Conservatism will never be cool, just compelling
When I was in grammar school, I was decidedly “uncool”.
In fourth grade, I lost the election for class president to a girl with lower grades but higher popularity.
In sixth grade, I distinctly remember hearing a cool kid make a joke that was nearly identical to one I had made only days earlier, and being frustrated when he got laughs whereas I received funny looks and nervous giggles.
When Frick and others make the argument that conservatives need to be cooler, all I can think of are bullied geeks and nerds across this once great country sarcastically smacking their foreheads and going, “Duh! We just need to be cooler! Why didn’t we think of that?!”
Republicans are at the familiar political crossroads in Western countries, where the party must decide whether to retrench in limited government principles, or take the European path of promising to be better managers of the big government bureaucracy. Conservatives often deride the second option, for good reason, as Democrat-lite and doomed to failure. Trying to mimic the liberal cult of personality, trendy cause style will necessarily fail as well. The last two months provide a great example of why (and I’m not talking about the election).
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the success of the incredible marketers at Susan G. Komen in mainstreaming and popularizing that cause is truly astounding. Evidence of that are NFL players, supposedly the most rough, tough, manly men out there, spending not just one weekend but the entire month worth of games wearing pink on their uniforms as they try to maim each other.
Since it’s borderline socially unacceptable to mention that maybe just a bit too much attention is paid to this one particular type of cancer (or that Susan G. Komen’s allocation of funds between awareness/administration and research is less than ideal), men instead tried to mimic the women’s success by creating “Movember”, and growing mustaches during November to raise awareness for prostate cancer. Contra the success of the instantly recognizable pink ribbons in reminding people of breast cancer, the mustaches just remind people of creepiness, and lead to awkward conversations (“Wait, so is your mustache caused by the cancer? I think I’m missing the connection.”).
But that’s what happens when you try to be something you’re not, and conservatism has never been cool. Yes, it’s become fashionable for enlightened people to explain that while they’re socially liberal they’re also fiscally conservative, but in reality the former always wins out, and they have no idea what balancing the budget would mean. Being pro-life eventually coincides with the realization that society’s psychological separation of sex from responsibility might be a problem, so that’s not cool either. An honest national security discussion would entail pointing out that “Islamic extremism” is actually quite mainstream in the Middle East, but that would make people uncomfortable, and making people uncomfortable is the epitome of uncool.
Smart, articulate messengers are necessary, but that’s a different thing from winning the pop culture wars. If a conservative Jon Stewart emerged I’d be thrilled and watching every night, at least until I woke up from my dream. A conservative message that appeals to burnouts isn’t sustainable. Similarly, pop stars like Katy Perry wearing spandex adorned with a candidate’s face or slogan isn’t compatible with a limited government mindset.
Nerds weather the bullies because the future Bill Gates knows those jerks will be cleaning his office one day. Western civilization flourished not by raising awareness about diseases, but curing them. Expending the effort to accomplish meaningful things is not cool, but the results are compelling.
Maturity is needed to balance a budget, to say “no” when it is necessary. Conservatism is for grownups. Unfortunately, the president just ran and won a student council election, which doesn’t say much for the electorate, or conservatives’ hopes for appealing to it. Frick’s call to replace a culture that doesn’t find Katy Perry’s outfits creepy before fiscal Armageddon strikes is probably a lost cause. The best hope left is that when reality reasserts itself, coolness in politics loses its luster, and conservatism looks a lot more compelling.
As for me? Freshmen year in high school, I exchanged my aviator glasses for contacts, started drinking at parties, and my social status improved. Funny how that works.
But I still lost my student council race that year to a kid who unrealistically promised that he’d get a Slurpee machine in the cafeteria. Funny how that works, too.