechanisms is the way to improve the quality of the people. There’s an educational effort that has to be undertaken. It probably has to be undertaken very thoroughly before attempting any kind of systematic change to the machinery of our government.
Mike: In other words, federalism has waned, and it has waned as virtue has waned in the people. So making new laws for Congress to ignore and attaching them to the Constitution will not effect the change. That’s basically what you’re saying?
McCarthy: Basically that’s right. We already have the Tenth Amendment, but look how much good that does us right now.
Mike: Along those lines, let’s get into foreign affairs for a moment. Daniel Larison had a post last night. He had tapped into a brief history of the election and how Obama won it and how Romney lost it. I read this last night. If you tried to screw something up as great as a $2 billion election and you worked on the Romney campaign, this is what you would have done. One of the passages that was in there was when the news of what was going on at the embassy in Egypt had come out. Romney was briefed about it. The Romney campaign decided they were going to release this ridiculous statement that the president had apologized yet again to the Muslim hoodlums that were roaming the streets in Egypt and getting ready to do the same thing in Libya, not knowing that there would be four deaths that would result — Ambassador Stevens was one of them in Benghazi. Then when they received the news that this was a little bit premature, in order to keep Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Paul Wolfowitz, and John Bolton happy and in the fold, Romney refused to back off and retract that statement. We didn’t know this prior to yesterday in the Washington Post. Were you surprised to read that?
McCarthy: I kind of was surprised. That was even worse on Romney’s part than I had expected. The degree of capitulation of every other bloc in the Republican Party, whether it’s economic guys like Mitt Romney or whether it’s the religious right, the capitulation of all of them to the neoconservatives in foreign policy is just astonishing. It destroyed the party under George W. Bush. The party has been completely unable to recover because it won’t address the mistakes that were made. Yet people like Romney are still willing to bow down to Bill Kristol.
Mike: Yesterday in his speech, John Boehner, even though he did lay the olive branch, partially, at the feet of the president, did throw in, towards the end of his speech: Don’t even try to go anywhere with our defense spending because we’re not going to move an inch on that. That kind of belligerent attitude towards it suggests to me that not a single lesson for the party poobahs when it comes to foreign affairs and the military industrial complex has been learned. Would you agree?
McCarthy: I agree. In fact, I thought one of the advantages, if Mitt Romney had won, would have been that Republicans probably would have lost a lot of seats in the midterm elections in 2014. The reason why that actually would have been a good thing is it might have gotten rid of John Boehner and hopefully Mitch McConnell as well. The Republican congressional leadership still basically has that Bush mentality. These are guys who were absolutely terrible when they were, usually not the Speaker of the House, but Boehner was a few steps down during the Bush years. Nevertheless, these were guys who were supporting Medicare Part D. They were supporting the Iraq War. These were the guys who brought us the situation we have now. Until they’re gone, the Republican Party is going to have serious, serious troubles.
Mike: Final question for Daniel McCarthy, editor of The American Conservative magazine. As we survey the landscape here and put the pieces back together of where to go from here as a conservative movement, the final question I have also has something to do with Speaker Boehner’s speech yesterday. I don’t know if he was being sincere. I’ll take him at his word that he was, although I suspect that the cynical side of me says he wasn’t being sincere. There was a bit of an overture that we all have to sit at a table somewhere together at some point in time. We all have participated in creating these problems. So we’re all going to have to participate in figuring out a way to deal with them.
Is there something to be said, to be advised to those that are conservatives, even though they are principled conservatives, that your principles and your devotion to your principles does not preclude your civility and your statesmanship when it comes to having to deal with the duly elected President of the United States and the duly elected members, as vapidly intellectual as they may be, of the opposition part that controls the Senate? Your thoughts on that?
McCarthy: That’s exactly right. I think you can look back at great conservatives of the past, whether it’s Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater, and these guys were absolute paragons of civility. Goldwater was willing to work with Democrats to cut the military budget. I wish the conservative movement would stop and think about that for a minute. Goldwater was someone who was very eager to get rid of certain kinds of pork barrel defense spending. There are some famous pieces of legislation that attest to that. Ronald Reagan was able to work with Democrats in Congress and get tax cuts through. I think today there ought to be enough civility, enough maturity on the part of conservatives and Republicans that they can exert what influence is possible on Obama and on the Democratic Senate and try to minimize the harm they do and maximize the potential good.
That, again, is something that requires hard work. It’s something that clearly makes demagoguery much more difficult. The nice thing about being a demagogue is you can just go out there and say, “You can’t hold me responsible for the state of the country. It’s all the other team’s fault.” Well, in fact, the government is interlocking. It’s something where everyone who’s up there in Washington has to take some blame for what happens. That being the case, I think everyone has to try to work together and make the most of this mess, make the best of it. They can’t simply fall back on saying, “I have no responsibility at all” and send out fundraising letters claiming that one side is pure good and the other side is pure evil. That may be very good for fundraising, but it’s very bad for the fiscal stability of the country.
Mike: Final question for Daniel J. McCarthy, editor of The American Conservative magazine, in May 2011, your magazine and Michael Brendan Dougherty proclaimed yours truly, your most kind, gracious host, is the most radical man in talk radio. I got you to double down on that seven months ago. Can we still maintain the title of the most radical man in all of talk radio?
McCarthy: You are the most radical man in all of talk radio ever, in fact.
Mike: More radical than Joe Pyne?
McCarthy: You are radical in the sense of going right to the roots of the Constitution. That’s something that gives me hope, Mike. If you weren’t out there, I think we’d be in a bit of a wasteland really.
Mike: I appreciate that. If you guys weren’t out there, I think we’d be in an even larger wasteland. We’ll fight the wasteland together. Daniel, as always my friend, a pleasure and an honor. Keep up the great wok with the magazine. Give my best to Mr. Wick Allison, your publisher.
End Mike Church Show Transcript