2008 Presidential Election, Conservatism, Conservatives

>A Moment of Truth for Conservatives

>Every movement must face moments of truth, great tests that reveal the character, or lack thereof, upon which it is established. At the dawn of the 2008 presidential election, the American conservative movement finds itself staring like a deer in headlights at such a moment. Regardless of the outcome of today’s election, conservatism will be put to the test in the next era of American politics. How we respond to losing, or maintaining, power holds the key to the future of American conservatism.

Conservatives have already faced a significant test over the past decade and this election is the equivalent of us anxiously waiting for the grade to be posted, bracing ourselves for the realization of our worst fears. The truth is, all of us know that the we have pretty much failed the test of the last ten years. We’re just hoping that we’re graded on a curve. For that, I am not hopeful. But I am hopeful. I’m hopeful because the failure of conservatives over the last ten years is not the same thing as the failure of conservatism. Conservative people may, and often do, fail to adequately represent conservative principles. In fact, I would argue that conservatives have failed the test of the past ten years precisely because we have abandoned conservatism.

Consider just one example of what has long been considered a hallmark of conservative thought. While “conservatives” have had control of either the White House or Congress, or both, the size of the federal government and government spending has grown more than at any time in history. About the only thing resembling fiscal conservative principles to come out of the past ten years is the Bush tax cut. The problem is that tax cuts without corresponding spending cuts is about as conservative as a Clinton during a general election.

Since 1994, conservatives have enjoyed unprecedented political success. And that’s part of the problem. We’ve enjoyed it a little too much. It has been said many times that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We have witnessed the truth of this adage as a resurgence that began in 1994 based solidly on conservative principles has become little more than a machine dedicated to maintaining power and position. Being in control of government may have been the worst thing that has happened to modern conservatism. While I am voting for McCain/Palin today, and I truly hope that they win the election, part of me greatly fears that a Republican win tomorrow will have the same effect that the Bush win in 2004 had: allowing conservatives to sink further into complacently thinking that everything is alright.

Which brings me to the idea that I’ve been tossing around in my head the past day or so. Perhaps an Obama win today will be the best thing that could happen to conservatism. Not because Obama is anything resembling a conservative, or because I think he will lead the country in a good direction. At the same time, I don’t fear that he will lead the country down a road that we will not survive. If we survived FDR and Kennedy/Johnson, we’ll survive Obama if it comes to that.

My thesis, rather, is that conservatives seem to be most true to conservative principles and actually have a greater influence on society when we don’t have a corner on the market of political power. In fact, I would suggest that conservatism is supposed to work that way. It is the power of conservative ideas, not the power we wield in government, that our country is in dire need of. I fear that we have forgotten that fact as we have become intoxicated with power and attempted to use it to convince everyone else of the rightness of our principles. Perhaps being in the seat of opposition, rather than in the seat of power, will enable the conservative movement to reconnect with those conservative ideas that lead to a stable and virtuous society.

Make no mistake, even a colossal defeat in this election would not be the indictment on conservatism that many on the Left have suggested it would be. At most, it could be a sound rejection of a generation of conservative politicians who failed because of their distance from, not nearness to, conservative ideas. Those who triumphantly proclaim that the well of conservatism has run dry simply have not bothered to lower their bucket deep enough. It is my hope and sincere prayer that whatever the outcome of the election today, we conservatives will once again lower our buckets deep and draw from the principles that have helped to make this nation strong.

(This post is cross-posted from Dwight Watson’s blog.)



13 thoughts on “>A Moment of Truth for Conservatives

  1. >Dwight,Good thoughts. “Conservatives” (or whatever we should be called) need to quit trying to legislate on every issue of Biblical morality and instead seek to uphold the supreme law of the land. My faith has led me to become a (Federal) Libertarian, because that’s how the Constitution defines the Federal Government. Whenever we encourage “conservative” legislators to violate the Constitution in order to make life more “Christian”, we empower the gov’t to violate the Constitution in whatever manner they wish. Until the GOP embraces TRULY limited government (including fiscal, foreign policy, AND morality) they are destined to the wilderness.

    Posted by Jacob (aka. James) | November 5, 2008, 11:54 am
  2. >On another note, I hope that Nate’s school doesn’t find out that he’s a blacklisting McCarhtyite. :)You kidding me? This is UGA, boss. Before they’d give me a teaching contract I had to sign a paper swearing that I’d never been a member of the Communist Party and that I’d never try to unionize the teaching assistants.

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | November 5, 2008, 2:28 am
  3. >I believe that a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is neither Christian nor conservative.Amen.I would respect Christians who seek to ban gay marriage a lot more if they sought to ban divorce as well. Why just pick on tbhe homosexuals?What are they afraid of? They wouldn’t think to do that. Does that make them “pro-divorce” and “anti-marriage”?Likewise, I do not seek to ban gay marriage. Does that mean I am “pro-immorality?”And we gotta knock off this manure about how God will judge America harshly for turning her back on her “Judeo-Christian” roots.You really have to perform some serious theological contortions to find that concept in the Bible and the Constitution of the United States.

    Posted by David Cho | November 5, 2008, 1:45 am
  4. >David, thanks for the encouraging words. Just a little while ago I was thinking about Jeff’s comment and thinking that it might be a good idea for us to write a series of posts that articulate those basic conservative principles we’re talking about. I, for one, have already begun reacquainting myself with the work of men like Buckley and Kirk, and such a series of posts would flow pretty naturally from that. I actually think that a lot of the party in-fighting is rooted in a lack of understanding conservative principles. Many in the Church have confused conservative morality with conservative principles of government (this would explain the RR’s discomfort with Buckley’s Libertarian tendencies). While the two often coincide, they are not the Siamese twins we have made them out to be. For example, I subscribe to the tenet of conservative morality (and I believe Biblical teaching) that homosexuality is sinful and that gay marriage would have harmful effects on society. At the same time, I believe that a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is neither Christian nor conservative. It is not Christian because I see nowhere in Scripture that believers are encouraged to use the power of human gov’t to control the behavior of unbelievers. It is not conservative because of a core belief that the purpose of the Constitution is not to limit what people can do, but what the gov’t can do! Anywho, that’ll probably open up a whole other can of worms…

    Posted by Dwight Watson | November 4, 2008, 11:45 pm
  5. >Dwight, great post.Don’t waste it as a comment. Make a post blog out of it.As to articulating conservative principles, I should read up on William Buckley’s life more. What was it like when he resurrected the conservative movement long pronounced dead? He rejected certain extreme elements which I think was absolutely necessary in placing the movement on an upward trajectory.BTW he vehemently opposed the war in Iraq, and his libertarian tendencies did not sit well with the Religious Right.I don’t think the “neo-con” and RR factions of the Republican Party are ready to give up their seats of power any time soon. In fact, in the intra-party fight which is sure to follow if McCain loses, the RR faction will attribute to McCain’s loss to his lack of Evangelical faith, and characterize Palin on the ticket as too little and too late.James Dobson flat out placed the blame on the GOP’s supposed indifference to “family values” following the 2006 debacle. I think I can predict word for word what his post-election press release will look like.While I am not opposed to everything people like James Dobson does, I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea that we have become a political faction which a national party cannot live without (or with depending on who you talk to).Is anyone here dig the idea that we are a political force to be reckoned with?

    Posted by David Cho | November 4, 2008, 9:42 pm
  6. >David, you make a great point about Communists’ response after the collapse of the USSR. Although I wholeheartedly disagree with the ideology of communism, I would concede that they had a point there. I am more than open to the idea that conservatism flies in the face of human nature. I’m sure of it! I don’t think the solution is to vote against conservatives, and I certainly don’t think it is to stand on the sidelines and criticize those in power. Or stand on the sidelines and criticize those who write blog posts. ; )Seriously, I do think that our allegiances blind us to the faults of “our” team, especially when “our” team is winning. Again, human nature. When I watch the GA Bulldogs play, I think every call against them is a bad one! This was my point in suggesting that not being in power could help conservatives to regain some perspective. I think the solution, akin to Jeff’s comment, is to get back to the basics. To refresh our understanding of conservative principles. To articulate conservative principles with clarity. To live out conservative principles with discipline. I’ll be the first to admit that my critique of the conservative movement is a tad late. In the mid to late 90’s when the ship began going off course, I was too embroiled in the culture wars and blinded by my allegiance to discern what was happening. I was a part of the problem then, and I am determined to be a part of the solution this time around.

    Posted by Dwight Watson | November 4, 2008, 9:13 pm
  7. >I did catch that point.So what is the solution? Vote against conservatives to keep them out of power where they are more effective? Just stand on the sidelines and criticize those in power?

    Posted by David Cho | November 4, 2008, 6:19 pm
  8. >Read the post again carefully. Dwight talked about ‘being intoxicated by power’ and mentioned Lord Acton’s famous quote. I think that touches on the whole human nature issue. On another note, I hope that Nate’s school doesn’t find out that he’s a blacklisting McCarhtyite. 🙂

    Posted by J.Wizzle | November 4, 2008, 5:48 pm
  9. >I can see Communists saying the exact same thing back in 1990 as their Soviet Empire crumbled after 75 years “on the road to nowhere.”They had all the power in the world, but yet because it was not “implemented correctly” it failed, not because of Communism itself.Are you open to the idea that perhaps to a lesser extent, conservatism flies in the face of human nature, just as Communism does?We sent conservatives to Washington to “reduce government”? You mean you are asking humans to curtail their own powers and influences?That is what they said they were gonna do, and the federal government grew faster on their watch than ever.Human nature anyone?

    Posted by David Cho | November 4, 2008, 4:26 pm
  10. >Good stuff, Dwight. You are correct. The problem the last few years hasn’t been conservatism. It has been the lack of conservatism.

    Posted by J.Wizzle | November 4, 2008, 4:12 pm
  11. >Yup, the GOP is no longer “conservative” in any meaningful way. I voted for Johnny Boy because he’s not as bad as Obama. If Johnny had been a probably win, I’d have voted Libertarian.

    Posted by Jacob (aka. James) | November 4, 2008, 2:37 pm
  12. >”In fact, I would argue that conservatives have failed the test of the past ten years precisely because we have abandoned conservatism.”There is a lot of truth to that. Handing Ted Kennedy a blank sheet of paper and allowing him to write the education bill comes to mind. While I don’t think it will be good for there to be no conservative strength in the House, Senate, and White House I do think that conservatives, and all American, need a return to basics (which is a hallmark of conservatism). We are desparately in need of renewed efforts in education. Not necessarily in the school systems but parents educating or re-educating themselves and then passing that on to their children. We need to refresh ourselves on basic economics and the differences between competing theories. Has government intervention in business worked historically? We should know this. Is it better to have enumerated powers? Should we limit what the government can do and then leave the rest to the people? Or should we reverse it with a few things we can do and government has the power otherwise? We could go on and on with examples. We need to get back to basics.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | November 4, 2008, 12:12 pm

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