Matt Lewis


Three short years ago, I sat in a meeting of conservatives, listening to Republican leaders, such as Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove, speak of a "permanent Republican majority." 

Today, conventional wisdom is exactly the opposite.  In fact, the nearly unanimous opinion among intellectuals is that the conservative movement is effectively over.  That it is behind the times.  Of course, they don't explain how a philosophy that owes much to Edmund Burke -- who died more than 200 years ago -- was perfectly in sync with the zeitgeist just four years ago -- but today -- is woefully out-dated.  We are not supposed to ask such questions.  My response would be that we have gotten in trouble precisely because we have strayed from those conservative principles, but that's not the focus of this essay ...

The notion being advanced today (without ever actually saying it, of course) is that we are entering an era which could be described as a permanent liberal majority.  My guess is that this is hubris; just as a victory in 2004 did not mean a permanent Republican majority, it is equally premature to assume that a victory -- which hasn't even happened, yet -- means the paradigm has irrevocably shifted leftward.  Still, all the "smart" people say it is so. 

So how should we respond?  ... Instead of drinking the Obama Kool-Aid, we should all take a lesson from sports, where great coaches such as Joe Torre, for example, consistently preach to their team that, "you're never as good as you look when you win and you're never as bad as you look when you lose".  This common-sense admonition prevents both egotism and lack of confidence -- but it's also true.  People are rarely as good as they look when they win, and likewise, are rarely as bad as they look when they are losing. 

Of course, there are logical reasons for the tough environment we are in.  For one thing, it is uncommon for any political party to win three consecutive presidential elections.  And another obvious reason is that George W. Bush has become a very unpopular president, simultaneously offending many liberals and conservatives (for different reasons).  I will avoid to engaging in the debate over whether or not Bush's failure was that he was too liberal or too conservative.  The main point here is that we have an unpopular incumbent president, which is obviously a drag on Republican candidates this year.

To be sure, these are both simplistic explanations for the current mood of the nation (one could write an entire book on the topic), but the point is that there are specific reasons why this should be a Democratic year.  And while it is a tough time for conservatives, we should take comfort in knowing that there are legitimate reasons this is a tough year. 

But too many members of the opinion elite are ignoring these specific reasons, and instead, arguing that the country has fundamentally changed.  The only solution, they say, is for conservatives to "modernize" -- which, of course, is really just a fancy way of saying we should abandon our fundamental principles.  They are making the same mistake some Republican leaders made in 2005: they are success today with a mandate for the future.  That's not necessarily the case.  It's most likely wishful thinking...

The liberals would love to have you believe that in just four short years, all those SUV-driving, Hank Jr.-listening, gun and religion "clingers" have become all "sophisticated" and have moved to the city to drown their sorrows in lattes.  (And if you're still one of those conservative yokels, well, you've been left behind).  This notion, of course, is absurd.  The media caricatured the voters who elected Bush to begin with, and now they are going to the opposite extreme. 

Besides, for every argument you could make that Americans are becoming more liberal and urban (and urbane), I can point to studies demonstrating that religious conservatives have more children (while liberals have fewer children, and sometimes abort them) -- and that North Eastern cities are losing population while suburbia is gaining population.  But even if the trend were toward liberalism, the notion that it would occur in four short years is laughable (of course, aside from making this argument, they also point to demographic changes and more young people voting as proof America has changed.)

In short, it is clear that specific instances -- not a paradigm shift -- are responsible for the current mood of the nation.  So don't be depressed.  And don't abandon your philosophy.  Things aren't as bad as the media would have you believe.

Which brings me to my main point ...

Should John McCain fail to win the presidency next week, it would be a mistake to assume that Sarah Palin's conservative philosophy and folksy style are no longer winning traits.  (McCain can still win, but mathematically, winning will require running the "electoral" table). 

First, though, I should address the elephant in the room:  Palin was a tremendous asset to the ticket, and McCain was doing very well (considering the environment) until the economic crisis became the focus of this election.  Claims that Palin doomed the ticket are patently false.  The argument that she negated the experience argument ignores the fact that the experience argument never works.  Regardless, it is clear her selection helped McCain take a brief lead in the polls, until the economic news broke.

She is not without her faults.  To be sure, Palin lacks some vital knowledge (which can and will be learned).  This, of course, was to be expected.  Obama had two years to ramp-up, while Palin was effectively air-dropped into the middle of a campaign.  Still, if you look at the chronology of events involving Palin, she has had many more successes than failures.  Palin gave a great announcement speech, a great convention speech, a series of poor-to-mediocre interviews, and then a very good debate performance.  In my estimation, the Palin's media roll-out (not the announcement or the convention) was mishandled, and the blame there goes to the McCain campaign.  Regardless, three of the four "big" events she was called upon to participate in were successes.  Two of them were dramatic successes.

Losing next week would surely have negative consequences.  The Supreme Court picks, alone, are reason enough to be concerned.  (And losing is anything but a foregone conclusion.)  Still, it is important to establish that a loss next week would not be an indication that America has fundamentally changed or that we are now living in "Obamaland."  If history is any indicator, liberals will over-reach, and conservatives will make a comeback. 

Sarah Palin will likely be a big part of this comeback.  Conservatism isn't dead, so her philosophy will resonate into the future.  And while, post-Bush, folksy plays poorly, it might be surprisingly refreshing after a few years of Obama.  Don't be surprised to see a wiser, more prepared, Sarah Palin knocking-the-socks-off of everyone in the future.

Matt Lewis

Matt Lewis is conservative writer and blogger based in Alexandria, VA.

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