In one of the early columns in this series, I pointed out that, if we look back over the last thirty or forty years, we see that the Left won the culture war while we conservatives won politically. It is true that we won politically, in the sense of winning elections. Republicans now control the White House and both Houses of Congress, something we could not have even dreamed about forty years ago. But to assess where conservatives are in politics today, we have to look beyond just winning elections.
The question is do we have power? Not power for ourselves but power for the common good. I would venture that while we have influence, we often lack power. And as my old colleague Howard Phillips used to teach there is a profound difference.
I have been here while the Democrats controlled the White House and both Houses of Congress (Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton). I have also seen Republicans in the White House but Democrats controlling the Congress. (Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43. In his case the Democrats controlled the Senate for a year and a half.) and I have seen a Democrat in the White House with Republicans controlling the Congress (Clinton) and now for the past several years Republicans controlled not only the White House but the Congress.
We should be in political heaven with this development. The first time this has happened in more than 50 years. If we really had power, then, our ideas and programs would be front and center. We should be well into a period of having adopted them and now we should be concerned with their implementation. The fact is most of our programs and ideas are dead on arrival. In some cases the President has proposed good ideas only to see them sink in the Congressional cesspool. In other cases, the President won’t buy into our ideas. We plead them in the Congress but we often don’t get very far.
Yes, we have influence. In some cases the White House worries about offending their base. The same with Congress. So often we are able to stop bad ideas.
Why is this the case? The fact is we have no horse. To the extent our ideas advanced in the past it was because we first had Senator Barry Goldwater. Granted, Goldwater later turned out to be something other than a conservative on a lot of issues. But his initial “Conscience of a Conservative” advanced our ideas and made our views legitimate. The Goldwater campaign involved then actor Ronald Reagan. His speech on national television again advanced our views. Then he ran and was elected Governor of California. After he served two terms, during which he continued to advance our views, he ran for President. Although he failed to defeat President Gerald Ford in 1976, that run set him up to be the heir apparent in 1980.