04 Aug 2006

Conservatism Finished?

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A college classmate this morning sent me a link to Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne‘s somewhat premature attempt at dancing on American Conservatism’s grave.

Dionne is not entirely wrong, of course. He notes correctly that George W. Bush never was a real conservative in the Goldwater, Reagan, or Gingrich sense. But, personally, I wouldn’t waste my time constructing elaborate theories about Hamiltonian “big-government conservatism,” or using “government as a means to achieve conservative ends.” It’s really much simpler than that. George W. Bush is simply an old-fashioned garden variety practical politician (what we used to call an Eisenhower Republican), bringing to his Presidency his family’s traditional flexibility in governing, flavored with just enough red-state populism and Republican impulses to secure the GOP base’s support.

The American left has remained mobilized and afflicted with a paranoid sense of wrong ever since their favorite son’s sexual scandals metastasized into perjury and impeachment. Disappointment with the outcome of the 2000 election and US military actions following 9/11 have continued to keep the left as angry and active as a nest of red ants thoroughly poked with a stick. The larger part of George W. Bush’s perceived conservatism really amounts to mere reciprocated animosity.

Dionne is not inaccurate in describing this Congress.

The most obvious, outrageous and unprincipled spasm occurred last night when the Senate voted on a bill that would have simultaneously raised the minimum wage and slashed taxes on inherited wealth.

Rarely has our system produced a more naked exercise in opportunism than this measure. Most conservatives oppose the minimum wage on principle as a form of government meddling in the marketplace. But moderate Republicans in jeopardy this fall desperately wanted an increase in the minimum wage.

The Republican Senatorial majority unfortunately includes a number of liberal Republican-in-name-only senators, and has been effectively paralysed by joys-of-incumbency induced timidity and the democrats’ willingness to abuse the filibuster.

Dionne contends that the repeal of the death tax failed “because there is nothing close to a conservative majority in the United States.” Rubbish! There certainly is a majority in this country in favor of not taxing away a family’s assets simply because someone has died.

Poll after poll proves it.

a 1999 poll by Worthlin Worldwide found 70 percent of voters favoring a phase-out of the estate tax. — A 2000 poll by the Pew Research Center found 71 percent of voters supporting elimination of the inheritance tax. — A 2001 CBS News/New York Times poll also found 71 percent of people opposing imposition of an estate tax at death.

Dionne would like to believe that libertarian versus traditionalist divisions are in the process of splitting the right on issues like immigration and stem cell research. Sorry, Mr. Dionne. It’s true that I disagree strongly with Michelle Malkin and Victor Davis Hanson about immigration, but our differences do not materially diminish my admiration and respect for those two traditionalists, nor are they likely to persuade Michelle, Victor, or myself to start voting for democrats. I don’t have a problem with stem cell research myself (being irreligious), but I believe President Bush was quite right to veto spending the tax dollars of religious people funding things they find morally repugnant. Let’s just finance this kind of research privately. There’s no shortage of rich atheists or leftists.

Dionne is off-base looking for a conservative split over religious issues these days. I’ve had plenty of differences within the Conservative Movement with religious traditionalists in days gone by, but there is no particular Religious Right agenda we libertarians have a major problem with today. I do have problems with organs of the left, like the ACLU, waging intolerant campaigns to eradicate any form of private religious expression in the public space, eliminating religious symbols, or persecuting the Boy Scouts for political incorrectness. In short, I expect most of us making up what Dionne calls the “big-business right and culturally optimistic conservatives” are likely to continue to vote with the ordinary hometown Americans rather than with the coastal community of fashion indefinitely on into the misty future.

He’s right in saying this Congress is a disaster, and many of its members deserve to be defeated. I’ve said the same thing repeatedly myself. But what will lose in November will not be conservative principles, but the exact opposite. The losers will be the unprincipled, the compromisers and trimmers, and the opportunists.

The Conservative Movement, Mr. Dionne, has experienced setbacks and electoral defeats before. Those of us who lived through the Goldwater campaign of 1964 are not especially perturbed by the prospect of this coming November. We will be back.

Hat tip to Steve Wagenseil.


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