Happy New Year.
Nice sentiments, but conservatives have every reason to wonder if, politically, 2007 actually can be good. Last year was, of course, just awful, and there haven't been many signs yet that the congressional wing of the Republican Party -- the only outlet right now, however flawed, for conservative ideas to find legislative enactment -- has even begun to figure out how and where and when they went wrong.
The conservative movement will need to rejuvenate itself on its own, without congressional help. But the mark of a successful rejuvenation will be how effective the movement makes itself at convincing office-holders to act in concert with conservative aims and principles. Conservatives will know that the new year is good if lawmakers -- in the White House and in Congress -- do the following things:
Support President Bush's expected call for a troop "surge" in Iraq. It is impossible to be a true conservative and, at the same time, to accept defeat in a military endeavor in a key strategic area of the world. Forget the arguments about whether we were wise to topple Saddam or not in the first place. (We were right, by the way.) The fact is that we are there now, and if we don't secure the peace, we will have lost, and the loss will have horrific repercussions for stability in the Middle East and for American standing in the world. Every other option on the table (other than a troop surge) is, in effect, a strategy for managing a defeat, rather than for securing a victorious peace. Those other strategies are therefore unacceptable. Utterly unacceptable. And cowardly to boot.
Support President Bush's call for a bigger military with more personnel in all services. No matter what the otherwise admirable Donald Rumsfeld wanted, it was utter folly to allow the military to shrink (in terms of personnel) to a level in which securing a peace in backwards Iraq cannot be accomplished without over-stretching both active duty and reserve troops near a breaking point. We are supposed to be able to fight and win two regional wars, not just one. That can't be done without boots on the ground. Conservatives under Cap Weinberger (and Colin Powell) understood that. How did we forget it?
Kill any liberal efforts to increase government interference in markets or to raise taxes on investments and on marginal individual rates. Opposition to the continued overgrowth of the nanny state is the essential element without which modern conservatism cannot exist. Republicans lost the majority this year because they forgot that this rule is absolute.
Accept nothing less than absolute purity on questions of formal ethics. It is an inexcusable travesty that Congress passed no meaningful ethics reforms in 2006 despite the pledges to do so by Speaker Dennis Hastert. Ethics are not a mere tactic for political points and for victory; they are the essence of statecraft. The Republican Congress for the past several years deservedly earned a reputation as Sleaze Central. The answer is: No free private meals. No junkets. Utter transparency on campaign finance and on all spending and tax bills. And, most importantly, personal integrity exercised both in public and in private, whether required by formal laws and rules or not.
Stay tough against crime, including deliberate breaking of immigration laws. Support and defend innocent life. Insist on judges who construe the Constitution as written rather than as social engineers would twist it. Insist on upholding constitutional limits to federal power, and on its protections for private property. Self-explanatory.
There. That's a start. Those are the basics. Fail at those, or at least fail at least to fight with all their might for those principles, and the lawmakers will prove themselves worthless.
Since the year is new, though, let's not end on a down note. Here's a toast in expectation that enough lawmakers will "do us proud" this year. Ronald Reagan taught conservatives to be optimists. The slate for the year is still clean, so let's follow Reagan's example. Be optimists, and get to work.
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