The Magazine

Losing Can Be Liberating

Nov 19, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 10 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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This won’t happen because a few GOP poobahs in Washington decide it should happen, or because a few conservative leaders decide on the future agenda of the movement. A revivified and rejuvenated conservatism won’t come from the top down. It will happen organically and spontaneously. The best thing “leaders” of the party and the movement can do is to stop thwarting policy heterodoxy and political entrepreneurship.

After all, for a party that claims to value entrepreneurship, Republican politicians at the national level these days show very little of it. The Romney campaign was the opposite of entrepreneurial. Congressional leaders discourage entrepreneurial efforts by backbenchers. And for a movement that claims to understand the dangers of Hayek’s “fatal conceit,” conservative leaders tend to embrace centralization, trying to enforce pledges upon and punish deviationism by the rank and file.

If a senator or a representative has a good proposal on immigration or monetary policy or education or tax reform, he or she should introduce it. If a candidate has an idea, he or she should run on it. Don’t worry about getting the go-ahead from leadership or from power brokers, from donors or from interest groups. The elected officials of a great political party shouldn’t play “Mother, May I?”

Will Rogers was famous for saying in the 1920s, “I am not a member of any organized party. I am a Democrat.” Those disorganized Democrats, full of vim and vigor and noise and conflict, subsequently controlled and reshaped American politics over the next four decades. The Democrats are now the party of oh-so-well-organized patronage schemes and grievance groups. Let Republicans embrace the spirit of Will Rogers. A few years of healthy, spirited, and fruitful disorganization could be an undisguised blessing.

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