Liberal Californian Conor Friedersdorf takes the occasion of Barack Obama’s totally unexpected reelection to throw a spitball of a column at conservatives, wondering aloud: What Has Movement Conservatism Accomplished in the Last 15 Years?
Perhaps we’ll see future triumphs from the conservative movement despite its present troubles. But have we seen any evidence of success since 1997 or so? George W. Bush created a new bureaucracy, expanded the federal role in education, approved a massive new entitlement, exploded the deficit, abandoned any pretense of a “humble foreign policy” that eschewed nation building, and left office having approved a massive government bailout of the financial sector. Then President Obama took office, presided over more bailouts and growing deficits, passed a health care reform bill that conservatives hate, and got reelected. Over this same period, the country has gotten more socially liberal. Gays can serve openly in the military and marry.
A majority now supports legalizing marijuana.
Circa 1997, if you’d told the average conservative that all those things would happen in the next 15 years, would they have declared the conservative movement finished? I suspect as much.
In the first place, noting George W. Bush’s sometimes failure to govern as a conservative (more government agencies, another entitlement, bailouts) is a fundamentally dishonest argument.
The Conservative Movement has never pretended to enjoy a national majority, nor does it claim to possess unchallenged dominion over the Republican Party. In the election of 2000, as in the elections of 2008 and 2012, the Conservative Movement contended against, and wound up compromising with, the professional politicians and Republican pragmatists. That is how American politics operates. The Conservative Movement had a lot of influence and, by an interesting kind of non-coincidence, was in every presidential election from 2000 to 2012 conceded the second place on the ticket, but it did not name the nominee.
Electing George W. Bush was certainly no unalloyed triumph for Conservatism. George W. Bush ran on a commitment to compromise with liberals and democrats and promised to govern as a “compassionate” (i.e. moderate Welfare State) Republican. There was never any reason to believe that George W. Bush was a sophisticated opponent of statism.
The Bush Presidency was radically transformed in the directions of domestic statism and foreign military operations by 9/11, which event, by any fair reading, must be looked upon as a legacy of Clintonian left-wing policy passivity.
Conservatives like myself are far from uncritical of Bush’s Wilsonianism. Some of us actively deplore the creation of the Department of Heimat Sekuritat and would abolish it and the TSA in a New York minute if we could work our will. We nonetheless wound up forced to defend George W. Bush, his Administration, and his foreign policy from essentially treasonous, dishonest, and opportunistic attack by the democrat party left. One wound up feeling like a Union conscript in the Civil War obliged to defend the leadership of General George McClellan.
We, in the Conservative Movement, can at least congratulate ourselves that our movement was able to elect George W. Bush, who was, however wrong and limited, nonetheless an honest and a decent man, over the despicable charlatan and junk science demigod Albert Gore and that we were able to spare the United States the dishonor of seeing the Vietnam War traitor John Kerry promoted to commander-in-chief.
8 years of George W. Bush, alas! failed, due to determined democrat resistance, to reform the American welfare state and put Social Security on a sound and reliable footing. Bush also failed to fully foresee and avert the real estate crisis, whose roots lay as far back as the New Deal. He did try to reform Fannie Mae, but Barney Frank and Chris Dodd successfully stood, like Horatius at the Bridge, in the way.
Bush, at least, did overthrow one of the principal outlaw regimes and sponsors of international terrorism, and he successfully averted al Qaida’s intended Second Wave attack. He built up the US military, put terrorism on the run, and delivered to Barry Soetero an ongoing intelligence operation and information obtained from captured illegal combatants which made possible his administration’s greatest triumph, the killing of Osama bin Laden.
In the same period, Conservatism’s intellectual domination of legal debates continued, and we won a decisive landmark Supreme Court decision affirming the Second Amendment and essentially recalling a cornerstone provision of the Bill of Rights from exile. We also won another crucial Supreme Court decision reversing liberal efforts to control political campaign speech. Not bad.
Mr. Fiedersdorf is a very young man lacking adequate experience of life to enable him to take the long view.
It’s easy to derogate the influence and achievements of the Conservative Movement a little over a week after it experienced a disastrous defeat. One can imagine the Friedersdorf column assessing US Naval Strength published on December 16, 1941.
It is sad, and not yet even entirely understandable yet why, that we lost this one, but frankly, Conor, old boy, I think you have a lot more to fear from the political future than we do. You put the radical Obama back into power, while the economy continues to sink, Obamacare increasingly comes into actual force and applies its terrible negative effects, and the federal budget approaches a fiscal cliff created deliberately by your party. You bozos own the disastrous US economy, and the chances that your demented ideology, your corrupt politics, and your basic bovine stupidity will do it still greater harm asymptotically approach 100%.
You are, I will grant you freely, the professionals at political manipulation, voter turnout, agitprop, and spin. You got all the weak-minded females in suburbia across the country in a tizzy over their supposed rights and they voted for Caliban out of fear that Romney would somehow personally confiscate their contraceptives and slap around their hairdressers.
What you overlook are the key considerations that your economics are fallacious, your policies are inevitably disastrous, your president is a narcissistic incompetent, and you are still, in the long-run, losing the war of ideas. Let me offer you a reciprocal challenge. Write this same column again nine days after the election of 2016, and let’s see how it reads then.