About 20 months ago, I was sitting at my father’s commencement from graduate school, listening to the keynote speech from Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse. I had never heard of this man, and I didn’t know why a Senator from Nebraska trained as a historian was speaking at a ceremony awarding doctorates to ministers in Massachusetts, but the message he gave surprised me.
It wasn’t the bad jokes and “you can change the world” cliches usually heard at commencement speeches. He talked about real problems in a dramatically changing world, and how this crop of highly educated clergy were going to be at the forefront of fighting an epidemic of loneliness. I was impressed, and, looking at his record, I was impressed enough to check out his book, The Vanishing American Adult. As someone maturing from teenager into young adult, it was well worth the read, and, again, there was something different about this young Senator from Nebraska.
After watching politics more closely over the last two years, I am more convinced than ever the conservative movement needs more people like Ben Sasse.
There are two things that separate Ben Sasse from many other principled conservatives in government and media:
First, Ben Sasse is willing to do the important, necessary, and unpopular work of calling out his own side. You can believe, as I do and I think Sasse does, the primary responsibility for the incivility and tribalism hurting our politics lies at the feet of the Democrats, but it is dishonest to say we on the right have our hands clean in our country’s devolution into outrage based politics. There are bad actors on the right, and it’s important to be critical of your own side.
I call myself a conservative because I believe we have better ideas AND tactics than those on the left. We don’t resort to name calling. We don’t stand next to Louis Farrakhan at funerals. We fight the political fight the way we want our enemies to fight back.
When we are willing to sacrifice our principles to win an election, are we any better than those we oppose?
Sasse got into hot water for refusing to support President Trump in 2016. In his latest book, Them, he rips into Sean Hannity as the most successful “polititainer” using division to build a business. You might like President Trump or Sean Hannity, but you cannot say either of them are particularly good at building bridges to the other side.
Someone needs to do the important work of making sure we honor the standards we set for ourselves, even if someone’s boundaries are stricter than our own, and that might require us to exclude potential allies.
It’s not like in critiquing prominent conservative figures, Sasse has betrayed conservatism. His liberty score on Conservative Review is second only to Mike Lee. He still votes with President Trump 87% of the time. Sasse has done the important work of calling out the problems on our own side, all while still standing firmly for what he believes in.
Many legislators come to Washington with visions for themselves— their futures and their ambition. Many legislators come to Washington with a vision to see their ideas, whether conservative or liberal, succeed. But the second thing that sets Sasse apart is that he has a vision for the country as a whole.
Reading both his books, you’ll find very little “politics.” There’s a discussion on how to grow up and how to build communities that work in a new economic era. Not only do they present problems, they also present solutions. The title of his prelude to Them is “more politics won’t solve this.”
One of the critiques of Sasse, coming primarily from Philip Klein at the Washington Examiner, is why he wants to be a Senator. If he cares so much more about community than legislation or our broken political system, maybe he ought to be leading community organizations full-time, and not holding a seat in a political body whose job it is to pass laws. It’s a thoughtful and honest critique, but I don’t wholly buy it.
As small government conservatives, we know that government is not going to solve all our problems. Therefore we need people in government who work towards solutions bigger than politics. We need people like Ben Sasse who have a macro-vision for America, as it’s those people who are going to take the conservative movement into the world of tomorrow.
I’m optimistic about the future of conservatism and believe there are younger conservatives with bright futures in front of them. But this new breed of conservatism will need leaders, and I hope Ben Sasse is one of the people who steps up to that role, continuing to be an example for young conservatives in civility, vision, and honesty.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.