“They’re not going to miss it.”
Rep. Michael Ross, (D-Arkansas)
Rep. Ross made the above statement subsequent to congressional deliberations over how to fund new benefits in the new veterans’ bill. Subsequent to the Congressional Budget Office determining the new benefits would cumulatively cost over $51.8 billion over the next decade, Rep. Ross and other “conservative” Democrats had prevented the amount’s addition to the latest supplemental. Instead, “conservative” Democrats concerned with additional deficit spending, devised a “patriots premium” whereby a one-half percent income tax surcharge would be imposed on incomes above $1 million. As Rep. Ross argued, “someone who earns $2 million a year would pay $5,000. ... They're not going to miss it."
Whatever one’s means, this noxiously cavalier attitude toward a citizen’s income is reprehensible. Worse, however, is that it went unopposed.
Conservatives, the expected guardians of an American’s economic liberties and rights, were nowhere to be found. Their elected representatives, Republican congressmen, were instead cowering in the wake of another special election, paralyzed by fear, blind to the fecklessness of their leaders, and quibbling over the need to “re-brand,” whatever that means.
The era of Republican conservative hegemony is over, and a spell in the wilderness is upon American conservatives.
Regretfully, perhaps it is best William F. Buckley passed from the scene before he could witness the wretched collapse of the mighty movement he helped establish in 1955. The once marginalized objections to creeping statism, secular humanism, and the accommodation of global communism found their outlet of Mr. Buckley’s periodical and emerged unified and poised to transform the national political conversation. Within a generation, cherished objectives became historic achievements – the fall of communism, the dismantling of the welfare state, a bulwark of strict constructionists on the Supreme Court, and validation at the ballot box.
But success can be double-edged – by attaining such triumphs, what can a movement and political party do for an encore. Attempts to construct an updated “governing conservatism” instead of “opposition conservatism” have foundered. “National greatness conservatism” ended up only demonstrating national weakness vis-à-vis Iraqi irregulars. “Compassionate conservatism” collapsed in the maelstrom of Hurricane Katrina and the destruction of New Orleans. Whereas Mr. Buckley declared his intent to “stand athwart history, yelling Stop”, Republican conservatives are advised to find their revival by turning from individual liberty to quality of life, more pointedly, “the whole way we live our lives.”
…Quality of life… seriously???
Lamentably, Republicans, coming full circle after a generation in power, have become entrenched in the same respect liberalism was and conservatives once railed against.
Now change is more credibly the battle cry of Democratic liberalism and Republican attempts to compete are simply offering an echo, not a choice. Terrified of electoral annihilation in the fall, Republican politicians are abandoning conservative principles in a mad scramble, unwilling to stand for anything except their political self-preservation, or as Peggy Noonan aptly noted, “busy dying.” Death-bed conversions and calls for fiscal restraint or entitlement reform or scurrying to align with a media-praised contrarian “maverick” will not suffice for the occurrence of creative destruction that will be necessary before American conservatism can once again dominate the political debate.
In his provocative essay, “The Fall of Conservatism,” George Packer asks “have the Republican’s run out of ideas?” The answer is yes, but unfortunately some conservatives have taken the bait. Yuval Levin, a thoughtful scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, provided a concise rebuttal, but erred by conceding conservatism “is trying to retool and redirect itself to new challenges.” In the beginning, not all Republicans were conservatives and not all conservatives were Republicans, but now the two are deemed synonymous.
It need not be that way and therein lies the challenge for American conservatives.
It is telling that Packer begins his essay by discussing Richard Nixon’s comeback between 1966 and 1968. Packer acknowledges conservatives hold Nixon at arm's length, but for non-conservatives the distinction is irrelevant -- and dangerous for conservatives. The linkage allows Liberals and opponents to castigate conservative victories as “positive polarization” and deride conservatism as uninterested in or incompatible with governance. Simply dismissing the vitriol in American society during the Sixties as one-sided or the tremendous accomplishments of Reagan and Gingrich is hardly achieved without accomplices, but unfortunately for conservatives, it was a Republican president and a Republican Congress that substantiated the lie.
And as many conservatives have argued, Republican stopped governing like conservatives for a while now.
Conservative ideas are in abundance, even if they are from the “negative strain of modern conservatism,” as Packer denounces it. Addressing 21st century challenges do not require the compromise of conservative principles so that Republicans can re-furbish their “brand” vis-à-vis the Democrats. These challenges (and the coinciding Republican political failures) require conservatives to relinquish the once automatic support given to Republican candidates.
Conservatives have ready solutions for the matters facing the American voter. As an immediate example, see the comprehensive conservative reform agenda Yuval Levin assembled. While submitted as a theme for the McCain campaign, conservatives should expect any and all candidates demanding their vote to promote one or more of its elements. Portable health insurance, tax code rationalization, school choice, entitlement revision, reconfiguring national security, and re-orientation of immigration priorities are prominent components. Levin writes,
The answer is not to expand government so it can rescue people from themselves--which is the underlying premise behind just about every plank of Hillary Clinton's and Barack Obama's platforms--but to make the institutions dynamic and flexible enough to advance the causes of economic growth, cultural vitality, and national security. [The] reform agenda would begin with an effort to help give American families more say over the institutions they rely on most directly. (Italics added)
Ironically, the most suitable course for conservatives to follow is the advice given to endangered Republicans by their leadership recently – chart your own course. Except conservatives can do it from a position of principle, not cravenness. The consequence may be diminished ranks of elected conservatives, but as Rush Limbaugh noted after the 2006 disaster, conservatives will no longer have to carry the water for Republicans and defend their incompetence.
A number of key congressional votes since 2006 (the earmark moratorium, the recent farm bill, the latest defense authorization bill) reveal which Republicans genuinely deserve American conservatives support. In the House, the standout troika of Jeff Flake, Mike Pence, and Paul Ryan has been critical to upholding conservative principles. Each have been stalwart advocates of smaller government, fiscal restraint and entitlement reform. Ryan has enthusiastically charted his own course, submitting an ambitious reform agenda to which conservatives can rally. In the field, governors such as Mark Sanford, Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, and (especially) Bobby Jindal herald a promising bench of next generation national conservative leadership.
Ultimately, American conservatives face a rocky future in the near term. A quick search on Google indicates Packer’s essay is running essentially uncontested. Levin’s rebuttal has already been noted, and while spirited, inadvertently underscores the current political environment is more dire than observed. Levin notes the relative absence of heated arguments on the Left about a cohesive worldview is a sign of weakness and that Democrats have recruited social conservatives, albeit economically populist ones, to oust Republicans. True, but while these factors are emblematic of weakness, the voters are still responding to these appeals. American conservatives can be both passionate and stoic but they are now poised to the return to the wilderness, to the “remnant,” from which they once emerged.
You do not know, and will never know, who the Remnant are, nor what they are doing or will do. Two things you do know, and no more: First, that they exist; second, that they will find you.'
Albert Jay Nock — 1936
Descending from the commanding heights of the American political scene will be bittersweet, but the surviving the corruption of being a political majority will be cathartic.
In the end, conservatives will not even miss it.