Will there be a Democratic wave? It was forecast in the polls for weeks and months, purporting to show that the Republicans would be washed out of power in the same way they were carried in twelve years ago. The so-called “generic” polls — showing party preference, not candidates — had the Dems up by large and seemingly consistent margins that promised Democratic control of the next Congress. The Newsweek generic congressional poll (November 2-3) had the Democrats up by a 16-point margin. We saw it, too, in the Time generic congressional numbers (November 1-3) that had the Dems up by 15 points. But what shall we make of the ABC News-Washington Post generic congressional poll (November 1-4) that had the Dems up by only 6, a sudden drop of 10 points? It might be that that the momentum has shifted in time to save Republicans from themselves. It’s just as possible that Republicans may remain in the majority in both the House and the Senate, or lose at least the House. So what? Two things.
First, whatever happens tomorrow, American politics will descend into a pit of rancor that hasn’t been opened since the years before the Civil War. Then, Senators beat each other with canes on the Senate floor. (Those of us who would pay money to see Bob Byrd and Ted Stevens beating each other over the head with copies of pork-laden appropriations bills should calm down.) Second, conservatives are at a moment that requires of us some introspection and reinvention. Whatever happens, we need to reexamine where we are, how we got there, and begin — right now, today — to chart a path to 2008. We are at this pass because George W. Bush let us down.
History will call George W. Bush many things but “conservative” won’t be one of them. In his two terms as president his conservative achievement consists of the appointment of two solid conservatives to the Supreme Court. But even one of them — Justice Alito — had to be forced on Bush by a conservative rebellion against the risible nomination of Harriett Miers. Mr. Bush also must get credit for cutting taxes and sticking to the cuts (but this credit is given only grudgingly by those of us who insist that the Bush government spending boom was inexcusable.) The conservative movement that had unified under Ronald Reagan is now suffering an intellectual diaspora. The conservative base is as solid as ever, but there is no discernible conservative leadership in Washington. Conservatives are seeking it everywhere, but that quality is elusive and isn’t found in McCain, Hagel, Frist or any of the other likely Senatorial suspects. The challenge for us is to help gather ourselves together, dust ourselves off and get back into the fight in time to elect a conservative president in 2008.
We have to realize is that we are more a coalition than a movement. Liberals are quick to insist that conservatives are monolithic, that there is no independent thought among us. But one important difference between liberals and conservatives today is that there really is a monolith called liberalism that has no parallel among conservatives. If we are to re-unite, we need to recognize who we are and set about working with each other.
First, are the cultural conservatives: those most concerned with the religious and moral devolution of our nation including the religious right and those who we used to call Reagan Democrats. They are an enormously potent force, but now are limited in the scope of issues they engage on: abortion, gay marriage and such. They are a core constituency for cutting government spending. Second, the paleos. The Buchanan isolationists who refuse to exercise American power, want to withdraw from the engagement in Iraq, from alliance with Israel and erect trade barriers against China. But, like the cultural conservatives, they want less government. Third are the Neocons, more rightly (since 9-11) labeled neo-Wilsonians. They believe America can and must remake the world in its own image. They think democracy is a weapon, not a system of government. They are big-time spenders, and not much interested in reducing the size of government. Fourth are the Endgame Conservatives. These are people who put the vast majority of their energy into thinking about putting the Islamist genie back in the bottle and who don’t care who rules nations such as Iraq. They want to fight the war with all the speed and violence we can muster. Endgame Cons condemn the neo-Wilsonians for doing what Bush does, tolerating the intolerable, accepting the unacceptable and thus letting the enemy control the pace and direction of the war. Endgame Cons find common ground with cultural conservatives once they recognize that, though winning the war has to be our first priority, they can’t win it alone.
President Bush, in both campaigns, promised a conservative agenda but delivered something else. In 2004, he promised — clearly and often — to divorce American foreign policy from the United Nations. John Kerry promised multilateralism, but that’s what Bush produced. On the domestic side, Bush did everything to increase government spending. So-called “conservatives” in Congress took advantage of Bush’s spendthrift ways. Ted Stevens, long-time Appropriations Committee chairman, at one point threatened to resign from the Senate if his “bridges to nowhere” were de-larded from an appropriations bill, and they weren’t. Illegal immigration was perhaps the worst Bush betrayal of conservative beliefs.
So what’s left of Conservatism? Everything Ronald Reagan appealed to is still there. It could revert to a “silent majority” because no Republican leader has dedicated himself to it and worked to unify it. Conservatives, unlike liberals, adhere to a set of principles: (1) A strong America, acting in its own interests, in foreign affairs and without waiting for the UN to give us permission. They want to define the war we’re in clearly, aim whatever it takes to defeat the enemy, and restore whatever level of pre-9-11 peace can be achieved; (2) preservation of America’s Constitution, religious freedom and culture (which means refusing to compromise on things such as illegal immigration, late-term abortion, and phony “rights” which serve to separate Americans from their responsibilities of citizenship); (3) fiscal responsibility, tax cuts and commensurate cuts in the size of government and government spending. There’s a conservative agenda we can re-unify around. We need a leader to rally around and it’s up to us to test the applicants. Let no faux-conservatives apply.
These next two years should be a time of a conservative renaissance. We can’t afford to waste any of that time arguing over who’s to congratulate or blame for the results of 2006. As the Gipper said, it’s morning in America. Or it can be if we dedicate ourselves to making it so.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, 2006).
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