Re: Conservatism R.I.P. - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Re: Conservatism R.I.P.

Good points, Phil. The way Packer allows Brooks, unrebutted, to slam limited-government conservatism as both un-American and unpopular tells us more about what’s wrong with conservatism than Packer intends.

This recent descent of the GOP Establishment into confusion goes directly back to Brooks and his “National Greatness” idea, which amounts to a white flag on the limited-government philosophy advanced by conservatives in the Reagan and Gingrich eras. Brooks’ argument has never been examined in terms of its provenance in the aftermath of Clinton’s 1996 re-election.

If you will recall the 1996 primary field, Republicans rejected two limited-government candidates — Phil Gramm and Steve Forbes — in favor of that fossilized specimen of Nixonian pragmatism, Bob “It’s My Turn” Dole. Remember that Dole had been Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976, when the GOP rejected Reagan’s conservative insurgency.

Dole was never a conservative, and had undermined Gingrich and the House Republicans during the 1995-96 budget battles. Dole never managed to ignite any excitement in the ’96 presidential campaign, which was effectively over by Labor Day, and ended up with just 41 percent of the vote. And from this lackluster performance, those moderate Republicans who had supported Dole derived an odd lesson. Clinton’s re-election, they said, proved that limited-government conservatism was unpopular and untenable as a political platform.

Huh? How does the defeat of a moderate Republican prove conservatism untenable? And what about the fact that nearly all those radical mean-spirited right-wing House Republicans were re-elected? The fact that the GOP was able to maintain its congressional majorities in ’96 didn’t dent the consciousness of the Dole people, who blamed Gingrich and the right-wingers for their man’s defeat.

The “National Greatness” idea put forward in the wake of the Dole debacle (Brooks’ version of this argument appeared in the Weekly Standard in March 1997) was an attempt to lend a patina of intellectual credibility to the Republican retreat from conservatism. All that has transpired since — including the GOP’s 2006 defeat and John McCain’s nomination this year — is mere denouement of the Republican establishment’s jettisoning of old-fashioned limited-government philosophy after ’96.

Robert Stacy McCain
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