As we close out a disastrous 2008, a year in which Western Civilization essentially suffered a nervous breakdown, conservatives now must turn to two fundamental goals. First, we must stop the destructive policy initiatives of the Obama Administration and the liberal left now ruling in Washington (first prediction for 2009: the loony, far left Congress will consistently make the ultraliberal Obama Administration look moderate by comparison). Secondly, we must lay the foundation for our political comeback. Here is what we must do to achieve these goals:
Return to the Grassroots
First and most important is to build up mighty, grassroots networks across the country. This is something that conservatives must do, not Republicans, who need to work on their own grassroots party network. Conservatives have become too good lately in lecturing Republicans on what they must do. We need to lead by building a powerful political movement, and the Republicans will then naturally follow.
The radical, liberal-left agenda is tailor made for generating grassroots firestorms in opposition. Included in that agenda is national legislation to remove all state restrictions on abortion, all parental notification, waiting periods, informed consent, and partial birth abortion restrictions. Instead we are slated for taxpayer funding for abortion on demand. Another beaut is national legislation to remove all state protections of gun rights, such as conceal and carry permits. Then there is the federal takeover of health care, the federal shutdown of proven, reliable energy production, global warming regulation to shut down what is left of the economy, the "fairness" doctrine to shut down talk radio, and national legislation to take away workers' rights to a secret ballot election to determine whether they will be forced into a union in their workplace. That last item also includes forcing union contracts on businesses, small, medium and large, in place of the current system of free negotiation.
And we haven't even gotten to tax increases yet. Nor the trillion dollar deficit Obama will propose in his first budget, which will increase federal spending to the highest levels in peacetime in U.S. history, by far.
Conservatives don't need to wait for national leadership. Just start an activist grassroots network in your own locality. This consists most fundamentally in gathering lists of names, phone numbers, and emails of those in your area who will take political action to fight on one or more of the above issues, and others that will arise (Senator Patrick Leahy's court packing plan, for example). Political action means first and foremost communicating, to neighbors, family and friends, privately and publicly. Public communication is pursued through media outlets (letters to the editor, press releases, commentaries for local papers, complaints to the media by phone or in writing, induced media coverage), public forums and meetings (showing up with signs, loud protests, and speaking where that is allowed), contacts with elected officials (by phone, email, or in person), and public protests by the activist group itself.
The group's leadership would communicate with members through newsletters and action alerts, informing them about the issues, and about what is going on in Washington. This would be enhanced by meetings primarily involving attractive social gatherings at least once a month, which will build the spirit and cohesiveness of the network. An informative speaker at such events would help.
During campaign season, such groups would grow into fundraising networks, sources of campaign volunteers, and get out the vote drives, for candidates that support the group's views. Don't be shy about participating in politics. That is your right which many have fought and died for. The Left is not shy.
Most people are politically inactive except for showing up to vote, or maybe providing campaign contributions. So even a group of 20 active members is a political force. You can form such groups out of your existing social network, including friends from your church or even your union. But don't try to formally affiliate with your church or union, or ask them for permission to form your own group by contacting people you know. Also, don't pick a name for the group that suggests radical, inflammatory, revolution. The style should be moderate, informational, competent, professional. The substance should be vintage Reagan.
Conservative leaders must organize state, regional, and even national networks of such local groups, reaching into every congressional district in the country. State, regional or national conferences would add to the punch. This grassroots organizing should be in addition to existing organizations dedicated to pro-life, gun rights, and taxpayer issues, which are all to the good, but more is needed.
Conservative politics and issues will not revive until we return to the people and build a mighty grassroots force.
Successful politics is all about communicating the message. Because most of the media has now turned to the left, and is controlled by the Democrat party, this is a special challenge for conservatives. The numerous conservative think tanks, publications, and talk radio shows are the foundation for success, and the main reason we are not about to go into a long period of left-wing, Democrat dominance like the New Deal. But more is needed.
The grassroots networks discussed above would help greatly with the communications challenge. Conservative think tanks should look to communicate in part through these networks. Conservative intellectuals should look to tour the country speaking to such groups.
But there needs to be an additional, special focus. There are about 80 congressional swing districts now mostly represented by Democrats, especially Democrats who campaigned as conservatives to defeat incumbent Republicans. A special communications network needs to be set up for these districts. Local newspapers, radio stations, TV news people, local talk show hosts need to be identified for each such district. They then need to be targeted for commentary submissions, interviews with conservative policy experts, local speaking engagements by such experts, etc. These districts should also be a special focus for grassroots organizing.
Facts and analysis on the key contested issues in Washington should be poured into these districts. But most important would be how the supposedly conservative local congressional representative is voting in Washington, what bills he or she is sponsoring, what he or she is saying in Washington and elsewhere out of the district.
Any conservative organization can take the lead in identifying the local media contacts in these districts, and then making that network available to other conservative organizations. In fact, any think tank or other conservative organization can set up its own op-ed columnist syndicate to compete with the Copley News Service, Knight-Ridder, and other columnist distributors. Ideally, the organization would develop relationships with op-ed page editors across the country, including at the local papers in the key congressional districts, as well as at major newspapers nationwide. A well-known, big name conservative affiliated with the organization could tour these newspapers to help establish and solidify such contacts.
The Tax Opportunity
The central promise of the Obama campaign was to cut taxes for the bottom 95% of income earners. Obama stated in one of the debates that if you were in the bottom 95%, "your taxes will go down, not up." Conservatives must now enforce that campaign promise.
The minute Obama or anyone else in Congress proposes to raise taxes on anyone in the bottom 95%, conservatives must explode, calling on Obama's own campaign promise in opposition. This is key to stopping massive expansions of big government, because the government is not going to get much additional revenue trying to tax the top 5% even more. It is also the key for a conservative comeback.
Undoubtedly, some on the left will argue that everyone breaks their campaign promises. Conservatives would be foolish to let them get away with this. Such an argument would effectively take our democracy away from us, for how can we tell who to vote for except through what the candidates say and promise during their campaigns? How can we vote for the policies we want if candidates can just dismiss what they said once elected? George Bush Sr. was voted out of office because he broke his pledge not to raise taxes. Conservatives must now try to do the same to Obama, and the liberal-left congressional majorities.
And we do not need to be shy about what constitutes a tax increase. An individual mandate requiring workers to buy health insurance, which Obama explicitly opposed during the election, is a tax increase on the bottom 95%. So is a carbon tax or cap and trade global warming regulation that would directly raise the price of energy and its use, including electricity, gas, and maybe cars. In fact, global warming regulation is another factor that will be powerful in bringing down the Obama Administration and the liberal-left majorities, with its high costs and disastrous economic effects. Conservatives need to be alert to pounce on this as well.
What we need to avoid on taxes, and other issues across the board, is the strategy of the smart surrender, giving in to policies we oppose in order to make them less bad. Too many conservatives are arguing now for adoption of a carbon tax to fight global warming, and to shift our economy from oil, gas and coal use, with the new tax revenues to be offset by tax cuts elsewhere. This ultraliberal Congress is not going to offset any new tax with other tax cuts. Wave a dollar in front of the noses of this band of pirates and thieves, and they will immediately spend two. We need to fight and win, not lose by falling for less bad defeats. Indeed, the more brilliant we are in achieving these less bad defeats, the longer the liberals will dominate in office.
Global warming and the carbon tax are perfect examples of the biggest problem with the strategy of the smart surrender. The intellectual and political tides are already turning against the big lie of global warming. Even the lefty European public is showing now that it is not willing to bear any significant cost for this fairy tale. That will be so much more true for the American public, even more so with the weak economy. But if we spend our resources focusing on smart surrenders on this issue, we will get the surrender just when victory is at hand.
The biggest threat conservatives face from the now ruling liberal left is a new, massive, overwhelming entitlement in the form of national health insurance. Once such a giveaway is adopted, it will be very difficult to reverse, more so than the rest of the Obama liberal-left agenda. This will mean not only massively higher taxes and spending. It will mean also the destruction of our health care system, as investment in both human and physical capital, meaning the best in doctors and surgeons, as well as new high tech medicine, medical equipment, and drug therapies, is driven away by big government control squeezing out profits and opportunities for economic gain in health care.
Conservatives must focus all their energies on this battle, which is the one we are now most likely to lose. The key vulnerabilities include taxes, given that a real, new health care entitlement will require a massive increase in taxes on working people, violating Obama's campaign promises. The other big vulnerability is precisely the disastrous effect of such a system on health care quality. The loss ultimately of all consumer freedom and control over health care to the government and its rationing schemes was a powerful argument as well in stopping Hillary's health-care takeover.
The Positive Agenda
Of course, conservatives will need a positive agenda as well, besides just opposing what Obama and the left want to do. But we don't need a lot of new ideas here. Our substantive agenda is intellectually well developed and sound. And a lot of the supposed new ideas for conservatives we are hearing about these days are not good.
The fundamental theme for conservatives is freedom and prosperity, including the freedom for those who believe in traditional religious and moral values to live their lives in accordance with those values. For long-term political success, the emphasis needs to be on economic growth, because that is what moves conservative political support from the mid-40s toward 60%, enough for a governing majority.
The agenda includes tax cuts consistent with these themes. We should counter the Obama tax plan based on redistributive tax credits with a middle class tax cut based on reducing tax rates, which is what creates real incentives for economic growth. The middle class 25% federal income tax rate should be reduced to 15%, which would leave 90% of workers with a 15% flat tax (some with an even lower rate).
The outdated and uncompetitive federal corporate rate of 35% should be reduced at least to 25%, if not the 19% recently adopted by Germany and Canada, or the highly successful 12.5% rate adopted by Ireland. The top individual income tax rate should be reduced to 25% as well. Capital gains tax rates should be half these individual rates, if not reduced all the way to zero, as capital gains involves double taxation.
Even better would be an innovative flat tax reform designed for maximum political appeal, not revenue neutral but a net tax cut. The long-term agenda also includes eventually phasing out the payroll tax with the benefits now financed instead through personal investment and insurance accounts.
We already have developed alternatives that will provide the safety net for health care the public demands, without a government takeover of the entire system. An intellectual and political backlash is just beginning to sprout against the costly global warming fairy tale, and conservatives should ride that tidal wave, rather than cave in to the fallacy now. Conservatives should also aggressively promote production of all forms of energy, including drilling for oil and natural gas, and extensive building of new nuclear power plants, to provide low cost, reliable energy supplies. This will promote economic growth, and benefit consumers with lower prices. On the union power grab through national card check legislation, conservatives should ride the backlash as well by promoting the positive ideal of all workers being free to choose individually whether they want to join a union or not (national right to work). I believe union overreaching now will make this appealing and just ideal politically popular.
Fighting with passion and insight, we can knock the Left from their perch in two years, and return to power in four.