THE NEXT GREAT CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT
How low can the GOP brand go? What will the next great conservative movement look like?
Former House Republican leader Tom Delay told the editors of The Washington Times a hard truth: "The conservatives refuse to accept that the left is cleaning their clock, and until you hit some bottom, whatever that is, to where it says, 'Well, maybe we ought to do something different,' little or nothing's going to change."
The thumpin' of 2006 was not enough of a wake-up call for a party -- or a political movement -- that had experienced 25 years of steady if not spectacular growth. Will it take the massacre building in 2008 to make an entrenched ideological establishment (of which I consider myself a charter member) engage in that most critical activity for a political movement: new thinking?
Here's what I see: The conservative movement that launched with Barry Goldwater's campaign in 1964 has pretty much run its course. It has died in the way great political coalitions do, as much because of its successes as because of its failures.
The Roosevelt coalition dwindled as more Americans climbed into the middle classes, where they resented high taxes and did not look to the government to be their champion in the same way.
The Reagan coalition, that combination of anti-communist hawks, pro-growth low-taxers and social conservatives, has achieved great things: the fall of the Soviet Union, the resurgence of faith in market economies, a permanent reduction in the federal tax rates (including taking millions of Americans off the federal income tax rolls altogether), a striking reduction in crime rates, welfare reform and the largely unsung doubling of the per-child tax exemption that each year protects the incomes that families (especially larger religious families) need to raise their kids.
But all that is so yesterday.
As Sen. Obama is adept at pointing out, Iran is not Russia. After six years without a major terrorist attack, the new threats behind the War on Terror do not have the same kind of galvanizing resonance as Khrushchev thumping his nuclear-backed shoe and saying, "We will bury you!"
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.