WASHINGTON -- It is official: The time for conservatives to gloat is over. Why? Because my mom back in the Midwest said so.
All kidding aside, it is tempting for the political right to go on with its gloat fest -- indeed, I have indulged it many times on my own website post-November 2. From the hysterics of Maureen Dowd and Bill Moyers, to the condescension of Bob Herbert and Garry Wills, to the fever swamps that insist the early exit polls were right and the voters were wrong (okay, okay, the Diebold machines were wrong), the political left seems to be in full-scale meltdown. And it is not hard to see why. They threw everything they had at this election, including gobs of money, via the likes of George Soros, a very hostile mainstream media, and a propagandist with talent scarier than Leni Riefenstahl. Still they came up short. When they are not trying to get Canadian immigration papers, they must be asking themselves if we can't win this one what can we win?
But before the conservative movement yields to complete hubris, we should remember two things. First, pride goeth before a fall. Second, the left never really goes away, no matter how many elections we win. If we assume that November 2 answered all questions, that the left will lie down and let us roll over them, we are dead wrong. Leftists can and will get back in the fight, and they can still win the larger "ideological war" -- but only if conservatives let them.
Thus far, the signs are encouraging that the political right is avoiding such hubris. The current effort against Arlen Specter shows that portions of the political right are not letting the election lull them into complacency. A liberal Republican Senator hints at bottling up President Bush's nominees, and the political right springs into action. Clearly, the conservative movement is now sustained by an active and engaged grassroots movement.
Another strength is that we are seldom dismissive of the desires of the majority of American voters. The other side is increasingly condescending to middle America, suggesting, as Thomas Frank and Janeane Garofalo do, that many Americans don't know what their own interests are, especially when they vote on values issues. Our side tries to come up with policy ideas to address voters' needs and wants. We've learned that at the polls you can't beat something with nothing. If Americans complain about health care, the political left will offer government-run health insurance. Although a few on the right may complain about America's entitlement mentality, most will try to find a free-market based alternative. So Bush offers tax credits, expanded Health Savings Accounts, and enabling small business to pool their resources and consumers to purchase insurance out of state, and he neutralizes much of John Kerry's advantage on the issue.
Now is time to roll up the sleeves and get busy building on this solid foundation. There are many areas in which our efforts need to be brought to bear, but let me suggest a few.
The Courts: The biggest threat to democracy in this country is un-elected judges legislating from the bench. Judicial activism enables social activists to impose their visions without having to win the approval of the very people upon whom that vision is being imposed. Unless the courts are staffed increasingly by strict constructionists, every successful legislative effort spearheaded by conservatives is at risk of being undone. That is why the left has worked so hard to filibuster Bush's nominees these last four years. Thus, it is imperative that conservatives keep the pressure on Senator Specter. Even if he does end up as chair of the Judiciary Committee (an increasingly questionable prospect) we can at least clip his wings.
Social Security Reform: This may be the toughest legislative fight of our lives. The stakes couldn't be higher: keeping a system of government control over people's fortunes that is headed for insolvency, or putting it on a sound financial footing with a system of personal accounts. If we succeed, we take the biggest step possible in transforming our nation into an ownership society at the same time dealing a crippling blow to those who promote government dependence. I'll write more about this in a later column, but for now I see that the conservative movement needs to do three things: (1) Be ready with a response to the hysterical attacks that will certainly come from the left; (2) Get ahead of the ball by preempting those attacks with an advertising campaign explaining that the system is broke and emphasizing the benefits for reform; (3) Commit ourselves to backing whatever plan the President proposes (as long as it includes personal accounts). Although I usually champion conservative grumbling about the president, I think this is one issue were we must present a united front and hold our criticism.
State Parties: There are a number of state Republican Parties that have yet to be Reaganized. Most of these parties are in states that run from Long Island to Illinois. They are states where the GOP is not adverse to raising taxes and even shows instances of outright hostility to conservative social values. Of all the states in this category, Ohio should be of paramount concern to conservatives. It's GOP governor, RINO Bob Taft, has raised taxes over $900 million in the last three years and opposed the state initiative banning gay marriage in the recent election. As a result, Ohio barely went for Bush in the election -- if it hadn't, well, it's a thought too horrible to contemplate. Given the electoral map, Republicans need another relatively large state to be solidly Republican. Ohio will be if the Party there is Reaganized.
One way to Reaganize it by doing everything possible to support Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell's run for governor in 2006. He is a solid, free-market conservative and someone who could have a serious long-term impact on Ohio's GOP. It is also in the interest of the national GOP. Blackwell is an impressive man, a good speaker, and an African-American. He is future presidential timber, someone the national GOP should get behind.
Conservatives have rightfully enjoyed their resounding triumph just over two weeks ago. But gloat time is over. Time now to shake off any sense of complacency, and get back to work.
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