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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From elephants in zoos, to the elephant as political symbol and the party it represents. We're going to hear now from one member of the Republican Party who thinks it's time for the GOP to return to its roots. He's Rob Dreher, and he says the party needs to incorporate more ideas from the people he calls Crunchy Cons.

Mr. ROD DREHER (Columnist, Dallas Morning News): It might sound exotic, but crunchy conservatism is nothing new. It's simply a rediscovery of an old fashioned sensibility the right used to champion back in the day.

Crunchy cons prefer old houses and mom and pop shops to McMansions and strip malls. We like books and radio. TV--not so much. Fast food? Forget it. We're a slow food tribe. Some of us even eat organic. We believe conservatives ought to be, yes, conservationists. Many of us home school our kids and cheerfully embrace non-conformity. I read Edmund Birk and wear Birkenstock sandals. Go figure.

More deeply, we believe that culture matters more than economics, that the material order rests on spiritual reality, that conservatives ought to be suspicious of big government and big business, that local traditions should be defended, and that the family, not the state or the corporation, is the institution most necessary to conserve.

Stand up for those things nowadays on the right, and you might get denounced as a Utopian, a despiser of capitalism, even--steady yourself--a liberal. It's all too easy to slap a label on threatening ideas to avoid having to take them seriously. Still, the things we Crunchy Cons worry about aren't going away.

We're struggling to raise our kids in a culture defined by consumerism. In today's society, individual choice, whether in the bedroom or at the Megalomart, is an absolute value. Conservatives don't have to be convinced that if it feels good do it is a rotten ethic, but we forget that if it feels good, buy it, is just as bad. Greed and lust are both deadly sins.

Here in very religious, very Republican North Texas, church leaders see families consumed by materialism spending themselves into crisis. This is conservative?

Crunchy Cons resist the plastic culture, even if it costs us. Many of us are getting by on one income, doing without so our wives can stay home with the kids. Some are more radical.

Robert Hutchins, an evangelical Christian and father of 12, left behind a six figure corporate income to take up organic livestock farming. It's a noble life, but a hard one. I asked Robert what he gained by it. He said, the hearts of my children.

Most crunchy cons are religious believers who see spiritual poverty amid America's material wealth. They are determined not to lose the hearts of their children to a cheap culture of cash, flash, and instant gratification.

Crunchy conservatism is about taking a stand for a more grounded life. It's about stewardship, not self-indulgence. It's about relearning why small is beautiful, why somewhere is better than anywhere, why beauty is more important than efficiency, and why, as the economist Joseph Schumpeter once said, the stock exchange is a poor substitute for the holy grail.

Crunchy Cons are not merely looking to be more authentically conservative. We're looking to be more authentically human. There's a world of sanity, charity, even joy in forgotten conservative traditions. It's time the right rediscovered them. Why not? There are many mansions in the American conservative house, and some of them are funky old bungalows with blues on the radio and a mess of organic mustard greens cooking down on the stove.

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BLOCK: You can read about Rod Dreher's conservative but counter-cultural lifestyle in an excerpt from his book Crunchy Cons at npr.org.

You can find a link to his blog as well.

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