Keeping Cool With Conservatism

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Heralded as a replay of the historic 1980 election, conservatives supported former Governor Mitt Romney in a bid to oust President Barack Obama.  While Obama was more formidable than James Carter and Romney rarely invited positive comparisons to Ronald Reagan, conservatives nonetheless rallied, confident America would again elect a Republican amidst economic stagnation.  On the eve of the election, the race was essentially tied and confidence ran high.  On election day, Romney commented he had prepared only one speech, one to celebrate victory, and many believed he would deliver it.  Nonetheless, three hours after polls closed on the East Coast, NBC and Fox News networks declared Obama the winner by way of the Electoral College.  Of the numerous battleground states allegedly within his reach, only one, North Carolina, went for Romney.  Even worse, Republicans lost two additional seats in the Senate, failing to win the chamber when the party was well-positioned to do so for the second election in a row.  Far from 1980 redux, the 2012 election ended soundly in favor of Obama and the Democratic Party.  The prevailing conclusion?  Commentators in abundance declared the conservative Republican Party too white, too male, and too old (11/30, 113,000,000 results!), whereas the liberal Democratic message was in harmony with America’s changing demographics.  If the reality is demography equals destiny, then the imperative is adapt or die.  Justifiable advice, yet observers have not explained why America’s new demography should obviate liberty, tradition, and individualism as the basis for future political success.

Disingenuous Advice

To preface, the demographics are indeed daunting.  In the immediate aftermath, observers, liberal and conservative alike, have documented the breadth of Obama’s victory in various sub-sections of the electorate.  Obama swamped Romney among African-American and Hispanic voters, garnering 74% and 91%, respectively.  Now, the attention is on the probable permanence of this advantage.  The Pew Research Center’s latest analysis underscores how the youth vote carried him to victory, especially in swing states.  

Hopeful the possibilities of large majorities voting Democratic in 2008 and 2012 will continue for decades, liberals are gleefully extrapolating the permanent emasculation of the Republican Party.

If Republicans hope to compete, the advice is, again, to simply adapt.  Indeed, Senate and House Republicans are apparently preparing to forsake an anti-tax pledge made to voters and are receiving encouragement from the mainstream media.

Adapt What?

Numerous observers have argued Republicans and conservatives should be prepared to revisit positions on taxes, immigration, and various social matters.  

To test this advice, it should simply be turned on its head.  

Reviewing the record, the Democratic Party has embraced it and have become more competitive.  However, Democratic leaders did so out of convenience not conviction.  In the wake of the Walter Mondale debacle in 1984, leaders like William Clinton established the Democratic Leadership Council, specifically to move the party more to the right.  Clinton won the next two presidential elections, but tellingly, he only won popular vote pluralities and Congress flipped to the Republicans for the first time in forty years.

As noted previously, liberal political adaptability merely demonstrates sheer expediency. Liberal ideological slipperiness is legendary.  Revisit the embrace of African-American civil rights in the 1960s.  Recall the awkward ride in an Abrams tanks and purposely attending the execution of a mentally deficient inmate.  Witness former President Clinton’s energetic campaigning on behalf of Obama just this past fall.

Only Democrats Divide and Conquer

Of the last, perhaps Clinton readily recognized the Obama’s ruthless exploitation of America’s demographic faultlines would pay dividends at the voting booth.

Few observers assert Obama ran a campaign as dignified as his historic run in 2008.  Obama unashamedly castigated upper class Americans, exaggerated the fate of reproductive rights, and enthusiastically balkanized the electorate.  Obama had a record to run on -- Vice President Joseph Biden was the surprisingly articulate candidate in this regard, succinctly reminding voters that under Obama “General Motors was alive and Bin Laden was dead,” -- he just declined to trust the voters.

Instead, Obama and allies depicted Mitt Romney as a rapacious corporate raider and asserted the conservative agenda was merely a collection of racist misogynist code words.  And once the die is cast, rare is the individual who can simultaneously refute the charges and retain the high ground.  

Grounded in an individualist worldview, conservatives cannot be reasonably expected to appease ethnic-specific interests.  Moreover, no self-respecting conservative would ever contort him or herself in the same fashion as “part Cherokee” Elizabeth Warren.  No dignified Republican or conservative would ever threaten an audience of evangelicals that liberal Democrats were intent on imposing atheism, a proposition as ludicrous as re-instituting slavery.

Acknowledged, Romney and allies did not help themselves with ridiculous unforced errors throughout the campaign.  Between “corporations are people,” “self-deportation,” and “legitimate rape,” Republicans are lucky voters simply did not abandon them in droves.

Going forward, Romney will mark the last time establishment Republicans can bank on their alleged “electabability.”  Romney is the ultimate “broken compass” candidate -- a reminder of a path to take again.  The 2012 Republican electorate was not too white, too male, or too old -- he was.  Romney was the weakest primary frontrunner ever and he barely limped across the finish line.  And in a classless back of the hand to the supporters who had graciously discounted his “47 percent” comments, Romney confirmed the cynicism everyone suspected only days after the election, asserting Obama won on the basis of promised “gifts.”  Good riddance...

Beyond Demographics

The proper response to all this demographically-induced Schadenfreude should be “so what”.

The argument that liberty is a message inaudible to some purely because of their origins is an old one -- and one repeatedly demonstrated as false.  In the past half-century, Germany, Japan, and India have contravened expectations and demonstrated the universality of democracy and liberty.  In the past week, Egyptians have quickly rallied to defend the liberating spirit of the Arab Spring against the autocratic aspirations of President Mohamed Morsi.

Liberal proponents will gladly trumpet demographics because their only objective is gaining and retaining political power.

The challenge is refusing to do battle with liberals on the treacherous and unforgiving terrain of race.  “No one can beat the Democrats at the politics of social division.”  

Whether it was naive optimism or delusion, the notion African-Americans would abandon Obama because their economic position had deteriorated during his Administration was laughable.  Hispanics have seemed a natural constituency for several elections cycles now, but their purportedly inherent conservatism has not translated into successive greater voting for conservative candidates and, more pointedly, this expectation is not necessarily supportable.  Asians ostensibly have less affinity for liberal positions than Hispanics and still an antipathy is evident.

In contrast, modern conservatism is and should remain premised on liberty, tradition, and individualism, regardless of electoral results.  

More broadly, Republicans cannot simply assume a voter’s ostensibly latent social conservatism will eventually surpass his or her (current) primary political interest -- their economic well-being.

Republican social conservatism need not be muted, merely stop pursuing perfection at the expense of what’s possible; social conservatives have secured strong majorities in favor bans on partial birth abortion, and parental and spousal notification laws, but no law is ever going to require a woman to bear the child of her rapist.

Keep the Focus on Government

In the near term, the priority should remain presenting a comprehensive reform agenda that focuses on the mission and size of government while eviscerating liberalism’s governance model.  

A grand compromise to address the current fiscal crisis should not entail merely agreeing to higher taxes.  Conservatives should confound the opposition by wholeheartedly embracing redistribution and alternatively proposing the establishment of a guaranteed minimum income.  

(For Republican and conservative Romney voters who oppose this idea, they should not forget it was Republicans vowing to preserve Medicare during the campaign.)

Mightily as Republicans and conservatives have campaigned against big government since Ronald Reagan, their effort has come to naught.  In the present day, two-thirds of federal spending will go to entitlements. In 2010 alone, governments at all levels oversaw a transfer of $2.2 trillion — three times as much as all military and defense spending that same year.  Indeed, Republicans have been complicit.

Instead of tinkering with marginal tax rates, credits, and deductions and promises of spending cuts, conservatives should agree to a higher, rationalized flat tax in exchange for the establishment of a bureaucracy-less welfare system.  Indeed, Ryan’s Medicare reform plan featuring premium support should be the template for reforming all realms of government assistance.  

The post-war G.I. Bill amounted to direct income support and it succeeded beyond expectations -- because it empowered individuals, because it cultivated the country’s human capital, because it provided the basis for the gigantic American economic growth engine many are seeking to resuscitate today.  

More importantly, the G.I. Bill did not abet the massive expansion of government.  

As critical as maintaining a balkanized ethnic coalition is to Democratic fortunes, the public sector union vote is more so.  Union representation in the private sector may have declined precipitously, but public sector unions remain robust and have decidedly favored the Democratic Party and liberal causes.  If even a portion of the federal bureaucracy was dismantled, a key component of the Democratic voter mobilization and financial machinery would be impaired.

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Conservatives may have thought mantra such as “spreading the wealth around” and “paying their fair share” would have sunk Obama, but he has now been elected president twice.  Obamacare is now poised for implementation.  Time is short - a vision of comprehensive reform is required.

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