Yes, I am, as a conservative, voting for (ughh) Mitt Romney. (Hmm, I think I might have just thrown up a little bit in my mouth.) Why would I do this? Do I not understand that his foreign policy is virtually indistinguishable from Barack Obama’s and therefore a rejection of the Burkean prudence that I so ardently admire?
Do I not understand that his pro-life stance is a recent and rather suspicious addendum to his policy preferences serving only to make him slightly more palatable to social conservatives so as to harvest their votes? And, what’s worse, do I not know that he has more than alluded that his administration will support nothing of value to the pro-life cause?
Do I not understand that his economic proposals are only a reconfiguration of the current statist status quo?
In short, do I not understand that if aliens were plotting to conquer earth they could do worse than to release a mutant called “Obamney” that appears as two but speaks as one? We’ve seen this before, a few times actually.
Well, yes, I understand all that. However, I am voting for Mitt Romney (ughh, gulp) nonetheless. And here’s why.
Conservative political principle numero uno: politics is the art of the possible; it is the method of attaining salutary change by degrees among the political possibilities. We view history in terms of decades, centuries and millennia, not in terms of elections cycles. We do what we can in the political arena based upon the possibilities before us. Right now we’re facing a general election, specifically, for our federal president; not a primary, not a constitutional convention, not a decision on which party to give our affiliation or contributions.
We live in a two-party system. The reasons for this are complicated but it’s the system we live under. We don’t have another one. This means that our system is prone to have two candidates of similar profile, one leaning to the “right” and one to the “left,” each either trying to get as close to the center while also pleasing one “side” of the divide or leaning as far to their “side” while trying to appeal to an adequate portion of the middle.* The conservative selects the one that is closest to conservatism, whether by personal sincerity or shameless pandering. Even shameless political pandering can have salutary effects if the politician in question is pandering for (and advancing) a conservative cause. The conservative is not a Rousseauian. He does not need sincerity in his politicians.**
Imagining a world where a different political construct exists is rarely a conservative effort. Working for legislation and amendments to alter the system can be conservative, depending on what one is working for and whether it constitutes salutary reform or amounts to social conflagration. Altering our single member district system would be a means to change our two-party system. Would that be prudent? I don’t know. However, until something like that happens the conservative engaged in politics will vote in the general election within the two-party system because that is the political situation in which he finds himself.
Furthermore, the prime political principle above is secondary to the conservative’s understanding of the pre-political. That is, politics is not the prime conservative concern. The conservative understands politics as taking place within a cultural and social milieu and is constrained by the imaginative constructs of the society at large. So what we are discussing now is the conservative’s approach to the politics, where the conservative is concerned with what is possible within contemporary cultural and social circumstances. The conservative’s prime concern, prior to his political concerns, is to shape the cultural and social circumstances toward a humane social system.*** A conservative’s radical actions generally are social or cultural in nature. That is, a conservative concerned with cultural demise becomes Peter Viereck’s “unadjusted man,” Albert J. Nock’s “Isaiah,” or at least a member of Nock’s “remnant.” In politics, when he is voting, he casts his vote in the general election as he is able for the candidate that is closer (not necessarily close) to his conservative policy prescriptions.
Our country is undoubtedly on the wrong track in many ways cultural, social and political. There are little identifiable conservative dispositions among prominent politicians of any stripe or conservative policies supported by either party. However, there are differences of degrees of error regarding policy and dispositions toward dispositions that a conservative would recognize.
I believe that Mitt Romney is not a conservative, but he’s a penumbra formed by emanations coming from what might be a conservative. He is religious, not identifiably Christian, but at least he is a practicing religious person. His religion does not appear to coincide with sentimental humanitarianism, certainly not to the extent that Barack Obama’s faith is indistinguishable from that ideological malady. More importantly, Romney will understand the threat that the HHS mandate and its like has for religious organizations. His judicial appointments will reflect that. Or at least, have a better chance of reflecting that sentiment that President Obama’s appointments. The same can be said about Romney’s economic policies.
Those who choose to vote third-party or not at all may have a good case. Or at least some of them do. Some are lazy and others are ideologues, but some make a good case which you will read in the coming days. However, the conservative’s concern with prudent change within the parameters of the possible is always the guiding political concern. It applies to this election as it applies to all others.
There are places for “radical”**** conservative reforms. But the present election is not one of them. It’s not that I don’t support a “radical” conservative political realignment, reappraisal, and general revamping of the federal government, but that it isn’t a possibility in the present general election. That will only happen when there is cultural and social renewal, a change in the pre-political that alters the political landscape and provides political possibilities more palatable to conservatives. Politics is the art of the possible. It is not possible this election to elect a conservative candidate. What is possible next week is to cast a pall of doubt and illegitimacy over the dastardly un-conservative policies of Barack Obama. That means a vote for Mitt Romney (ughh).
* These political designations emerged from the French Revolution so they are suspect, but they’ll serve to demonstrate my point.
** The role of sincerity and ideology in the statesman is a subject for another post.
*** A sweeping statement that must wait for another post, but if you’re a well-read conservative, you know what I mean.
**** “Radical” as the Glorious Revolution was radical in conserving the British political system from a tyrant’s destructive innovations, but not in the sense in which the French Revolution was radical in destroying what was both oppressive and salutary in traditional French institutions.