Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Advancing Conservatism: Is It Possible?

Imagine, for the moment, the following scenario. It’s 2012. Bobby Jindal has just been elected with 61% of the vote. The Republicans have taken a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, and have a forty seat advantage in the House. Also, assume that all these Republican Congressmen are staunch conservatives—there aren’t any “RINOs” here. (This isn’t a very likely scenario). So Republicans have both a near total control of the government and a national mandate.

What would they do? How would they change the country? I don’t know what they’d do to advance a really conservative agenda. And worse, I can’t even begin to imagine what they could do to advance that agenda. Reform Social Security? Roll back the welfare state? Reduce the ease of abortion? Is there anyone, even the most optimistic conservative, who actually thinks that it would be possible for the Republican party to make a meaningful difference on any of those issues?

If so, they are very wrong, because the GOP has tried to do all of those things in the recent past. In 1996, congressional Republicans—with a great deal of controversy and trouble—managed to pass the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. It was hailed as a great victory for Republicans.

And what did this bill change? Most importantly, it decreed that welfare wasn’t an entitlement program. And it put limits on the amount of federal aid individuals could receive. (No federal aid for more than two consecutive or five total years). And it tried to discourage out-of-wedlock births.

All good things, to be sure. But hardly enough to start rolling back the New Deal or Great Society. This bill didn’t slow down the advance of government in the least—it merely made government welfare smarter and more effective. And while that is good, that sort of thing won’t create a classically conservative nation.

Reform Social Security? George W. Bush pushed for a plan that would give Americans more flexibility regarding Social Security. The plan would have let workers open investment accounts, which would serve as a substitute for Social Security payments. Not drastic stuff (certainly nowhere near ending the program). But voters were horrified, and the notion was quickly dropped.

Ending abortion? Bush appointed constructionist Supreme Court justices, and has appointed mostly conservative judges to the lower courts as well. And Republicans have done what they could to reduce abortion for years—repealing the Mexico City policy and passing parental notification laws. Yet the status of abortion in the United States is nearly identical to what it was forty years ago. The abortion rate is similar, and it is every bit as easy to get an abortion (easier, really) now than it was then.

All three of these efforts weren’t (in the big picture) very effective. But they represented the best the Republican party could do. Why couldn’t the GOP do more to push back liberalism? Quite simply, because liberal (or statist) policies have become so ingrained the U.S. (and all Western democracies) that they now represent the status quo; the default setting for political debate. It would be literally impossible to push them back—about as difficult as it would be to abolish Congress.

But if Social Security, Medicare, and the rest of Big Government aren’t going away, what are conservatives to do? Most conservative thought assumes a universe where, if conservatives work hard and make progress, it would be possible to create a truly conservative (low taxes, low welfare, low regulation) state.

If we assume (and I think it’s a safe assumption) that this isn’t possible, what are conservatives to do? The first option is to keep trying, which is a noble but quixotic policy doomed to failure. The second option is to accept big government as a fait accompli and try to make it work unintrusively and efficiently, which would spell the end of conservatism as we know it. Neither option is good—but conservatives have to choose either one or the other.

And a semantic point: it there a bigger misnomer in politics than “conservatism?” Whatever conservatives are trying to “conserve” passed away before the last World War, if indeed it ever existed, and it probably didn’t. Liberalism is the status quo, and leftists are the true conservatives.

11 Comments:

At February 26, 2009 at 6:53 AM , Blogger Napqueen said...

The Republicans have a big, big problem. Jindal's performance just plain sucked.
The GOP's future rests on a destroyed Bobby Jindahl and a dimbat Sarah Palin... Bobby Jindahl looked so bad the other night. The democrats won't have to lift a finger to win, he is destroying himself already. and he might not recover as the GOP desperately needs him to.
Is Jindal really the best the GOP has to offer? I know they want to shake their image of being the Party of grumpy old rich white men, but for crying out loud. They think they can throw anyone out there that's either a woman or has brown skin, and Americans won't notice that the person is either a nitwit (Palin and Steele) or totally off the right wing deep end (Palin, Steele, and Jindal). Jindal looked like a deer in the headlights and sounded like he was running for president of his high school class. It's truly astonishing that he represents one of the most poverty stricken poorly educated states in the union, yet wants to reject federal money. Wow, wouldn't we all just love the rest of the country to look like the state of Louisiana.

Jindal just don't stand a chance. The rising Republican star delivered his party's response to President Obama's address and simply didn't convince anybody. .
Good luck with that.

 
At February 26, 2009 at 8:59 AM , Anonymous steve_b said...

Napqueen-
I think you are being overly harsh. I agree he did not do well, but he is one of the most accomplished politicians in play right now. Many of the "response speeches" of the past were panned as well.

Daniel-
You sound like you're ready to give up. You made similar comments earlier this year. While I understand your points, I guess I just can't share the pessimism. Things change, the world shifts. We need to be ready when it does.

 
At February 26, 2009 at 12:07 PM , Blogger Beth said...

I'm with Steve on this, too many Americans have given their lives to give us the freedoms we have had, and I am not willing to have their sacrifices be in vain.

As long as conservatism resides in even one individual, it is not dead.

 
At February 26, 2009 at 2:21 PM , Blogger Mary Mary Quite Contrary said...

I was not too impressed by Bobby Jindal either...sorry to say.
At least Palin can deliver a speech.
If you closed your eyes you would have thought you are watching an episode Mr. Rodgers.
It came off as amateurish, and even the tempo in which he spoke was whissy washy.
Sorry.

 
At February 26, 2009 at 4:07 PM , Blogger Daniel Ruwe said...

Napqueen--Sadly, you're probably right about Jindal's speech. But that's as far as I agree with you.

Steve--Am I ready to give up? I wouldn't say that. But I do think that conservatism needs to take a long look at itself, and adapt to new realities.

Beth--I agree

Mary Mary--Jindal was bad, but let's remember it's just one speech.

 
At February 27, 2009 at 6:55 AM , Blogger Name: Soapboxgod said...

The talking heads jumped on Jindal for his grade school response. But to them and to you I ask this:

Would you rather have an eloquent speaker whose ideas you didn't agree with and were the complete and total antithesis of the great American experiment;

OR

Would you rather have a political leader who maybe wasn't the the greatest of speakers but whose political, ideological, and philosophical premises you agreed with?

Jindal is the latter.

Having the mental clarity and the intestinal fortitude to KNOW that the Federal Government's overreaching and extortionary tactics of tying both private sector business and now state hands with stimulus money is both UNCONSTITUTIONAL and as well it flies in the face of FEDERALISM.

What this administration and this congress is currently doing is immoral. And for all the talk by liberals such as NapQueen and the rest about Reagan's deficits and Bush's spending (spending which many of us conservatives even chided him over) don't hold a candle to the deficits we are now facing.

The United States Government is forging ahead to such a degree that it will very soon consume nearly 40+% of our GDP.

 
At February 27, 2009 at 10:03 AM , Blogger BB-Idaho said...

The Federalist Party gradually just faded away...

 
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