By JOE SCARBOROUGH
I was asked online earlier today for the historical text that best describes conservatism as I understand it. My answer to that question comes from a text that has been taped to the wall of my office for 20 years now. It was written (of course) by William F. Buckley and it describes the kind of conservatism that shaped my thinking in Congress and still influences my thinking today.
In his 1959 classic “Up From Liberalism” Buckley wrote:
“I will not cede more power to the state. I will not willingly cede more power to anyone, not to the state, not to General Motors, not to the CIO. I will hoard my power like a miser, resisting every effort to drain it away from me. I will then use my power, as I see fit. I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arived at yesterday at the voting booth. That is a program of sorts, is it not? It is certainly program enough to keep conservatives busy, and Liberals at bay. And the nation free.”
This is Buckley’s ideology in its purest form. Five years later, the political collapse of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, as well as the rise of Ronald Reagan two years later, would add a healthy dose of pragmatism to Buckley’s political approach. It is hardly remembered today that soon after Gov. Reagan was sworn in, Buckley would quickly become Reagan’s biggest defender against those on the right who declared the former Hollywood actor a big government sellout to the Republican establishment.
A battle-tested Buckley would say later, “Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive.”
Goldwater’s disastrous defeat in 1964 taught WFB that lesson all too well and Reagan’s pragmatic conservatism over the next two decades would also show Buckley just how effective a conservative politician could be if he was more interested in persuading voters than posing as an ideological puritan.
Still, Buckley’s “Up from Liberalism” remains conservatism in its purest form. If that bedrock belief in individual liberty is connected with a candidate who knows how to win over independent and Democratic voters, that combination becomes unstoppable at the ballot box.