March on Washington shows right is hardly walking the plank

In a new book, Sam Tanenhaus, The New York Times Book Review editor, proclaims the death of conservatism. Movement leaders’ devotion to “radical” anti-government ideology, Tanenhaus argues, has left them “trapped in the irrelevant causes of another day, deaf to the actual conversation unfolding across the land.”

Judging by the massive crowd that descended on the district Saturday for the 9/12 March on Washington, you would have to be deaf not to recognize that small-government conservatism remains a vital part of the national conversation.

If you’ve been fed a steady media diet of MSNBC in the past few months, though, you could be excused for fearing a Pennsylvania Avenue takeover by a rabble of pitchfork-wielding cranks and extras from “Deliverance.” But the crowd — “in excess of
75,000 people,” according to a fire and EMS spokesman — was made up of orderly, pleasant, middle-class Americans from all across the country.

In my two hours at the protest, I didn’t see a single “birther” sign and spied only one racially insensitive caricature. “Many of the signs,” the liberal Center for American Progress alleges on its blog, “attacked President Obama using explicit racial and ethnic smears.” That’s simply false.

Surprisingly, for a march held the day after the 9/11 anniversary, the war on terror wasn’t a prominent issue. Very few of the signs reflected the militarism and fearmongering that’s been all too popular on the right in recent years. The most common 9/12 themes were pro-Constitution, anti-czar, anti-Obamacare and anti-bailout.

Amid the sea of hand-lettered placards were quite a few that warmed this columnist’s cold libertarian heart, like “I am John Galt.” A sign carried by a white-haired fellow, obviously pleased with his own erudition blared “What Would Mises Do?” “Austrian Business Cycle Theory!”

None of this is to suggest, however, that the 9/12 March showed all was right with the right. Movement conservatism clearly has a long-term demographic problem.

The crowd was disproportionately middle-aged and whiter than a Jimmy Buffett concert. Some of the “outreach” efforts on the main stage were condescending and embarrassing, as when organizers handed the microphone to right-wing rapper Hi-Caliber. Suffice it to say that “Republican hip-hop” is every bit as excruciating as the concept suggests. 

The Republican leadership’s decision to position the party as Medicare’s most passionate defender may be tactically smart in the short term, but it’s hardly consistent with limited government — to say nothing of fiscal sanity. “Deep Medicare cuts are just one of the mounting reasons why Americans are losing faith in the Democrats’ government takeover of health care,” House Minority Leader John Boehner declares on his Web site, oblivious to the contradiction.

But the public seems increasingly resistant to new Big Government schemes. In a recent column, Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, argues that Medicare could never have passed in the current political climate: “Broad distrust of government — which was not evident in the 1960s — is an important reason why Americans are reacting so differently to health care reform in 2009 than they did in 1965.”

That rising distrust of Big Government — of which Saturday’s march was the most vivid recent example — shows this much: The death of conservatism has been greatly exaggerated.

Examiner columnist Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of “The Cult of the Presidency.”

Op Edsop-edOpinion

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

After the pandemic hit, Twin Peaks Boulevard was closed to vehicle traffic, a situation lauded by open space advocates. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
New proposal to partially reopen Twin Peaks to vehicles pleases no one

Neighbors say closure brought crime into residential streets, while advocates seek more open space

Protesters rally at the site of a proposed affordable housing project at 2550 Irving St. in the Sunset District on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. (Ming Vong/S.F. Examiner)
Sunset District affordable housing discussion flooded with ‘scare tactics and hysteria’

Project would provide 100 units, some of which would be designated for formerly homeless families

Members of the Sheriff’s Department command staff wore masks at a swearing-in ceremony for Assistant Sheriff Tanzanika Carter. One attendee later tested positive. 
Courtesy SFSD
Sheriff sees increase in COVID-19 cases as 3 captains test positive

Command staff among 10 infected members in past week

Rainy weather is expected in the coming week. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Rainstorms, potential atmospheric river expected to drench Bay Area in coming week

By Eli Walsh Bay City News Foundation Multiple rainstorms, cold temperatures some… Continue reading

U.S. Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s powerful reading was among the highlights of Inauguration Day. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Inauguration shines light in this never-ending shade

Here’s to renewal and resolve in 2021 and beyond

Most Read