Thoughts on the NRI Summit

National Review Institute Summit

Nathan Hitchen: My real-time notes from the National Review Institute Summit Jan 25-27.

National Review Institute Summit

Peter Thiel, inventor of Paypal, giving a futurist critique of the deceleration of economic progress since the 1970s on a range of traditional indicators of civilization: transportation technology, agriculture production and prices, rapidity of infrastructure construction.

While computers and telecom have advanced consistently, that sector can’t carry a country.

Congressman Paul Ryan argues that the chief political virtue is prudence, defined as good judgment in the art of governing. A ship captain doesn’t curse the wind, but conforms to it in order to move forward.

Madison modeled prudence in the Constitutional Convention when after losing several motions he believed in deeply and argued strenuously for, he became one of the chief advocates of ratification.

Other advice Ryan gave to Republicans: don’t play the villain in the President’s morality plays.

Governor Scott Walker arguing that Republicans need to change the narratives they tell the country. Stop using budget language (fiscal cliff, debt ceilings) that communicate very little practically to people’s everyday problems, such as inflated college tuition, local school performance, health care costs.

Walker says that 30 of 50 governorships are in GOP hands, which indicates local Republicans are solving local problems. National Republicans need to adopt the language of local concerns, and loop them back to the national interest.

Senator Ted Cruz says Republicans should cancel their subscription to the New York Times because they know the headlines will always be “Abandon all hope ye conservatives who enter here.”

My response: That is stupid. Two of the best conservative writers–David Brooks and Ross Douthat–are NYT writers. But more importantly, strategic communications demands you understand the narrative of your opponents and its audience impact. Ignoring the messages of your competitor is ignoring half the debate.

Cruz’s better suggestions were for Republicans to focus on economic growth and social opportunity. Budget battles locks you into zero-sum messages that plays to the turf of redistribution. Play on the ground of nonzero messaging where Republicans are not the party of today’s corporations, but are the party of tomorrow’s companies that outperform and innovate beyond today’s corporations.

Big corporations love big government, says Cruz.

The panel on “What is a conservative foreign policy” with Fred Kagan, Andy McCarthy, and John O’Sullivan typified what is unarguably the weakest link in today’s conservative movement. They all begged the question one way or another, which is, what is the national interest?

Fred Kagan begged the question when he insisted on a procedural definition of conservatism as realism, which according to him asks three questions: 1) What is actually going on? Why do we care? And what could we do about it?

The problem with this formulation is that the second question *is* the locus of the question. How you define the national interest determines what we care about.

Andy McCarthy–an unreconstructed Bush acolyte– assumed “real” democracy promotion and spreading our ideals was our interest, which he undercut later by noting that terrorist organizations exploit weak states and democratic chaos. Also, McCarthy in his bluster against Obama’s foreign policy unknowingly agreed with al-Qaeda’s view of the world when he described that “Islamic supremacist movements” flow directly from Islam, and that we are in a clash of civilizations, which was fun.

John O’Sullivan was the most sensible when he said we need to balance realism and idealism in ever context, and renounced the idea of foreign policy doctrines in general.

Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell explaining his governing philosophy is what he calls “results-oriented conservative” that focuses on empirical results. Quoting Reagan, McDonnell says we must “trust but verify” our own principles. They must work.

Don’t be fooled, though, McDonnell is honing a stump speech.

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