I spent today listening to thirty-something Podunk University grads telling me things any junior high schooler running a Dungeons & Dragons club would know about recruiting. I listened to people telling me that using the word "conservative" was the death knell of any burgeoning group, that the focus should be on hip, widely attended events, not ideas, policies, or platforms, that we should never waste time talking to liberals, that supporting the troops can't be compatible with opposing the war, and that Guantanamo Bay is where things don't "git mo' bettah".
Here, awareness of the libertarian/traditionalist split marks me a salon intellectual, and the line between ideology and pragmatism isn't drawn in the sand, but etched in cement. It's not conservative first, intellectual second, it's "CONSERVATIVE! ... ?"
Distance makes the heart grow fonder. I love the Party of the Right. A year into my first serious relationship I bemoaned the smallness of the word "love" in comparison to what I felt for my boyfriend- I feel that ad infinitum now, for my Party.
My heart breaks for the three or four real intellectuals I've met here, because there's nothing for them here, and nothing for them to go back to. We gravitate towards each other like dessicated plants to rain water puddles, seeking islands of stimulating, meaningful conversation in a swamp of sticky pablum and vapid platitudes. I have always resented the Yale bashing in which so many indulge- we take so much for granted.
I used to think that there was a dangerously wide gap between intellectual conservatism and low-brow conservatism. The latter, as I've encountered it here, interacting with supposed conservative "leaders" from across the country, can't properly be called conservatism at all. To do so would be to take the beauty, the complexity, and the genius of a grand orchestral symphony, and ascribe it to an infant's senseless banging on the plastic neon keys of a Fisher Price piano.
There is humility, however- students acknowledge that they simply grew up in conservative Christian communities, are ignorant of philosophy and politics, and express some meager desire for self-improvement and education. These students need a think tank, not a "do tank", goddamnit. And suddenly I realize the full scope of what Helen told me a week or so ago- that the Leadership Institute is a scam.
One of the smart boys here asked me what I hated more: dumb conservatives, or liberals- dumb, ignorant conservatives, no question. The conservative movement is incredibly meaningful to me, and ill-educated boys and girls waving her banner are infinitely more damaging than the suavest leftist. LI not only fails to stem the tide of mindless right-wingers, but encourages it. It has a lot of money, from donors who think they're making a difference by investing in this Institute, helping the conservative leaders of tomorrow along in their struggle. The most egregious sin is that it isn't a conscious scam- the people running it think they're doing the right thing; they don't realize that they're pouring acid rain on a parched tobacco field.
I don't mean to sound ungrateful- they paid for my entire trip: plane tickets, housing, food. They've been nothing but courteous, and the staff isn't as ignorant as the students are, but damnit, there are so many places that money could be going, and it's not only that the money isn't helping, but that it's hurting.
Maybe I'm overly pessimistic- it's only been one day. Maybe I haven't gotten to know the other students well enough. Maybe I'm just a condescending Ivy Leaguer looking down at these state school midwesterners from her Ivory Tower- but the more time I spend here, the more I understand how the Party of Buckley and Goldwater turned into the Party of Bush and McCain.