Liberals are hindered by moral vacuity and libertarians by rigid ideological constraints unmoored to real-world experience. As a result, when confronted with domestic mayhem or international aggression, adherents of these philosophies crumble or wind up blaming someone other than the responsible party. Society and the justice system, they claim, are racists. The United States is really to blame, they insist, when arguing for the United States to withdraw from the world and appease tyrants. It is left to the GOP — sometimes called the “dad” party — to reestablish order and protect the vulnerable.
So when violence in Ferguson, Mo., refuses to dissipate just because more heavily armed police are replaced by a force dubbed less scary — to the pundits and political amateurs posing as social critics — conservatives once again emerge as the most trustworthy figures on the political stage.
When the Islamic State runs rampant, James Foley is beheaded, Iraq is overrun or Crimea is invaded, President Obama is appalled, shocked, concerned or disturbed. But he doesn’t act. The isolationist right can’t figure out whether we have a stake (!) in the outcome of the Islamic State’s reign of terror. And, of course, Hillary Clinton is obsessing over her own cover story.
So it falls to conservatives, as it did in the late 1970s, to reestablish order, rebuild our military, bring the public along and devise a strategy to counteract violence and protect the lives and property of ordinary citizens.
It was in this vein that Texas Gov. Rick Perry spoke at the Heritage Foundation. Beginning with a feisty defense of law and order in his own, spurious indictment, Perry declared: “There are fundamental principles at stake here, namely a governor’s power to veto legislation and funding and the right of free speech. I’m confident in my case and I can assure you I will fight this attack on our system of government. And with my fellow citizens behind me … both Democrat and Republican I aim to defend our constitution and stand up for the rule of law in the state of Texas.”
Continuing his theme, he addressed immigration as an issue of public safety and social order:
“We’re seeing this misuse of presidential power right now, in one of the issues that bring us here today the integrity of our nation’s border. We have a crisis on our southern border that is entirely within the power of the president to deal with — under the law. But he won’t fully and consistently enforce the laws as they are written … requiring the protection of our borders against unlawful entry. And he wants to establish new laws such as the amnesty of 2012 without the consent of Congress. So on the one hand we’re seeing a willful neglect of clear presidential responsibility. And, on the other hand, we’re seeing an aggressive overreach into powers that don’t belong to presidents at all. When laws are treated this way, what usually follows are chaos and grief … and that’s exactly what we’ve got right now.”
He does not oppose comprehensive immigration reform, but he insists on “comprehensive border enforcement” first.
Pivoting to foreign policy, Perry once again signaled little patience with a passive attitude struck both by the left and by libertarians:
“We have been put on notice lately by the jihadist army that is right now charging across a country we were told was secure and stable. And if the astonishing seizure of territory these past few months is any indicator, then we have every reason to take them at their word.
“Here, too, alertness is everything. Here, too, presidential leadership requires the most candid assessment of the facts on the ground, because the most fundamental interests of our nation ride in the balance. And here, too, we have to understand the consequences of doing nothing. All of us, Republican and Democrat, have a duty to put no concern of politics before the security of America. We have to take things as they are in the world today and not as we might wish them to be. ”
Perry then proceeded with a remarkably detailed analysis of the Islamic State threat and our options in confronting the rising threat of jihadist barbarism, recommending:
“We heard from the White House, ‘Assad must go.’ That was an opinion, not a policy, and so it all came to nothing. Just now, however, these and other questions are all for another day. We can talk about all the causes and contributing factors all day long, and it’ll get us exactly nowhere. What matters in the here and now are outcomes that are still in our power to influence. We know what the jihadists’ objectives are in Iraq and in Syria. So let’s be clear and unequivocal about our own. . . . The momentum of the fight must be reversed, so that cities overrun by ISIS can be taken back by Iraqi troops. In Syria as well as Iraq, this terrorist army must be confronted with overwhelming force. . . .
“The administration wishes – and who doesn’t? – that this was just a humanitarian crisis. And when they talk about limited air strikes, they place great emphasis on limited. Yet clearly more strikes will be necessary…nothing less than a sustained air campaign to degrade and destroy ISIS forces. The Iraqi people are up against a terrorist blitzkrieg. It went practically unhindered for many weeks. And even though these killers have seen glimpses of our superior power and technology they need to see a lot more of it. ”
All in all, it was a remarkably bold and specific defense of conservative values — a commitment to law and order, to domestic order and to international strength. We’ve become so accustomed to an inanimate president and to silly pontificating from pundits and pols that it is bracing to hear such a strong articulation of what was for decades bread-and-butter conservatism.
Perry is impressing skeptics not only because of his fiery denunciation of a rogue prosecutor but also because he has rediscovered the values that set conservatism apart from liberalism and libertarianism; it turns out to be the most realistic and optimistic political outlook. Government is not the cause of riots; it is the bulwark between chaos and ordinary Americans. The United States is not the cause of the world’s ills; it is the only hope for peace, order and human dignity. No wonder Perry is getting such a positive response.