Scientists discovered recently that elephants can indeed see their reflection in a mirror but it was not reported whether or not they could also peer into their political souls. One thing is for sure however; the funding for the nonsensical study surely came from an earmark offered by some Republican member of Congress.
E. J. Dionne of The Washington Post was right when he wrote recently that the GOP no longer has a governing philosophy. As GOP officials so skillfully superimposed Bushism and Republicanism onto conservatism, some began to believe they were all one in the same. And some conservatives somehow thought because their friends were in power, they actually deserved it. Further, they began to enjoy the trinkets and baubles offered to its chieftains by the cynical forces of the Republican Party, just as the US Army used to buy off the plains Indians who gave up whole territories for a few beads of glass.
Republicanism is NOT conservatism. There is no such thing as “big government conservatism.” This was a cynical attempt to use conservatism’s good name to pawn off un-conservative actions to the American people. The GOP is once again a Tory like-party, where power flows downward, much as it was during Richard Nixon’s time. Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan turned the GOP into a populist conservative party where power flows upwards from the citizenry. These gentlemen would have never labeled the grassroots Minutemen, trying to prevent illegal aliens from crossing the borders, as “vigilantes” which the Bush Administration did.
As the Republican Party bought off some on the right, it was pushing new, dangerous policies as conservativism but were in fact antithetical to the minimalist government principles which first brought together the economic right and the social right, the fusionism so brilliantly trumpeted by legendary conservative thinker Frank Meyer. They played with fire, and in so doing, have done damage to the conservative movement Goldwater and Reagan created and nourished and led for so many years.
Yet before the movement goes forward to repair itself, it is important to restate what it is and what it is not, and what Reagan was, and what Reagan was not. First, Reagan was kind and gentle, but he was not a “kinder and gentler” Republican. Reagan was compassionate, but he was not a “compassionate conservative.” Reagan was interested in new ideas, but he was not a “neo con.” Reagan conservatives are not “paleo cons” as if they were some sort of genetic throwback.
The conservative movement was successful in that it asked little of the federal government. The social right knew that government was a threat to the family and the community while the economic right wished to operate with minimal government interference and the foreign policy right wanted the U.S. government to only project American power to protect American interests. That was until the current leadership of the GOP, unable or unwilling to make the minimalism government argument cynically and dangerously decided to sign onto the “government is good” agenda which has dominated the Democratic left since the New Deal.
To the economic right would come billions in corporate welfare, and the most transactional Congress in history, rife with corruption yet little commitment to the conscience of conservatism. Transportation pork, welfare for pharmaceutical companies, naked, power-grabbing schemes for corporations like Enron, and billions cascaded out of a Republican government, enabled by the nominal GOP lobbyists whose main job was to convince Republican lawmakers to do un-Republican things.
To the foreign policy right, overtaken by the zealots of so called “neo conservatism” came policies more suited to Woodrow Wilson than traditional conservatism. Invading Afghanistan was the right thing to do and any President who didn’t do so after September 11th would have been impeached. Going into Iraq seemed like a good idea at the time, based on the information we were given and, frankly, most conservatives still support the remaking of this country, simply because the idea of quitting is hateful. But legitimate questions about Iraq have not stopped the neo cons. No, at various times over the past several years, voices from their ivory towers have called for US military action in Lebanon, North Korea and Iran, further expanding their nation-building and U.S. domination. Despite their academic pedigrees, many neo-cons are slow learners.
For the social right, the naïveté of using the federal government to further their philosophical cause was a mistake of epic proportions. From the federal interference in the Terry Schiavo case to the federal marriage amendment to preventing adults from gambling on the Internet, these issues are not the role of bureaucrats in Washington. If anything proves that case, it is that 7 of 8 states passed marriage protection initiatives and the pushback against the vile Kelo Supreme Court decision at the state level passed overwhelmingly in even more states. Conservatives are federalists and behavioral issues belong at the state level.
Too many in current positions of leadership in the GOP, elected and appointed, came to the Republican Party not for reasons of principles, but for power, money, celebrity and access. How else can one explain the unconscionable trashing of poor Stephen Laffey in Rhode Island by the Republican Senatorial Committee because he had the temerity to take on an incumbent GOP Senator?
The GOP’s campaign operatives have become just as appalling as their cousins on K Street. Rather than discuss ideas, which is the only real reason to run for office, they have developed cynical a and formulaic campaign strategy, which is to raise a lot of money, dig up dirt on the opponent, and then hire an ad maker to create commercials beating their Democratic opponents senseless. These “consultants” couldn’t find an ideology with a flashlight and GPS.
The organizing philosophy of conservatism has always been, as Reagan said, “maximum freedom consistent with law and order,” and not “security” as President Bush has argued.
Conservatives have much work to do to put the genie back in the bottle. Still, there is much to take solace from the 2006 elections for those on the right. Many Democrats ran as pro-gun, pro-life, anti-tax conservatives and a recent CNN poll shows a majority of Americans believe that government does too much for them. A recent poll by the Center for Public Leadership shows Americans more trusting of their local government than their national government, the essence of federalism. And new poll by McLaughlin and Associates show nearly 60 percent of Americans believe government is too big. Yet just at that point in time, when the American people saw a “nanny state” as dangerous to their individual freedoms, the Republican Party became the stewards of big government. Reagan is spinning in his grave. Inside the GOP, the only thing remaining of Reaganism is the rhetoric. But, inside the conservative movement is a vital and vigorous organizing philosophy and it (and we) will be just fine, thank you. But for the Republican Party, they have met the enemy, and it is them.