What does last Tuesday’s widespread Republican electoral losses mean for the conservative movement? National Review Online asked some experts.
Lee Edwards Conservatives should remind themselves that they do not live by politics alone. Conservatism is a way of life, of which electoral politics is only a part and not the whole. A movement that survived the unexpected death of Robert A. Taft in 1953, the Senate’s censure of Joseph R. McCarthy in 1954, the crushing defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964, the failure of Ronald Reagan to win the Republican presidential nomination in 1976, and the overnight fall from grace of Newt Gingrich in 1998 can survive the severe disappointments of 2006. Why? Because our movement is built on a solid foundation of enduring ideas, not the shifting sands of public opinion and the 24/7 demands of the mass media.
Even so, the 2008 elections are already here. Conservatives must pick a presidential candidate and coalesce behind him. They must write a conservative agenda — an updated “Contract with America” — and offer it to candidates running in 2008. And, most important of all, they must continue to support the far-flung institutions and organizations that make the conservative movement the envy of the Left and the hope of the nation.
– Lee Edwards is Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought at the Heritage Foundation.
Bruce Frohnen In his heart, every conservative knows “our” party deserved its shellacking because Republicans ignored regular people and pursued disastrous, liberal policies at home and abroad.
If conservatism is to be relevant again its adherents must give up their perks as Washington insiders, or stop listening to those who won’t. They must demand an end to corporate-welfare policies that hide behind claims of “privacy” and “free markets.” They must reject the claim that “big government is here to stay” and insist that Washington cede back to the states and localities the power to control their own lives — from what their towns look like, to what can be done in the local public square.
Conservatism’s roots do not lie in facile slogans about natural rights and free markets — let alone angry, dismissive rhetoric that casts aside the poor and treats rich people as above the law. They lie in our attachment to families, churches, towns, and small businesses. It’s time to remember who we are and who we should be defending.
Steven Hayward First, don’t panic. A single election result is not the proper measure of the health of conservatism. Despite the electoral carnage last Tuesday, we should recognize a measure of success it represents: just as Republicans had to embrace “compassionate conservatism” as a practical political response to the Clinton years, many Democratic candidates had to move right in response to Republican electoral strength over the last decade. This suggests, incidentally, that we should look to support Democrats like Joseph Lieberman, James Webb, and Heath Schuler when we can.
This leads to the second main point: Think past the next election. Concentrating on magic numbers of House and Senate seats needed to recapture a Republican majority in 2008 is a sure way to continue the flabby intellectual and political habits that contributed to this loss. We should instead think about how to repeat the patient and serious course by which we built the case for welfare reform over two decades in other areas of policy. There will be another throw at Social Security reform at some point, for example.
Third, think past Iraq and keep our eye on the central problem of Islamic fascism. We must not, as we did with Vietnam and anti-Communism during the Cold War, let the disappointment and potential failure of Iraq discredit the wider war against radical Islam. Liberals may have learned their lesson in some areas, like gun control, but are still mired in their own Vietnam-era thinking about our current conflict. This is both our greatest hazard and opportunity.
John J. Pitney Jr. Conservatives have done some of their best intellectual work during chilly political seasons. In the 1960s, they started giving serious thought to poverty and urban problems, drawing on the work of Edward Banfield, Martin Anderson, and Milton Friedman. The 1970s saw the origins of the Heritage Foundation, and the development of ideas such as supply-side tax cuts and enterprise zones.
Now that a cold wind is blowing, the time has come to do some new thinking. Two related issues deserve attention. One is the aging of the Baby Boom, which creates a variety of problems and opportunities. The second is the cost and availability of health care. Newt Gingrich has given a great deal of thought to both issues. Although he is politically radioactive, he remains a creative thinker who can bridge the worlds of Republican politics and intellectual conservatism. Listen to what he says.
– John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.