It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
Everyone loves A Tale of Two Cities, and everyone loves that famous opening line. It’s probably been quoted in so many commencement speeches and high school rhetoric projects that it’s easy to forget where that line might really apply. Here’s a hint: the book opens when the French Revolution was just days away from fundamentally transforming the nation of France. With that in mind here’s the rest of Dickens’s opening paragraph:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.
What better way to describe the last 2 years? We who fought and campaigned against Obama in 2008 can easily recall the frustrating futility of trying to get Americans to see Obama for who he really was. We saw the foolishness. It’s hard to forget the way a complicit media threw away any pretext of integrity to ensure their chosen one was elected. We were incredulous that they could get away with it. There was despair, too, and not just when the votes were counted in November. (I put A Country Boy Can Survive on repeat to get through that day.) Nope – there was plenty of despair to go around watching the GOP completely fail to provide a strong, conservative candidate or watching George W. Bush inaugurate the new slide towards socialism with TARP and the first bailout.
And yet at the same time we’ve seen the birth of the Tea Party movement and watched as Obama’s credibility with the American people has plummeted. Most of the dangerous legislation from the progressive wing of the Democratic party has – so far – failed to pass. There is hope. There is room for optimism.
Phase one of the resistance to Obama’s statist agenda has been an exercise in stubborn obstructionism. The GOP managed to find some semblance of a backbone as leaders like Boehner, Demint and others dug their heels in and fought back.
More importantly ordinary, every-day Americans without a political bone in their bodies woke up and got active. Glenn Beck’s meteoric rise in popularity is as much a testimony to the American people as it is to Beck’s talent and viewpoint.
With the House, the White House, and a supermajority in the Senate the Democrats should have been able to do whatever the Hell they wanted to over the last year. Instead they have – so far – accomplished almost literally nothing. I’m not trying to put anyone’s mind at ease. We’re teetering on the brink of disaster with this health care bill. But that’s just it. We’re teetering. One year later, and we still haven’t gone over the edge. Yet.
Just imagine that this is January 2009. Obama is about to be inaugurated. His poll numbers are through the roof. The media is fawning over him. Obama-related paraphernalia is flying off the shelves. Now imagine that someone posts a battle plan with the following objectives for the year of 2009:
- Stop Obama from passing any major legislation.
- Drag his approval rating to below 50% in national polls.
- Create a brand-new populist movement with millions of American members to rally behind conservative causes.
Who would have thought we could have accomplished it? And yet – without ever even having a plan in place – we did. That is why in spite of all the danger that remains and all the very real losses this nation has suffered – I’m going to call Phase One a success.
The question is: where do we go from here?
Now that the Democrats are polling lower than Republicans, they have the unpopular president in the White House, and Democratic incumbents are dropping like flies it may seem comforting to look back at GOP losses in 2006 and 2008 and conclude that the tables have turned. The tables have turned, but it shouldn’t be a comfort. It’s a warning. After all the Democrats did win in 2006 and 2008. Where are they now?
If there’s one thing we should learn from 2006 and 2008 it’s that winning because everyone hates the other guy is a short-run victory. In 2006 and 2008 the country was sick of Bush and so they went with the Democrats by default. The Democrats took it as an endorsement of their policies, but the fact is Americans didn’t even bother to look at the Democrat policies. They just voted for “not Bush”.
But the Democrats thought they had a bunch of political capital and so they went on a spending-spree. Cap-and-trade, shutting down Gitmo, healthcare reform: it’s like a teenager getting their first credit card, misreading the spending limit, and trying to buy a new car. The American people took one look at the Democrat’s shopping list and said “declined”.
How do conservatives and the GOP avoid this? How do we make sure that when we capitalize on the public’s anger with Obama and the Democrats we don’t end up just perpetuating a cycle where the incumbent party always loses?
The answer is simple. Conservatives and the GOP need to deliver on what Obama promised in 2008. In his biggest public speeches to the widest public audiences Obama promised most of the right things, but for him it was just rhetoric. He was just saying the things that needed to be said to get what he wanted, like a frat boy trying to get laid. The problem wasn’t so much with what he said, as it was with the fact that he had no intention of following through on his best rhetoric.
The judgment of the American electorate is fundamentally trustworthy. American voters might not always be the best informed or the most proactive, but in the end we all want what’s best for this country. We want real, common-sense, no-nonsense reforms. We want better education, we want cleaner air and water, we want energy independence, we want a stronger economy and we want to be safe at home from our enemies. More than anything else: we want a responsive, humble government that defers to our civil liberties and is free from corruption.
That’s what Obama promised, but he had no intention of even attempting to deliver it. If the GOP can deliver than the GOP, the conservative movement, and this nation are all saved.
Of course we can’t actually do any of those things unless we get back in power. So if the goals of Phase One were:
- Stall the progressive agenda.
- Wake up the American people.
Then the goals of Phase Two ought to be:
- Reinvent the conservative agenda.
- Build credibility with the American people.
The goals of Phase One culminated in a series of political defeats for Obama in 2009. The goals of Phase Two – if we accomplish them – will culminate in political victory for the GOP and conservatives in 2010.
The key challenges for Phase Two are keeping the GOP in line and overcoming the cynicism of the American electorate. If we do our job of reinventing the conservative agenda correctly we can surpass both of these challenges.
The pitfall that awaits us is a naive attempt to create a bullet-list of precise policies and call that the conservative agenda. If we try to do that we have failed before we’ve started. For starters there is no one conservative viewpoint. There are a lot of different subgroups under the current conservatives umbrella, and a lot of them don’t like each other very much. Two rivalries that come to mind are the social conservatives vs. the libertarians, and the pervasive anti-intellectualism. Any attempt to create a solitary policy prescription is going to exacerbate these tensions when what we need right now is unity.
So instead of a bullet-list what we need is a policy philosophy. A successful policy philosophy will be general enough that the different wings of the conservative movement can find common ground and yet concrete enough that it can be applied to real policy decisions. Of course specific policies matter, but it’s better to agree on principles like “simpler, more market friendly taxes” than to try and have a duel to the death between the flat taxers and the fair taxers. Imagine if gun-rights groups waited of resolve the 9mm vs. .45 debate before they got started and you will see what I’m talking about.
If we can get the different conservative factions talking to each other then I think we will find what many people who have a lot of internet debates also learn: a lot of the time the person you are shouting at actually thinks very similarly to you. The problem was one of terminology, or of perspective, or of emphasis. The more we work towards a cooperative policy philosophy the more we can streamline our efforts to oppose progressive statism and bring real reforms to this country.
I don’t want anyone to think that I’m talking about nothing but a new batch of slogans and platitudes. If there’s one thing we don’t need, it’s more bumper-stickers. And so I’m going to put my money where my mouth is, and put my focus in 2010 on articles where I can seek to explain what exactly a “policy philosophy” looks like, and how it can be used to unite conservatives and keep the GOP in line. The first one–due out in a day or two–will be called “Free Markets and Freedom.” I will lay out some of the misconceptions about the economics and politics of free markets, and explain why there is room for common ground between the religious conservatives and the libertarians, between the egg-heads and the blue-collar conservatives, and even between the conservatives and the moderates.
Robert considers himself a classical liberal, has a background in mathematics and systems engineering, and is currently studying economics in graduate school. He and his wife also work as business analysis consultants, and they live day-to-day as undercover conservatives along with their two small children in a socialist bastion of a college town. He has been writing for America’s Right since December 2008.