The Old Conservatism: what has been lost.

Forbidden Comma
6 min readMay 6, 2021


When his number came up in the draft, not only did the famously conservative Elvis not demand to be excused, as he probably could have, but he even insisted on serving in a regular Army unit instead of with the USO. Showing both humility and duty, Elvis was the antipode of today’s GOP. Let’s just say that refusing to dodge the draft was not exactly in line with future stars of the New Right in the Vietnam era.

The old conservative fatherly ideal, immortalized in 1950s sitcoms, is now of course deader than disco. More liberal TV writers take the parody, the doofus dad, as the new norm — but it’s not just the Left that’s moved on from Leave It To Beaver. MAGA today urges its fathers not to let their sons become some kind of liberal pussy more than anything resembling good parenting.

The Kansas Republican used to define the party. Think Alf Landon, Nancy Kassebaum, Dole in his prime. And, to be fair, today’s Kansas Republican can also be said to define the party. Consider Kris Kobach, or the current Kansas Senate Majority Leader recently charged with a felony after a DUI incident. Suffice to say that a product of Abilene, KS named Eisenhower would never permit himself to be in the same room with men of such moral character.

Speaking of Ike, he had no problem sending in the 101st into the deep south to enforce desegregation and protect Black students in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. But he never took on the mantle of Great Progressive Liberator the way liberals such as RFK would to curry public favor. Ike just saw this as a no-nonsense move to ensure fairness and enforce the law, without putting on airs — the greatest of sins for Kansans of his generation. Today, a Republican president would also send in the troops in the case of obstreperous Black kids wanting a fair education… just not quite in the same fashion.

And while we’re on the subject of the 34th president: his running mate above, while embroiled in his first scandal, made his famous Checkers speech voicing his embrace of the old conservative values. Today, one gets a sense that he was more addressing his boss than he was the viewers at home. No, he probably did not believe a word he was saying; Nixon was a MAGA agitator born 50 years too early. He was just trying to get Ike not to throw him off the ticket. But an asshole like Nixon having to pretend to be good and moral proves the point: back then, conservatives actually had to virtue-signal instead of vice-signal. The golden age of the Old Conservatism was reigning, and bad men had to pretend to be good, rather than today’s inverse. Also, the speech coined a notable phrase: “Republican cloth coat,” describing the proper, thrifty fashion for the humble conservative such as future first lady Pat Nixon, an ideal quite at odds with Melania Trump’s wardrobe, such as it is.

Can you believe that conservatives were once environmentalists? Not in the Greenpeace sense, of course. More in the Scoutmaster sense, immortalized in the Mark Trail comic strip. Both knowing and protecting nature was simply expected of the rugged patriarch, not for scoring virtue-signaling points, but just for doing what’s right. And if you’re gonna call Mark Trail a pussy for not wanting to pave the earth, well:

And speaking of scoutmasters:

Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. All of these are considered vile sins and weaknesses among today’s New Right, whose Great Leader embodies precisely zero of said values. (Well, perhaps an argument may be made for thrifty: Mango Mussolini’s never met a lawyer or contractor he didn’t stiff.) No wonder the modern Republican no longer wants anything to do with the organization.

Billy Graham famously offered spiritual counseling to presidents of both parties, and preached a simple Christian faith quite at odds with the indulgence-peddling televangelism of today. Yet despite trying to be as nonpartisan as possible, he still expressed regrets at the end of his life for presidential counseling, particularly with Nixon. His son, of course, could not care one jot about Christ, and revels in his own corruption and worldliness.

But despite everything, there are still some conservative Christians who stubbornly continue to believe in Jesus above all, and who still refuse to treat their church as a MLM scam to rook the suckers and losers in the back pews. To call such old-school conservative religious leaders unwelcome in the evangelical and conservative Catholic world of 2021 is a deep understatement, but they’re there if you look for them.

Former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen (Trump went through AGs as fast as Nixon did) resolutely stood fast against the former president’s various schemes to end democracy and have himself become a dictator, despite enormous pressure and despite Trump conspiring with his own underling to have him kicked out of office. The contrast in appearance between the statesmanlike Rosen and the backstabbing little wretch who does not deserve a name is quite striking, and proves that, sometimes, looks are not deceiving at all.

By the start of 2019, the national GOP was 100% in lockstep behind their Fanta Fuehrer, including a high-ranking congresswoman named Liz Cheney. All remaining dissidents had been primaried or otherwise forced out of office. But after the failed Jan. 6, 2021 coup attempt, a handful of Republicans allowed the scales to fall from their eyes and, rather than apologetically grovel for their votes to impeach Trump, doubled down on their rediscovery of the forgotten truths and virtues. I expect every last one to be out of Congress after the next election, and frankly, so do they. Courage, one of the said forgotten virtues, by definition requires acceptance of risk and persevering in doing what’s right despite.

And this concludes a brief tour of what was lost. Next, comes the grim business of recounting what has replaced the Old Conservatism.