Gut Check: Confessions of a Self-Conscious Conservative

I was once a self-conscious conservative.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s a natural part of believing in something, or anything, worth believing in.

But sooner, rather than later, a sensible person has to realize that being a self-conscious conservative is not so much a winning strategy (a method of persuasion) than it is an exercise in “look at me, and how much more strongly I feel about something than you do.”

It’s a noise maker, not a poise maker.

I define self-conscious conservatism (based on my own experience as one) as someone who proudly expresses his beliefs not to support a cause, but to separate oneself from people who are on your side.

I was guilty of this for a good ten years. It was fun for a while and it felt great. But if you want to win, it becomes a liability.

Looking at the current political landscape — I don’t believe that conservatism splinters into moderates and hardliners. The real contrast is between conservatives and self-conscious conservatives. It’s a tale of two righties: the person who is conservative, and the person who needs to tell you that they’re conservative. It’s the latter who is well-meaning — but generally less devoted to nuance. They don’t have to be, because they’re busy damning you for not getting it. If politics were sport, he’s the guy who likes the team you like. But he wears the jersey to work on casual Fridays. He might even paint his face at a game.

As a loudmouth twerp, I have been guilty of this – for it’s found in the newly converted, the recently enlightened, the loudest of the just-joined.

The behavior is characterized by:

  •  Defining others as “less” committed than you are. This is performed through the labeling of such friendly foes as “RINOs” or “squishies.” Questioning the commitment of others is a quick way of elevating the perception of your dedication.
  • Viewing uniformity (or lockstep) as simply a matter of loyalty. That it doesn’t matter if your cohorts are wrong – you must stick with them. And it doesn’t matter if your adversary might be right once in a blue moon. Screw them too.
  • Choosing ideology over victory. Or rather “winnability.” Mind you – both litmus purity and victory can join together – but for the self-conscious conservative that actually defeats the purpose. The choice for candidate is a personal one precisely defined as a differentiation — an expression of total commitment that makes coming defeat heroic.
  • Tweeting, alternating between lower-case and ALL-CAPS volleys of anger, at you, for not being sufficiently, like them. Usually the tweets begin with “I used to like you,” followed by a “but now…” When I get these, i realize whoever wrote it never really liked me to begin with.

This kind of actions, largely symbolic, drives the fresh and fierce to support a sure loser with 100 percent conservative bona fides – over a winner stuck with a lowly 85 percent ACU rating. It doesn’t matter that you might have had a pretty damn conservative dude or dudette in office – on principle, you choose to lose.

Someone once said that ideology is the opposite of truth. I would morph that into a different maxim: ideology is the willingness to accept and ignore the errors of your compatriots. You’re too forgiving to the people who represent you.

Back in the 1980s as a freshed faced rightie, reading all the right books and underlining the best parts – I embraced the most incendiary. It was fun to elevate the voice that was loudest, most brash, most theatrical. It didn’t matter if everyone else found it grating.

My favorite guy at one point was Alan Keyes. I found him unique, vastly interesting, and courageous: probably because he was black and conservative. This was maybe 25 or 30 years ago, I guess, when he ran. I had a blue sticker with his name on my crappy briefcase. Being broke most of the time, which necessitated cheap rum, this period remains a blur.

I realized later that boasting of my fandom was akin to liking a band that no one heard of. There was no way he was going to win – but it was fun and attention-getting to say I wanted him to win. It’s harmless fun. It’s like saying the Fall is the greatest band that ever was — when they were just a brilliant, strange band for particular tastes.

I’ve long since moved away from being a self-conscious conservative: meaning that guy that MUST TELL YOU how conservative he is. Not because it’s silly, but because I realized I never had to prove my beliefs to you or anyone. When someone calls me a “RINO,” I just realize it’s someone flexing his muscles. It’s the kind of chest-beating that serves them, but bores me. It’s shorthand for “knucklehead.”

Lets take a look at the last two presidential elections and ask: did those losses reflect a weakness in spine, or ideology?

Dismissing Senator McCain as a “RINO” – a decorated war hero with more character in his pinky than the entirety of cable’s political blowhards – does not offer any insight as to why he lost. Obama’s win had nothing to do with McCain’s moderation. It had to do with being a first. We all know this. Obama was unbeatable for that simple reason. He was a first. We made fun of Chris Matthews’ “thrill” up his leg. But secretly, I envied it.

Romney had a slightly better chance, but he still was going to lose. And it wasn’t due to flaws in his politics, but a set of circumstances that could only be overturned by a truly charismatic opponent with a powerful vision. That was not present in the Republican field. Romney is a great man, but failed in translating that greatness through connection, through speech (however: say what you will about Newt, he would have destroyed Obama in the debates. I don’ t think that would have led to President Gingrich, but damn it would have been a sight to behold.)

So what about the winners from last November?

Among them we found extremely likable conservatives brimming with self-confidence, not self-consciousness. They didn’t wear their ideology on their lapel, they just articulated their stances clearly, with straightforward language, wit, and verve.

As Democrats sink into a party of pessimism – where there are no victors, only victims – and the west is always at fault – 2016 becomes the opportunity for unity. But before that happens to the country, it has to happen to the party first.

Greg Gutfeld is a mainstay on Fox News as co-host of The Five and the former host of Red Eye. He’s also the NY Times best-selling author of Not Cool and The Joy of Hate: How to Triumph over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage. For more from Greg check out hisofficial site or follow him on Twitter.


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