Amidst the exuberant celebration of Obama’s election in 2008, many liberal talking heads pronounced the death of conservatism. Yet just two short years later, the Republicans are poised to overwhelm the Democrats in the midterm elections. RealClearPolitics predicts that the GOP will gain eight seats in the Senate, six governorships, and approximately fifty seats in the House. What has spurred this reverse of fortunes?
The day after the election E.J. Dionne, an opinion writer for The Washington Post stated, “In choosing Obama and a strongly Democratic Congress, the country put a definitive end to a conservative era.” He went on to denounce the concepts of limited government and market capitalism as impractical ideas.
New York Times Book Review Editor, Sam Tanenhaus performed what he labeled an “intellectual autopsy” of the conservative movement in a New Republic article in February 2009. Tanenhaus declared that “what conservatives have yet to do is confront the large but inescapable truth that movement conservatism is exhausted and quite possibly dead.” He cited the “blind faith” that conservatives have for deregulation and a unilateral foreign policy.
For starters, someone should bring a malpractice suit against Tanenhaus for conducting an autopsy on a living and vibrant movement. Nevertheless, despite the flaws in analysis, Dionne and Tanenhaus should not be completely dismissed as liberal quacks. Both partially stumbled across the salient problems with the conservative movement but cited the wrong reasons for its shortcomings.
The main failure of the conservative movement during the past decade was its refusal to remain principled. Big Government Republicans turned their backs on limited government ideas and ushered in a wave of new bureaucracies and regulations.In 2001, President Bush signed into law “No Child Left Behind.” This law increased the federal bureaucracy in education and contributed billions of dollars to the federal budget in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in compliance costs for the states. This is not a conservative policy. Most conservatives want to abolish the Department of Education, not expand it.
Conservatives also need to stop allowing the neocons to define conservatism; they are not true conservatives. The great conservative icon and Ohio Senator, Robert Taft, did not subscribe to using U.S. resources to promote democracy around the globe. Rather, Taft pursued a foreign policy that supported America’s interests. Taft set the model for which all conservatives should try to emulate. He supported a reasonable, limited foreign policy, reduced spending, held anti-Keynesian views, and vociferously opposed the New Deal.
We cannot hope for an army of Robert Tafts. It is well known that men are very flawed beings. Acknowledgement of this is best articulated by Lord Acton who said, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Unfortunately, politics tends to attract the very worst types of personalities and this quite often includes Republicans. We have strayed far from the Founders vision of the disinterested politician and Washington’s example of resigning his commission as Commander in Chief at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.
On November 2, conservatives will see the political shift they seek come to fruition as their candidates are elected into office. But we must recognize that the work has only just begun. The momentum has turned in our favor because limited government is a core American value. It is our job to speak out against the abuse of power regardless of the identity of the culprit. If the conservative politicians do not pursue the government minimalist agenda they preached on the campaign trail, liberals may succeed next time in burying us alive.