A New Version of an Old Fight

Outgoing Sen. Ben Sasse, pictured in 2021. (Photo by Drew Angerer / Getty Images.)

Transitions can put a person in a reflective mood, and right now I’m experiencing a double transition. We spent most of last week driving my son from Tennessee to California to start a new life at a new school, the University of California Santa Cruz. Also, the very morning we left I announced another transition, my move from The Dispatch to The New York Times

When you’re driving 2,300 miles across this vast, beautiful land you have lots of time to think, and one thing I’ve been thinking about is the transition of the party and movement I’ve been part of my entire adult life. 

It’s wrong to think of either parties or movements as monoliths. There are always factions, and the right is a famously fractious bunch. If you haven’t already, I’d urge you to read Matthew Continetti’s masterful The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism. I can’t possibly do justice to the story’s twists and turns, but if I had to sum up the dispositional and ideological divides on the right, I’d characterize the modern push and pull as a fight of hope and freedom versus anger and power. 

I’ve always been in the hope-and-freedom wing of the right. I grew up admiring Ronald Reagan. I remember being profoundly moved by George H. W. Bush’s “thousand points of light” inauguration speech in 1988. His son’s vision for compassionate conservatism inspired me, and—for a time—I shared much of his idealism about our ability to spread democracy in the Middle East. One of the highlights of my law school life was sitting for more than two hours with Jack Kemp as he walked through his plan to make the GOP a multi-ethnic party and his ideas for revitalizing America’s inner cities. 

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