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Do Ideas Matter Anymore?

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This morning I heard a pundit that I profoundly respect refer to this upcoming election as a “battle of ideas.”  I have to wonder.  Donald Trump has secured the Republican nomination essentially without agenda.  Bernie Sanders remains highly problematic for the Democrats with no real agenda either, just lot of promises of government bestowed gifts.  I was listening to one of the comedy channels on the satellite radio the other day and a very pro same-sex marriage comedian said that most people reacted to the “issue” with “I’m going to watch every movie ever made on my phone right now – WHATEVER!”  I look at those things and I see no ideas at all, only instant gratification.

So when Ramesh Ponnuru writes in NRO this morning to justify a third party vote or abstention in this fall’s election as sending a message – a stance with which I have a deep connection – one must wonder if anyone hears the message.  Ed Morrissey suggests:

If movement conservatives want to restore their influence, both within and outside of the Republican Party, they need to engage voters in their communities and on the ground. Those activists need to make conservative policies and principles relevant in the lives of voters, not through sound bites about values but through actual solutions to issues in their communities based on those values. That will make conservatism relevant, and its success will give voters a guidepost in national elections.

Which sounds right, but much of conservatism rests on delayed gratification and in some cases personal sacrifice which means the solutions conservatives can offer to issues in local communities just don’t stand a chance when one can watch every movie ever made right now wherever they are.

Morrissey argues that conservatives are “denying reality” in their latest independent attempt.  Conservatives would be right in responding that it also denies reality to hold expectations of instant gratification.  Instant gratification when received is either of the most temporary nature, or deceptive to begin with.  Ideas may not matter right now, but reality has a way of making them matter eventually – they must be preserved even if currently “irrelevant.”

Conservatives should not play zero sum games.  We should not decide between relevancy to an instant gratification reality and ideas that matter when instant gratification crashes in – we need to find a way to accommodate both.  We need to find a way to win what we can win this election (which may or may not be the presidency) and preserve what we cannot win rather than lose it.

And along the lines of what I wrote yesterday, in an instant gratification world, relevancy is not the issue – winsomeness is.

In Ron Howard’s masterful film about Formula 1 racing in the 1970’s, RUSH, after the driver’s meeting in which James Hunt carries the debate whether to run the race in deplorable conditions over arch-rival Niki Lauda, Hunt walks over to Lauda and says, “Sometimes Niki it helps if they like you.”  Lauda’s stance on the issue is proven absolutely correct when during the race he is in a horrific accident that nearly claims his life and he bears scars from to this day.  Hunt goes on to win the driver’s championship for the season.

Winsomeness matters.

It is true, Hunt ended up a burn out and is long since dead.  Lauda went on to win two more world championships (He had one before the season depicted in the film) and remains one of the most respected names in racing.  But he is still not a popular figure, just massively respected.

So, if conservatives want to restore influence they have to find a way to combine their ideas, with all the delayed gratification and sacrifice, with winsomeness.

Jesus Christ managed to find that combination more effectively than anyone else in history.  Just sayin’.


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