Unbidden, Bartlett, Bacevich, and McConnell all compare themselves and other dissident conservatives to the core group that launched National Review or the first generation of neoconservatives—a coterie on the edge of politics that has the potential to grow at the expense of an intellectually decrepit establishment. The difference, they acknowledge, is that they lack a leader.
“If you consider the career of someone like William F. Buckley, who founded National Review in 1955, when the word ‘conservative’ commanded no respect whatsoever, he seemed to be undertaking a fairly quixotic campaign,” says Bacevich. “It took him, what, 25 years before it yielded significant fruits? … If we take seriously the dictum that ideas have consequences, then we have to be patient.”
“The problem with Burkean conservatives is there are not enough of us and not enough rich ones. There’s a paucity of structures and institutions, but there could be more,” offers McConnell.
“One of the things intellectuals love to be is on the cutting edge,” says Bartlett. “We now have to write off the last 30 or 40 years and go back and start from scratch, and do what those guys [Buckley and Irving Kristol] did, although now in essence we are fighting against our own this time.”
Meanwhile, the Obamacons seem satisfied with being uncommitted. “There’s no shame in being a swing constituency,” says McConnell. “It is tactically useful.”