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Ramesh Ponnuru

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the November 29, 2004, issue of National Review.

In the flush of victory, conservatives may be tempted to think that November 2 was a pivotal election in our nation’s history. But they should remember that they do not yet hold a majority in either house of Congress — or in the country. What they are is a majority of a majority. They are an extremely large minority, and one that the public prefers, slightly but decisively, to their rivals. The election will have been pivotal only if conservatives use their newfound power to consolidate their position.

Consolidating their position means, above all, proving themselves to be responsible stewards of the public interest. President Bush will have to deliver on his promises to make the country safer and more prosperous. The public does not yet trust conservatives on health care or the environment: To build a lasting majority, they will have to address those doubts. They will also have to put more effort into recruiting black and Hispanic allies.

While governing intelligently, conservatives will also have to engage in politics of a more tough-minded kind. The trial lawyers and the unions depend on government activism and promote it. Tort reform and deregulation of the workplace, desirable in their own right as retreats of statism, would also weaken the liberal coalition and thus make further reforms possible. Even as boring an initiative as the Bush proposal for “competitive sourcing” — letting the private sector do more federal work — could prove very useful for conservatives in the campaign to weaken public-sector unions.

Changing the balance of power among interest groups is important. But the biggest opportunity conservatives now have is to change the electorate: to alter its composition so that its interests, beliefs, and political behavior become more conservative.

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