Whither conservatives? This question is providing the Capitol with one of its favorite topics of speculation. President Eisenhower has clearly embarked on a campaign of reshaping the Republican Party in the image of "moderate progressivism." The Stevenson liberals have won their struggle for Democratic supremacy. Conservatives obviously stand at a political crossroads. Which way will the conservatives go? Will they strike off on their own and form a "third party?"
The course of least resistance tells Democratic and Republican conservatives to stay in their Parties, and try to recapture them in the 1956 convention. They will probably follow this path. Such a course avoids the uncertainties and expenditures of energy and money which a new party effort would require. Moreover, a new party must necessarily start small, and would, therefore, offer no immediate prospects for electoral victory.
While seemingly the practical way, however, staying in present parties offers a far less realistic choice than forming a new one. If Republican conservatives could not control a Republican convention from 1940 through 1952, when out of power, how could they hope to do so with a "progressive" president in the White House?
In fact, a new party would provide the most practical method for recapturing the Republican Party, to say nothing of forming a possible nucleus for a major conservative "second party." The closeness of the 1954 elections reveals that a small, well-organized party could hold the balance of power in the key states. Controlling but a small percentage of the total vote, a new party could present the Republicans or the Democrats with the alternative: nominate a conservative candidate and we will put him on our line on the ballot. But nominate a "progressive," and we will put up our own independent candidate.
The latter course of action would effectively "throw" the election to the opposition.
Conservatives began to apply this very strategy informally in the 1954 elections, and achieved considerable success. Lacking a formal party, however, such a strategy must always remain confused and relatively ineffective. Without a definite channel of organization, conservatives will diffuse their efforts: some will vote Democratic, some Republican, some will write in a candidate, and others will abstain. A separate party would provide a home for displaced conservatives, and a powerful channel to make their influence felt.
Amid the whirlwind of controversy that always rages around Joe McCarthy, most observers have missed a very important aspect of the McCarthy story. This is the puzzle: why do so many people, especially the "intellectuals," hate McCarthy so? The great bulk of American intellectuals, carrying with them large segments of the American public, have for several years engaged in a virtual orgy of McCarthyphobia.
Much of the clamor undoubtedly reflects fear of exposure of past or present Communist connections.
But this does not tell the whole story. The waves of hatred and hostility against McCarthy have been uniquely personal. They have been directed against McCarthy the man as well as at McCarthy the symbol of vigorous anti-communism.
The events of the McCarthy censure session last year uncovered several clues to this mystery of McCarthyphobia. First, he was condemned for deficiency of good manners. Since good old-fashioned invective still goes unchallenged in congressional debate, this condemnation made Congress look absurd.
A second clue reveals a new fear of mass petition. The well-meaning but badly organized Ten Million Americans Mobilized for Justice managed to acquire four million anti-censure petitions in a short space of time. The critics of this effort attacked such an appeal to public opinion as unworthy of the gravity of the issue. They said it endangered sober democratic procedure. A third clue is found in the constant complaint about the publicity that McCarthy has received. He is attacked for his "headline-hunting."
These clues add up to a deep-seated fear of the American people, that now permeates the American left. This fear comes paradoxically from a group that only yesterday extolled "the people" to the skies. Why do the intellectuals who proclaimed "the century of the common man" now recoil from their erstwhile favorites?
The clues seem to show that the whole attitude and temper of the left has changed, and necessarily so. A generation or more ago, the Socialists stood outside looking in. To get in then, they found it necessary to be "radical," to stir up the "masses," to engage in blunt language and sharp controversy.
Once in power, a ruling group must try to silence controversy, and keep political life on a quiet and gentlemanly basis. The left-wing intellectuals are peculiarly equipped for this task. Not only do they substantially control the government, but the "opinion-molding agencies" as well as the press, radio, TV, education.
Transplant the United States to Europe or Asia and the left-wing intellectuals could stop worrying. In most countries, the people revere the relatively few intellectuals, and unthinkingly swallow the ideologies which the intellectuals feed them. Since the vast bulk of intellectuals the world over have been converted to socialism, the conversion of whole societies and nations has followed hard on.
But in America, we still do it differently. Here more people think things out for themselves. They may be influenced by the intellectuals, but they do not always revere or follow them unthinkingly. In America, almost uniquely, members of the "masses" can take the chance to assert themselves politically even against the whole combined weight of the intellectual strata.
For this "revolution" to occur, a dynamic leadership, plus at least a small intellectual cadre must give articulation and cohesion to this movement. People being what they are, such a movement can flourish only when sparked by drama, by the tinsel and trappings of emotion. But most people cannot, unfortunately, feel emotional or dramatic about abstract issues alone. The leaven of a dynamic personality, using blunt language and tactics, must "raise" the dough of the issues.
A political movement can succeed even with the bulk of the intellectuals against it, but only if sparked by a leader who possesses mass appeal. And among all the conservative political figures of the present day, only Joe McCarthy has this mysterious quality, as well as the fighting spirit to lead such a campaign.
In the long run, liberty can be established securely one way only. The intellectuals must be converted. They will in turn convert the bulk of the population to the ideals of liberty. The Socialists used this method to propagate socialism for the last hundred years. But this process takes many decades. Meanwhile, most conservatives will not remain content to see liberty disappear without another kind of struggle.
In the short run, the conservatives must fight to short circuit the intellectuals and reach the people directly. Joe McCarthy has shown signs of being able to do this.
Here lies the explanation of the puzzling hostility of the left-wing intellectuals toward McCarthy. They understand this possibility full well, probably much better than McCarthy understands it. Why do they proclaim that "McCarthyism" breeds "anti-intellectualism?" Why will they stop at no lengths to destroy him? Their hatred is born of a great fear, a fear of what McCarthy the man could conceivably accomplish.
The above analysis of why the leftists fear McCarthy certainly holds water, but the leftist fear of McCarthy is often unearned. He does not attack the bureaucracy per se. He does not oppose generic communism in his economic program. His campaign favoring 100 per cent of parity price supports disqualifies him as a leader of consistent libertarians. His voting record on domestic issues will not stand much scrutiny for he has voted with the left-wingers or middle-of-the-roaders on issues involving domestic socialism. In his favor: He votes with libertarians on such important issues as the Bricker Amendment and opposition to reds in government.