Over the course of the next few days conservatives will gather in Washington for CPAC -- the Conservative Political Action Conference. Expect more attendees than last year’s record turnout – The Washington Times reports that registration is up 20 percent – and prepare for more passion from them. This demo is particularly fed up with the incompetence of government, and more jubilation as they see this as an opportunity to take back control of congress.
But a conference, summit, or large gathering in Washington or elsewhere does not a majority make. While speeches, doctrine and official statements might be helpful if they encourage Republican office-holders to stay within the guard rails of responsible conduct, words are nothing without real action.
While you will hear the right speak of a dysfunctional Washington amid calls for a more effective and responsible government, don’t be fooled. Big, powerful government is intoxicating -- even to Republicans. Many modern day GOP-ers believe that they can manage the gigantic welfare state in a "smarter" way using private sector techniques. This is wrong, and strays far from true conservatism.
To really embrace conservatism, over the next three days, weeks, months and years, the right must address and implement a plan to influence the culture. Waging battles over health care, climate change and taxes are acceptable, but they will be short lived. The real fight must be to win the all encompassing, larger war with the left over the cultural the permeates our nation. If we cede this ground, there is nothing left to fight for.
Modern day culture has become so coarse because it is largely driven by the left. They rule the trifecta of cultural influence: the media, academia and entertainment. Americans are lonely. They are seeking some kind of meaning outside of themselves, and the culture does not provide it. It provides materialism, superficiality, and general diversions from life but not significant meaning. That is why a Republican agenda based on materialism (“Give me my damn tax cut,” will prove fruitless and unsustainable). It is also why there is currently a general disgust for both political parties.
This is a profound difference from 50 years ago when churches, local communities, and other healthy, thriving private institutions provided significant meaning to peoples' lives. That was a time when those institutions were healthier, and played more significant roles in the lives of citizens. It was where Americans found meaning and identity. It was also a time when it would have been far less likely that people would have permitted government encroachment in the private realm. As these local institutions have atrophied, government has grown.
If the right wants to protect a "private realm," that is, a part of our society that remains private, where WE make decisions and where the government is not welcome, then that private realm must be filled with more meaning and cultural significance than it is now. Currently, there is no urgency to protect us from a government that reaches deeper and deeper into our private lives. Why? Because our nation’s private realm is populated with greedy and rapacious money grubbers, elites who are profoundly warped, trashy icons, and other human low-lives.
Historically, during the early Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church was a profoundly spiritual institution, governments in Europe would never have considered encroaching on their realm. The assault on the Church that occurred during the Reformation only happened after the Church had made significant errors and sent the clear message that they were primarily driven by power and property, not by a spiritual mission. In short, the private realm must be worth protecting from government encroachment, or it will happen again.
As I have said many times before, conservatives need to show that they honor those on the right who jump into the cultural realm. Instead of honoring some Senator from the South at their annual galas, they should honor the author, the filmmaker, the head of the foundation, the professor -- those who are pushing back on the dominant liberal culture in a non-political way.
More than showing that they value these things, the right needs to act. Conservatives need to start think tanks that think about more than short-term legislation, create their own film studios, start publishing houses that publish conservative novels not just political books, take over museum boards or start their own museums, etc. Conservative politicians and policymakers need to support all this by going after liberal cultural institutions like universities. They need to hold hearings on how they waste money and how bizarre the curriculum is. But, the politicians should be in the supporting roles, not the main actors in a cultural revival. It is We the People who make up the movement that must invoke real change.
Liberalism is the default mode of our cultural society. If conservatism doesn’t seek ways to influence the direction of our society and connect in emotional and meaningful ways culturally, it will rightfully wither away. An agenda based on materialism (in other words: “show me the money”) - is insufficient. Conservatism can -- and must -- reach higher.
Andrea Tantaros is a conservative columnist and commentator. She is a regular contributor to FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter: @andreatantaros. Fox Forum is also now on Twitter. Follow us @fxnopinion.