Bucking the “Narrative”

Donald Douglas at American Power highlights Jeffrey Bergner’s article at the Weekly Standard that challenges conservatives to break from the confinement of the political narrative that has helped tarnish conservatismand dominates the American political sphere.

This is a phenomenal piece. The Narrative is the ideological construction of an ineluctable progress towards full equality in the U.S., and to challenge that project is to open oneself up to the most vicious attacks of “racism,” “sexism,” and “homophobia.” Bergner argues that The Narrative is a bipartisan project, and Republicans in fact need to think outside of that box if they’re going have any hope of not only governing, but in providing a sustainable governing vision for the future.

From Bergner’s article:

What is The Narrative? The Narrative is the official story about America. It is a story composed by the political left, which entered American public life with the progressive movement in the early 20th century and was elaborated in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s and ’40s.

The story runs like this. America was founded on the ideal of equality, though that ideal at first was barely put into practice. The story of America is one of progress toward the fulfillment of the ideal of equality. The end of slavery and the achievement of women’s suffrage are landmarks in this story. All fair enough. So is—less plausibly—the federal income tax, originally established to fund the government but later used to redistribute wealth and tax advantages among Americans. Then came the many programs of direct payments to individuals, the so-called entitlements, beginning with Social Security and extending to Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, aid to dependent children, farm subsidies, and myriad others. And today the health care
reform bill before Congress takes its place in America’s advance toward equality. Each and every policy that aims to level distinctions between Americans has found its place within The Narrative.

At times the progression is described as more or less inevitable. It is dressed up in rhetorical finery (befitting the progressives’ debt to Hegel) as the “march of history.” At other times its proponents stress the role of will, exalting the labors of progressive heroes to bring about change. But always they are certain of the single direction in which progress moves.

The Narrative holds genuine power. It permits the easy assignment of virtue and vice. Virtue belongs to those who advocate the fulfillment of equality; they are on the “right side of history,” moving the country “forward.” In opposition are those who seek to take the country “backward,” often identified as “special interests” who favor their own well-being over the equality of all.

<snip>

So long as Republicans are enthralled by The Narrative, they will be stuck in rearguard actions. There will be no coherent set of policies toward which Republicans aim steadily over time, such as characterizes the progressive left. There will be only the (almost endearing) Republican embarrassment about governing at all.

So Republicans must ask themselves: Are they really ready to reverse the trend of more and more Americans becoming dependent upon government? Do they really deny the working assumption that most Americans don’t know what’s best for them, and that public policy must set them straight? Are they willing to act so that initiative does not meet bureaucratic obstacles at every turn, and regulations don’t hamper every creative venture? Do they actually disdain an ideal of justice that conjures up an image of well-fed and well-tended sheep?

What if Republicans aimed at a different story altogether? What if the story of America were one in which government imposed ever less control over citizens? What if they considered every policy initiative through this lens: Does it help Americans become less, rather than more, dependent on the government? Their goal would then be to create—as best they can, and over time—a nation of self-reliant citizens, not merely “consumers” and “providers” and “practitioners” and “beneficiaries” and “recipients” and all the other less-than-fully-human descriptors of the left.

Well worth the read. Read the whole thing here.

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