I don’t think that movement conservatism is a religion. But I’m starting to think that it might be better off if it were. These people need a pope.
This occurred to me earlier today when I was writing about the House Republican decision to hold a vote on a continuing resolution defunding Obamacare . . . the best way I could characterize it was that they had finally settled on the proper Ritual of Conservative Obedience. The whole problem, however, is that there are no set rituals, or any other method for politicians to sufficiently attest to their membership in good standing at the cult of True Conservatives.
And, to be sure, there’s reason for them to have such tests. After all, “conservative” has tended to be a popular thing to call oneself for the last few decades, meaning that lots of people with all sorts of politics (including Democrats) have called themselves conservatives.
However, this has basically opened the door wide for fanatics, frauds, and grifters to claim the mantle of True Conservative for themselves, and then constantly shuffle the substantive and symbolic requirements necessary to join the club. Which is basically what has happened over the last 20 or so years. Within Congress, what that’s meant in practical terms is that the Republicans who are mainstream conservatives at any one moment are always in immediate danger of being exposed as RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) because they haven’t adjusted quickly enough to the latest changes in the party line. Which has meant that mainstream conservatives spend most of their time and energy trying desperately to prevent any opening between themselves and the nuttiest politicians out there.
The best solution to all of this would be if there were a constructive, realistic program of public policy that conservatives supported. In that case, working to enact that program would be a pretty good defense, probably, against claims of insufficient loyalty. Alas, that hasn’t been the case for 30 or so years, and really hasn’t been the case for the last decade.
The next-best solution? If they had a pope who could establish and police the rituals of conservativism, and who could hold the power of excommunication, and could use them to promote the stability and health of conservativism . . . well, that might be one way to do it. Especially if the pope’s incentives could be structured so that he (well, it would be a “he” now, wouldn’t it?) would really look out for the health of the movement, unlike market-driven de facto quasi-popes such as Rush Limbaugh.
So, yeah, a pope. Or, if not a pope, perhaps a High Council with a chancellor; I’d love to see what a conservative Gowron would do with Heritage Action and Ted Cruz. Wouldn’t you?