The Catcher In The Rye

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

– J.D. Salinger’s character, Holden Caulfield.

My latest column for The Week is about why conservatives feel like Tim Howard. In case you missed it, the U.S. goalkeeper turned in a tremendous performance at the World Cup, making 16 saves in America’s heartbreaking loss to Belgium on Tuesday.

So why does he remind me of conservatives?

It’s because the very nature of conservatism involves playing defense and trying to preserve the status quo. This is an inherent problem for conservatives, who are generally attempting to conserve the things we like about traditional America. Progressives, on the other hand, are on offense. They want to expand government, make new laws, offer new benefits, and overhaul the status quo. They are attacking our net.

Some people read this column as a form of surrender, but that’s not my “goal.” While I oppose aping the worst habits of the left (constant agitation, for example), I would certainly support aggressively advancing conservative policy solutions.

But, at the end of the day, I’m also willing to admit this: Conservatives are seeking to conserve something, while progressives are seeking to radically transform America.

This is not to say conservatism has to be purely reactionary. There are certainly times when conservatives do seize the initiative and drive the debate. And not all change is bad. One of my favorite politicians was William Wilberforce, who sought to change things — to end the British slave trade, for example.

But while we can change tactics and strategies, the truth is that, fundamentally, conservatives will — more often than not — find ourselves playing defense — attempting to conserve the good things about Western Civilization and traditional values.

This, perhaps, explains Buckley’s line about “standing athwart history.” We’re just the catcher in the rye and all.