While liberals are licking their chops in anticipation of the demise of conservatism, Democrats are proving they are incapable of capitalizing on any electoral difficulties Republicans might encounter in November.
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne recently argued, "that this is the week in which conservatism reached the point of collapse." He said the Republican's hypocritical support of an increase in the minimum wage was symptomatic of "profound fissures within the right." He listed differences among conservatives over Iraq, immigration, stem cell research and federal spending.
Dionne said, "Between now and November, conservative leaders will dutifully try to rally the troops to stave off a Democratic victory. But their hearts won't be in the fight. The decline of conservatism leaves a vacuum in American politics. An unhappy electorate is waiting to see who will fill it."
I believe Dionne makes some valid points about certain internecine struggles on the right. But he misdiagnoses the basic problem, overestimates its significance and completely ignores the left's deeper internal difficulties.
Most problems on the right are not due to a failure of conservatism as an effective ideological approach to policy and culture, but to the Republicans' failure to govern as conservatives.
While conservatism's image might be suffering, conservatism itself is hardly declining and remains alive, well, and anxiously waiting for its party to return. As Karl Rove correctly observed, the country remains mostly "center-right." Neither inept Republican politicians nor an unpopular war change that fact.
Admittedly, the political right's "big tent" is under strain on certain important issues. A schism has developed between open borders advocates and those favoring stricter immigration law enforcement. And Libertarians, ordinarily strong allies of conservatives, are increasingly disenchanted with the war and with social conservatism, though their myopic focus on economic issues militates against their abandoning conservatives, since liberals are irredeemably worse on economic issues.
But modern conservatism has never been about only economic issues. Social issues have always been vitally important. And while we enjoyed a seeming respite from consuming foreign policy concerns following the Cold War, it was only a matter of time before a new enemy bent on world domination would fill the void left by the implosion of Communism.
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