Pubdate: Sat, 21 Mar 2015
Source: StarPhoenix, The (CN SN)
Copyright: 2015 The StarPhoenix
Author: Chris Selley
Page: C9


Author Reimagines the Right

What does it mean to be a conservative in 2015? In Canada, Stephen 
Harper's coalition of libertarians, Red Tories and social 
conservatives struggles with newly advanced debates on drug laws, 
prostitution and assisted suicide. Stateside, the rebuilding 
Republicans battle to reconcile their small-government reputation 
with George W. Bush's disillusioning legacy, and to attract 
millennial voters who are fiscally conservative but socially liberal.

In his new book, The Conservatarian Manifesto, National Review 
contributor Charles C.W. Cooke proposes that the U.S. Constitution 
sorts it all out. The Founding Fathers never intended Washington to 
have as much power as it does, and it's impractical to expect such an 
enormously diverse population to live (for example) under the same 
gun control or abortion regimes. Cooke proposes libertarians and 
conservatives combine their best instincts to "reestablish (the GOP) 
as the party of liberty" - a party that's "committed to 
laissezfaire," that's "tolerant of. .. how others wish to live their 
lives," and that's above all committed to local governments running 
things as their constituents see fit.

Q Why does America need a "conservatarian" movement?

A There's two reasons. The first is that there is a generational 
divide within the Republican party, especially on gay marriage and on 
the war on drugs. If it doesn't adapt, it's going to be out of step 
with future generations. (The second is that) the Bush administration 
was not the success that conservatives hoped. Some of that was the 
product of 9/11. But even when conservatives had no pressure, they 
voluntarily violated the rhetoric that arguably put them into power. 
They passed No Child Left Behind, a federal takeover of education; 
they expanded Medicare.... So you have a party that talks a good 
game, but spent too much, intruded too much, invaded too much and 
controlled too much.

Q Is there anyone in contemporary American politics who you see as a 
likely champion of this movement?

A Intellectually the person who has most in common with what I'm 
suggesting is Rand Paul. But I'm not sure I'd want him as a champion 
because - well, first thing, his father is a kook.

Q Many view America's experience with guns as a mark of shame on 
conservatives. You argue it's been a triumph.

A Since 1994 we've seen almost 180 million guns sold in the United 
States. But the murder rate has dropped 49 per cent. And the general 
crime rate with guns has dropped 75 per cent. Now that's not to say 
that the U.S. doesn't have more gun crime because it has 350 million 
guns. But pretending that there is some hard-and-fast link between 
the number and the outcomes is folly. The second point I would make 
is that it is the law, and laws matter. It's enumerated within the 
constitution, its meaning is clear, and if advocates wish to see a 
change then they will need to repeal that law.

Q Pretty much every western country has been stupid about drugs. But 
in the United States, to me, it's the most glaring, because liberty 
is supposed to be the ideal. And yet we see enormous incarceration 
rates, the prison-industrial complex, outrageously militarized police 
forces. ..

A Conservatives claim to be the true defenders and champions of the 
constitution as it was written and amended. And yet on the question 
of drugs, they are happy to tolerate all sorts of intrusions upon the 
constitution's precepts that they never would otherwise. It's not 
just the obvious violations of privacy, it's not just the 
militarization of the police. It's the fact that the federal 
government is involved at all. Conservatives claim to wish issues of 
commerce to be restricted to the state. Drugs is an issue of 
commerce. This has been a disaster financially; there is still 
widespread drug use that's created perverse incentives that lead to 
gang activity. And finally, I think it puts people off. They look at 
the conservative offering and say, "Well, I don't understand how you 
can talk all the time about liberty and small government and localism 
and then support this monstrosity."

Q On same-sex marriage, a common libertarian position is that 
government should get out of the marriage business altogether. That 
always struck me as a somewhat elegant solution. You don't agree.

A The problem as I see it, and this is the problem with libertarians 
in general, is that it presumes the state has been shrunk to the size 
of a pea. The reality is that marriage is inextricable from 
government because government is inextricable from our lives. 
Although I find this difficult to imagine as a libertarian-leaning 
person, the most effective argument in favour of gay marriage has 
been that to refuse to acknowledge or accept it is some form of 
animus, and that the state is refusing its imprimatur. Now if what 
you want is the imprimatur of the state, then you're not going to 
accept the removal of the state completely from that process.

Q It strikes me that your plan relies above all else on people being 
principled, being willing to stick to their democratic beliefs even 
if they lead to outcomes they don't like - but as you say in the 
book, most people aren't like that at all. How do you overcome that?

A If conservatives were so committed in the abstract to the values 
that I'm putting forward, the book would not have been necessary. 
Where I disagree is that not just within the conservative movement, 
but in America writ large, we are seeing an extraordinary amount of 
ideological and intellectual and even spiritual division. If you look 
at a question like drugs, now more than ever voters in Colorado and 
Washington have a reason to question federal power, because the 
federal government still has laws on its books that are in conflict 
with the will of the voters (on marijuana legalization). The Baptist 
in Mississippi and the hipster in Portland, Oregon, have almost 
nothing in common, and yet they are expected to live under the same 
government. And if we don't want to live in a country that yoyos 
ridiculously every four years or eight years, with the makeup of the 
national government, some of the powers that are currently being 
exercised in Washington, D.C., will need to be returned to the 
states, so that those who vehemently disagree with one another can 
live locally as they see fit.

This interview has been edited and condensed.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom