WASHINGTON -- And so after the Nov. 4 presidential election, American conservatives have been thrust into the wilderness again. All we have to comfort us is the L.L. Bean catalogue. Winston Churchill, during his wilderness years, had Pol Roger and a fistful of Havanas. Nowadays smoking is malum prohibitum almost everywhere, and even in the wilderness, a lit cigar would be highly controversial. Thus we are left with L.L. Bean, but the catalogue features colorful parkas, sturdy boots -- all the accouterments to make life in the wilderness almost plush. So our wilderness years may not be so bad.
Yet to hear some of the pundits tell it, we conservatives are going to be out here with the flora and fauna for many years. I hope to get a tent not far from Sarah Palin. She is very cute and can handle a firearm. Just the other day, pundit David Brooks, writing in The New York Times, predicted that "the Republican Party will probably veer right in the years ahead, and suffer more defeats." He noted that the "Traditionalists" (read conservatives) have been meeting "to plot strategy" to ensure their hold on the defeated Republican Party, meaning more chill years out here in the poison ivy, with the wolves and the coyotes nearby. Sarah, keep the gun handy!
Brooks' alternative is to side with those conservatives whom he dubbed the "Reformers," cleareyed thinkers who believe that "G.O.P. priorities were fine for the 1970s but need to be modernized for new conditions." Truth be known, the GOP "priorities" of the 1970s were not Reaganite priorities. Those conservative priorities came to power with the Old Cowboy in 1981, and they have been regnant ever since. Even Bill Clinton was influenced by them. Brooks' Reformers want conservatives "to pay attention to the way the country has changed." They consider the conservatives' advocacy of limited government passe, and they prescribe big government to address "inequality" and "to take global warming seriously."
Did he say global warming? Out here in the wilderness, temperatures have been dropping for nearly a decade. I know that the scientists' computers predicted that temperatures were going to be going up, but they are going down, and it is getting cold out here. Increasingly, I am of the opinion that global warming is the kind of hysteria recorded in that 19th-century classic "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds." As for the Reformers' wariness about the popularity of limited government, according to a Rasmussen survey conducted Oct. 3, 59 percent of the respondents agreed with President Reagan's declaration in his first inaugural address that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."
Doubtless, as the Reformers say, the country has changed over the years, but some of that change has been a tilt against the old liberal priorities. The majority of the American people still favor tax cuts over tax increases, 55 to 19 percent, according to Scott Rasmussen's recent polls. Even the "social issues" so admired by the conservatives and so embarrassing to the Reformers fare well in the polls. In California and Florida, heterosexual-marriage votes won with the support of large numbers of black and Hispanic Democrats who otherwise voted for Sen. Barack Obama. I understand that the social issues are controversial with many in the media, but the fact is that they win the approval of substantial majorities within the electorate, who perhaps recognize that the opposite of social values is anti-social values.
What provoked Brooks' fandango with the Traditionalists and the Reformers was a meeting the former group held in the Virginia hills outside Washington to prepare for the years ahead. As Brooks reported, I was present; his term Traditionalist, however, is misleading. There was more variety within the group than you would find among liberals planning a revival in 2004. There were libertarians, evangelicals, tax cutters, hawkish foreign policy advocates, and others. It was indeed the kind of turnout that could be termed "Reaganite," and there are other meetings coming up. For years, the conservative movement has had more variety than the liberal movement, which might explain why only 22 percent of the American people call themselves liberal, while 34 percent call themselves conservatives. There is vitality on the right, and there will be vitality in the wilderness, though the last time we were out here, we only stayed two years. Liberal overreach and incompetence saw to that.