Our time traveler would no doubt be amazed that we enjoy hundreds of TV channels, instead of the three or four he watched. He'd be stunned at how clean our water is (the rivers no longer catch on fire?), how plentiful and cheap our food is, the fact that we've overcome global cooling (a huge concern in the mid-1970s, according to a contemporary story in Newsweek), and by the fact he can now watch more than 30 college football bowl games each year (although that might not, in fact, be an improvement).
How about investing? Many people today profess worries that sub-prime loans will destroy our economy. But the stock market reinforces the lesson that, financially, things are always improving. Stocks go up and down from day-to-day. But stay in long enough and you will make money. As James Glassman and Kevin Hassett wrote in The Atlantic in 1999, "Never in American history has a diversified basket of stocks failed to double in buying power over a generation. Never."
Even Sept. 11, which many feared would trigger a depression, didn't stop stocks. Yes, the Dow dropped, and stayed down for awhile. But it's made up its losses and now closes each day above 12,000 -- higher than its pre-9/11 record high.
This is no time for pessimism. "What is conservatism's rationale for the next generation?" Tumulty wonders. "What set of goals is there to hold together a coalition that has always been more fractious than it seemed to be from the outside, with its realists and its neoconservatives, its religious ground troops and its libertarian intelligentsia?"
Well, for starters, we want to devote 4 percent of GDP to our military ("4 Percent for Freedom") to ensure it remains the most powerful fighting force in history. We intend to make sure the U.S. deploys a missile-defense system that could help protect us from rogue nations such as North Korea or Iran. We want to lock in the Bush tax cuts, to keep the economy growing into future decades. And we've laid out plans to create personal retirement accounts to shore up Social Security for future generations.
In short, conservatives are bristling with ideas and confident about the future. Oh, and when we succeed with our agenda -- which we will -- don't expect a TIME cover story.