Tyrrell’s ‘After the Hangover’ Explains Conservatism’s Successes -- and Obstacles

April 16, 2010 - 6:41 PM
A new book explores the history of the conservative movement, chronicles its many premature obituaries, calls out so-called 'reformed conservatives' -- and details why conservatism has expanded while liberalism has waned since the '50s.

(Cover photo, courtesy of Thomas Nelson)

(CNSNews.com) – When wrapping up the nuclear security summit, President Barack Obama said, “Whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower.” 

The president’s comment was a very subtle example of how liberals tend to talk only to each other and are isolated from most Americans, according to R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., author of the forthcoming book “After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery,” published by Thomas Nelson. 

“The president of the United States, governing 300 million Americans, gets up there and you would think he is talking to a small seminar of left-wing ideologues at the University of Chicago,” Tyrrell, the founder and editor of The American Spectator magazine, told CNSNews.com. 

“But he’s talking to the entire nation, the vast majority of who are absolutely proud as they can be that we’re a superpower – the only superpower – that makes it a safer world because we are a decent society, another matter that escapes President Obama.”

In the book, Tyrrell writes: “Liberalism is led by arrogant individuals who are embarrassed by our history and oblivious to American achievement. A conservative agenda for our road to recovery must be based on the principles of the foundation of the movement.”

“After the Hangover” references the history of the conservative moment, chronicles its many premature obituaries, calls out “reformed conservatives” commentators who attack the movement and details why conservatism has expanded while liberalism has waned since the 1950s. 

“An epic battle between liberalism and conservatism is taking place, and the conservatives have far more strength today in numbers, in institutions, and in ideas than they did in any of the earlier battles,” Tyrrell writes.

The book, however, specifically criticizes what Tyrrell calls the “petty competitiveness” among conservatives, though many of whom, he argues, find their ticket to success in the mainstream media by bashing conservatives. 

One example is recent Kathleen Parker, who won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary this month. 

“She’s about as dull a writer as anyone I’ve ever encountered,” he said in the interview. “Yet, she’s won a Pulitzer Prize, and basically, she’s won it for sort of posing as a conservative who leaps on every indiscretion or possible problem conservatism faces.”

But Tyrrell directs much of his frustration at what he calls “Reformed Conservatives” – especially, he says, “the Two Davids” --  David Frum, whom Tyrell says consistently attacks conservative lawmakers and commentators, and David Books, who wrote in his New York Times column – among other things -- that 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin was a “cancer” on the GOP.

“They compose what I like to call the Davidian Branch of Reformed Conservatism,” Tyrrell said.

The book uses the term “Kultursmog” to describe how liberalism’s dominance over the media, education and other areas has pushed myths and assumptions as facts.

“The existence of Kultursmog explains two things about contemporary American politics --(1) Liberalism’s unchallenged radicalism and (2) the marginalization of conservatives from American culture, particularly conservatives intellectuals who might be expected to participate in it,” he writes. 

According to Tyrrell, Kultursmog is created in two ways: the endless repetition of falsehood and “either the complete neglect or the utter misrepresentation of those who do not share liberalism’s values.” 

He cites four contemporary examples of this: 1) the argument that Al Gore really won the 2000 election; 2) that President Bush intentionally lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; 3) that supply-side economics was a failure and 4) that President Clinton was the victim of a vast right-wing conspiracy.

Two new myths that are developing at present are that Obama is not raising taxes on the middle class and “that we are going to spend an extra trillion dollars on health care to cut costs of health care.”

“That’s a beautiful myth,” he said in the interview. 

Most political indicators point to GOP victories in 2010, even after many pundits declared conservatism dead after the 2008 election. 

“Now we have blubbered through the Republican defeat of 2008 and the fourth round of obituaries for conservatism, which make it the longest dying political movement in American history,” the book says. “Yet the movement is still around, and oddly enough, the political center toward which liberal political candidates claim they are running is more clearly shaped by modern American conservatism than by liberalism.”

He argued that conservatism is more of a temperament than an ideology. 

“It explains in a way why we are kind of slow to take political action because we are just of the basic temperament to delight in our country, to delight in our family, to delight in our religion,” Tyrrell told CNSNews.com. “When things go really bad – take a look at the Tea Partiers -- we’re not that inert. We jump into action.”

“However on the other side of the aisle, the liberals, they don’t start with a temperament delighting in their country,” Tyrrell continued. “They start with anxiety that’s constantly vexed over the environment, or constantly vexed over the inequality in society, or constantly vexed about not enough women here, not enough blacks there, not enough Latinos here, not enough gays there. The consequence of that is they have all these ideological plans for our society. They are social engineers in a way that conservatives would never dream of being social engineers. 

One less positive aspect of conservatism’s expansion was what Tyrrell called the “glum truth of recent decades” -- that standards of intellect have declined enormously.

“Where once there stood William F. Buckley Jr. at the rostrum now there stands Ann Coulter – her rival on the left might be James Carville, cackling, or Al Franken – now the Hon. Al Franken, from the great state of Minnesota – simpering,” Tyrrell wrote.

Tyrrell told CNSNews.com this was not meant as a slight toward Coulter, the highly popular yet controversial conservative commentator, speaker and author.

“What I pointed out (in the book) is that the conservative movement began with personalities who were heavily intellectual, like Bill Buckley,” Tyrrell said. “And liberalism advanced with personalities that were heavily intellectual like John Kenneth Galbraith. We now have Al Franken who is just a personality and Ann Coulter, who is no intellectual, carping at each other.”

But with the Tea Party movement, conservatism continues to take on new constituencies, while liberalism has remained the same, Tyrrell said. 

“We started with libertarians, anti-communists and traditionalists. Those were the three sources of New Conservatism in the 1950s,” Tyrrell told CNSNews.com. “As the years have gone on, we welcomed liberals who in the late 60s and the 70s had become alienated from the weak foreign policy and the ungovernable cities of the liberals. We called them neo-conservatives. Years later when the evangelicals came to political life, we welcomed them aboard. And now come the Tea Partiers, who as I say, are particularly aroused by the rejection of the American constitutional order.”

“We’ve got all these various groups within conservatism,” he continued. “We are far more diverse than liberals, whereas liberals just do the same old statist people grouching about American reality.”

One only has to watch a campaign to see conservatism is the dominant political philosophy, Tyrrell said. 

“The liberals, when they run for office, they never say they’re going to raise your taxes or expand government. They say just the opposite if they can get away with it,” Tyrell said. “When we run for office, we state forthrightly what we believe in – limited government, personal liberty, lower taxes, strong foreign policy. We don’t have to mince words because that’s where the mainstream of the American people are.”

The book will appear in book stories nationwide this week.