Whither Conservatism? The Road Back To Power

I’ve been meaning to publish this one for some time, but since it’s only recently that The Hayride has come into existence I’ve decided to dust it off, update it and fire it out into the ether….

First, on Election Day 2008, the Republican Party was soundly defeated.

Conservatism was not.

Before we go too far down the road of recriminations and the rending of clothing, it’s required that we recognize that fact and keep it close to us.

The fact is that John McCain is not and has never been a conservative. He did an extremely poor job of articulating conservative principles because he doesn’t understand them.

McCain’s “me-too” platitudes on how he’s fought Big Oil and the drug companies and how “Greed on Wall Street” caused the financial collapse were entirely wrongheaded and probably did more to destroy his electoral chances than anything else. He didn’t deserve the votes of true conservatives, and he didn’t get them – while 89 percent of Republicans voted for McCain, I would venture to say that the vast majority of those votes were either for Palin or against Obama. And yet McCain was the GOP nominee. Why? Because the party has lost its bearings and has yet to figure whether it wants to keep them or not.

McCain was nominated in part out of panic from party leaders that a real conservative would have difficulty winning in a Democratic year (I will concede that the failure of the conservative movement to coalesce around a better candidate so as to beat McCain in the primaries had as much or more to do with his nomination, but it was Beltway conventional wisdom that an unprincipled centrist was the only chance the party had of winning in 2008). This was a failure to heed an important lesson which the Republican Party seems to have tremendous difficulty in retaining – Republicans will never be able to outpromise Democrats, and Republicans will never be able to produce the intended effect of big-government programs, namely, the buying of votes in bloc from special interest groups.

Whether it’s unions, minorities or whatever, the conservative philosophy which is supposed to govern Republicans will never be as effective in bribing constituencies as well as the unbridled socialism of Democrats. Republicans must win on principle. And the people in charge of the party rarely seem to understand this fact – or if they do, they lack the courage to act on it.

Fortunately, the disaster of 4 November has discredited the GOP muckety-mucks and they can be rightly swept to the sidelines in favor of new leadership. This is, at the end of the day, a blessing amidst a curse. But Michael Steele as the party’s new head muckety-muck doesn’t inspire confidence – and Mitch McConnell and John Boehner as the GOP congressional leaders, while certainly understanding conservative principles, lack the dynamism and articulation to bring the conservative message home in the way it needs to be carried.

Principled conservatism is still a winner. By a margin of 34-22, more Americans polled on Election Day say they identify themselves as conservatives than liberals. And though McCain and the GOP was soundly beaten, there were positive signs. In California, of all places, gay marriage and “green energy” were crushed in referenda. This is an indication that a conservative message, properly and passionately articulated, can win elections.

Second, conservatism must flex its muscles again.

The last nationally-prominent conservative leader in America was Newt Gingrich – and thus it’s little surprise that he’s still the most articulate and savvy framer of a conservative agenda active in the movement today. Gingrich showed the way to enacting the will of the American people in Washington by seizing upon common-sense majoritarian solutions on issues where the American people were waiting for leadership. His personal demons and the fact he rubbed against the most successful political hit squad in American history in the Clinton White House made him an unviable candidate to carry forth further reform, and that is a shame.

Since Gingrich, however, in this decade Republicans have been subjected to a pantheon of milquetoasts. George W. Bush, the “compassionate conservative,” squandered an opportunity to reclaim Washington for the American productive class. His administration was marked by incompetence and inexplicable silence in the face of his critics. Worse, Bush wrongly claimed the conservative mantle as he blew the federal budget sky-high on new entitlements for senior citizens, failed to deliver on Social Security reform, vomited forth pork at a rate never before seen and preserved a tax code which punishes achievement and drives capital from our shores. When Bush’s administration failed, conservatism was wrongly blamed – and there was no one to refute the accusation.

Similarly, mediocrities in congressional leadership like Denny Hastert, Bill Frist, Trent Lott and Roy Blount frittered away a Republican majority by failing to toe the line on ethics in government, fiscal discipline and basic competence in executing an agenda to benefit American interests. We Republicans can howl at Democrats for their opposition to domestic oil drilling, for example, but for six years the GOP held the presidency and both houses of Congress with no results.

After 9/11 it should have been a policy priority to promote as much domestic energy production as possible. It should have been done on the basis of national security. The Republicans timidly ignored that necessity until a runup of oil prices which quite possibly could have come from foreign sources with political gain in mind made it a top issue. By then it was too late – the leadership capable of preventing some $500 billion per year in lost wealth was gone.

Now that the Republican Party has been drummed out of power, there is no need for a broad coalition or a big tent, at least not until later. What is needed is a return to basic principles, and an application of those principles to modern-day issues. This has not been done for a solid 12 years in the GOP, and it must be done now. It is time to purify the party and stand behind a host of principled, articulate conservative leaders in the House and Senate and at the state level who can block socialist measures offered up by the Obama administration and the Reid/Pelosi leadership cabal when possible, or at least lessen their impact when not. All the while, however, unlike the Left of the last eight years it is incumbent upon the new GOP leadership to not just say “No” out of spite or cheap politics, and definitely not to concoct low-rent conspiracy theories or scurrillous lies. When opposition is tendered, it must be vigorously articulated on principled grounds. It is not enough to block socialized medicine, for example; alternative solutions must be put forth as well.

One thing is clear – when Democrats are given unbridled leadership, they work diligently to advance a leftist agenda. Fortunately, such an agenda when put into practice does not produce popular results. Socialist economics leads to stagnation of the marketplace, government bureaucracies deliver service of scandalously poor quality and liberty must be restricted to fulfill a left-wing agenda. None of these effects engender support or optimism within the general populace and particularly not among the productive classes in this country who are the true decision-makers on Election Day. As such, with a President Obama we are seeing higher taxes in the midst of economic decline, runaway deficits and government spending to produce deadhead public-sector jobs for unproductive slouches with a sense of entitlement (many of whom will be in a position to deal with, and antagonize, the public) and frightening assaults on personal freedom like the so-called Fairness Doctrine or the “card-check” rule on unionization.

This will proceed amid a climate of American decline in power and prestige on the world stage as our troops recede in Iraq and struggle vainly in Afghanistan while Russia moves on Ukraine and the Baltic Republics, Iran quite likely becomes involved in an all-out war with Israel, the Indian sub-continent erupts in warfare, North Korea ratchets up its provocations with South Korea, China threatens Taiwan, Islamic militants terrorize and bully weak European resolve in their own countries and Latin America devolves into authoritarian socialism as decidedly free-market governments in Colombia and Mexico fall apart.

In short, the Democrats have the power to do what they do best – create malaise and decline. This they will surely do. It will be very bad for the country, but it will also provide conservatives with an opportunity to dust themselves off and return to the forefront.

In 2010, the GOP will have a perfect opportunity to stage a raid on Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic-controlled House. Pelosi is deeply unpopular and she will become far more so in the next 24 months; while Bush was able to protect the American people from her worst excesses Obama will choose not to do so and we will see a full-fledged dive into lunacy from her Speakership. Show trials of Bush administration officials disguised as hearings, lunatic bills on energy, taxation, economic regulation and promotion of Brave New World-style cultural pathology in the guise of liberty will be the order of the day. It is inevitable that Obama and Pelosi will greatly raise taxes on capital in the midst of either a recession or depression, and when the economic effects of such a stupid plan begin to be felt it will be right around the time that the mid-term elections will be heating up.

This is a perfect time for a tax revolt – Wednesday’s Tea Parties, which drew better than a million attendees across the country despite the lies told about them in the left-wing media, were the first pieces of concrete evidence of how deep the anti-tax movement has the potential to be – and principled conservative Republicans have long been adept at delivering in just such a circumstance WHEN THEY ARE AVAILABLE TO LEAD.

So the opportunity is there. It’s crucial that a leadership cadre be in place to capitalize on it. And when the opportunity comes, several themes must come to the forefront:

1. Populism, Joe The Plumber-style: It was a singular example of weakness and failure in the McCain campaign that Joe The Plumber had to be his main final thrust. The fact is, McCain’s campaign should have been riding on millions of Joe The Plumbers from the start. A different Joe The Plumber should have appeared on the stump with McCain at every speech he gave as a testament to who it is that actually makes this country work, and how leftist policies restrict, villify and demoralize such people. I have several theories on why Joe The Plumber only came along when McCain was fading away, not the least of which is the Beltway elitists who so populate the leadership of the GOP wouldn’t know Joe The Plumber if he married their daughters.

But the fact is that those elitists – in Washington, Hollywood, Manhattan and on college campuses across America – have failed this country. They have divorced themselves from the traditional values of our productive classes – hard work, fair play, courage, moderation, honesty, faith – and in fact work to undermine those values. The American people know this, and Bush was able to win election twice by tapping into it in a wholly inarticulate and ultimately counterproductive way. The rise of the Religious Right as a political force in this country was demonized by our media elites not because of their faith but because they represented a challenge to the institutional dominance of the latte classes.

The GOP’s mission is to channel both the Religious Right and the rest of traditional America – including the Joe The Plumbers who are more interested in the NFL than the sermon on Sunday – into a populist backlash against those elites, but to do so in a way that is inclusive and not easily portrayed as mean-spirited by NBC and the New York Times. There are different solutions to combat each of the elite classes, and a broad-based campaign of conservative activism should be engaged to create a groundswell of concerned citizens tired of left-wing radicals educating their children, Hollywood mouthpieces spewing anti-Americanism on and off the silver screen, Beltway socialists restricting their freedom and entitlement hustlers swindling their hard-earned cash.

Create the movement first, then capitalize on it on Election Day. As luck sometimes benefits the underserving, the Tea Party movement is already there for the Republican Party to take advantage of, though that movement will not embrace the GOP until it proves itself worthy of its support.

Time is short. And incidentally, conservatives need to go to school on Saul Alinsky and ACORN, and see how much of the communist revolutionary playbook can be applied to activism on behalf of the free market and individual liberty.

The most important term the GOP must rediscover is “rugged individualism.” Joe The Plumber didn’t ask Obama for a handout, and he didn’t assault The One based on “what are you going to do for me?” Joe The Plumber isn’t even concerned with how the government treats him as he is. His question to Obama was “when I fulfill my ambitions due to my own efforts, why am I going to get punished?” The response he received was pure collectivism, and it created a sensation. Why? Joe The Plumber wants to do for himself and he wants the government out of his way. This is a bare-bones example of traditional American character at work, and the Republican Party almost missed it completely. The GOP must not lose the opportunity Joe The Plumber has presented to redefine itself.

Changing the subject (traditional character and behavior rather than Christian fundamentalism as a driving ethic) while maintaining the coalition is not easy work. But the elements still exist in this country to create a majority in favor of small-government conservatism. Everyone knows that the private sector delivers results while the public sector delivers failure, and everyone knows the difference between the doers who run the private sector and the talkers who run the public sector. Our elites are talkers, not doers, in this day and age. Doers are much more interesting, inspiring and sympathetic. Become a party of doers and you have a majority and a mandate.

2. Policies Built On American National Interest: Is there a bloc of countries in the world more hated than the Arab oil sheikhs? Can you get more unpopular in this country than the United Nations is? Is it not disgusting that regimes which are inimical to American interests spend millions of dollars lobbying our government while former State Department luminaries cash in working on their behalf?

One of the untold stories in Washington which must be aired in the coming cycle is that all too many of our trusted public officials turn mercenary after their time in office, and many of them take money from the Saudis and other undeclared enemies of our nation to perform lobby work. This is shamefully true of many Republicans as well as Democrats, but it is absolutely necessary for such a practice to fall from favor – for America simply cannot afford to be put in a position to have policies dictated to it against its interests because overseas monied tyrants have more influence than our own citizens do.

Admit the sin, repudiate it and insist the other party do the same, and you have created a winning political issue that will resonate with Americans of every demographic group. Double down by questioning whether a continued involvement in the United Nations is a good idea as Obama raids the U.S. Treasury to engage in multilateral escapades not in our national interest, and you can complete the picture. Further, national policy on vital issues such as energy, budget and immigration must be couched in terms of what is good for American interests above ideology and fantasy.

Domestic oil drilling is not and never has been an environmental issue, though it has been fraudulently portrayed as such. Oil will be explored and produced everywhere in the world it can be, and if America isn’t interested in national suicide that must include us. In fact, American oil companies will drill more successfully and with less environmental impact than any other companies – our producers are the best in the world and should be celebrated for their expertise. Instead, Democrats routinely demonize them as environmental rapists and capricious capitalist pigs.

This is a lie which must be destroyed – oil exploration is in the vital national interest, oil companies pull down a smaller profit margin than do most other industries in the private sector and oil is taxed at a higher rate than any other commodity other than perhaps tobacco. Without American oil companies this country would be held at the throat (in a fashion far more drastic than is currently the case) by some quite unpleasant people – and our standard of living would be far less than it is today. Furthermore, American oil companies are owned by American stockholders, which means that if you go after them you are damaging the retirement portfolio of millions of Americans.

This counterproductivity must stop.

And what goes for oil companies must also go for producers of coal and nuclear energy. When regular brownouts – and worse – ensue as a result of Obama’s foolish cap-and-trade schemes (which McCain even more foolishly endorsed during the campaign and deservedly received no additional support for), the American people will be most interested in a different narrative than the fantasyland global-warming hoaxterism of An Inconvenient Truth and The Day After Tomorrow. The GOP must be unafraid and well-prepared to supply that narrative in the national interest.

Republicans must absolutely insist on a balanced budget – an issue, admittedly, on which they currently have no credibility at present. Again, admit the sin, repudiate it and insist the other party do the same. A raft of budgetary proposals must be put in place which bridge the gap between Republicans’ lack of credibility and the newfound religion – I would argue for constitutional amendments as a vehicle to do so. Introduce a constitutional amendment in favor of a line-item veto for the president. Now that the Democrats have control of the White House, why would they argue against such a measure?

Push an amendment requiring a balanced budget – it won’t pass in the current environment, but with a trillion-dollar 2009 budget deficit almost a certainty the American people are going to be up in arms and a winning issue should arise. Focus on spending, and oppose new taxes on the basis that given a slowing economy new taxes will not raise revenue. Starve the beast. And in so doing, point out that borrowing money from China is no longer tenable – which is increasingly apparent now that the Chinese have cut their purchases of Treasury debentures drastically in recent weeks – either in the American interest or even as a practical matter.

Fiscal discipline must be considered as a matter of patriotism – if Joe Biden can get away with calling the payment of confiscatory taxes patriotic, certainly the GOP can call for limitations on federal swag patriotic.

As to immigration, you can’t get anywhere with the American people with a nativist, racist or demographic argument against immigration – illegal or otherwise. Too many Republicans have made this mistake. But in a climate where unemployment is likely to top 10 percent in the next year for the first time in a generation, it will no longer suffice as a counterargument that illegals do the jobs Americans won’t do. Choking off illegal immigration now, though it certainly won’t happen in an Obama administration, is an absolute necessity before Mexico turns Bolivarist in the next election and political and economic refugees begin streaming across our borders in numbers never before seen. The same could happen in Colombia and is likely to happen in far larger numbers as Cuba and Venezuela continue to fall apart.

While it’s likely that many of the new immigrants will be much more receptive to Republican ideals, being middle or upper-class refugees from socialism, getting a handle on illegal immigration will become a far larger necessity on both national security as well as economic and budgetary grounds. At the same time, we should push to increase the numbers of legal immigrants recruited to our shores, particularly in the case of immigrants possessing marketable skills or high net worth. America simply cannot afford to provide public services to any more unproductive citizens or residents, a fact which will become obvious in the near future as Obama attempts to spread socialist utopia from shore to shore.

3. Viva La Tax Revolucion! I’ve said above that a tax revolt is coming. When it comes, the GOP has to be on top of it – but don’t limit yourself with mild proposals to roll back Obama’s tax increases. Go for something bold and new entirely. Insist on halving the corporate tax rate. Do away with – not suspend or lower rates on – the death tax, dividend tax and capital gains tax. Allow people to opt out of Social Security by enrolling in a savings plan with half of their FICA taxes. Keep the discussion of a flat tax, which 25 countries around the world, currently have in place (and most of them will outperform the American economy in the next two years), and the Fair Tax. Above all, keep it simple and be aggressive. Insist on driving the discussion in the direction that the federal government is getting diminishing returns on its current tax policy and tax increases will lower revenues due to economic damage.

Insist also that the purpose of taxation is to fund the government and fund the government ONLY, not to redistribute wealth or perform social engineering. The vast majority of the American people believe it is more important to create new wealth than redistribute existing wealth – make that a central economic argument and hammer it home.

And on Social Security, point out the abysmal 0.9 percent historical rate of return on Social Security taxes as applied to benefits. Approach senior citizens with the TRUTH – which is that they have been screwed by the system. Even with the recent stock market collapse, a 65-year old retiree who had invested what he paid into the Social Security system into the market would have an exponentially higher return than he’ll get off Social Security now. Talk about how if you’d eliminated the tax on capital gains and dividends the accumulation of those returns over time would have fueled the growth of a retirement package would have been accelerated even more. Ask where the dividends are in the current Social Security package.

Show the numbers. And ask those seniors if they want to inflict the same results on their children and their grandchildren. Stop talking about how the system is broken – that is the wrong approach and it plays into the Democrats’ preferred tactic of going to seniors and scaring them into thinking evil Republicans are coming for their checks. Talk about how the system generates a lousy rate of return and how we in this country have to do something about increasing savings and getting out of debt – and how generating a better return on our money is crucial across the board. All of these things fit together, and they will all appeal to productive individuals.

These are the elements of a conservative resurgence. But it is time for conservatives to get motivated, get excited and get to work. For a decade we have stood on the sidelines and watched as “moderate Republicans” have destroyed the gains made by Reagan and Gingrich, and now it’s our time to get back in the game.

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