There is no permanence in politics. All is fleeting. All is cyclical. We find comfort in our cycle and distress when others rise to the top.
Right now, conservatives are bitterly disappointed. Some choose to check out mentally. Some have decided to throw in the towel. A few blame the American people. Many think the gig is up, the show is over, and destiny is undone.
Demography is not destiny and neither is the ever growing leviathan. Many think so now, but they forget the ebbs and flows of the tide of history. Conservatism is not done. The message of freedom and opportunity is not done.
No immigrant comes to the United States wanting to be on welfare. They come for a better life of hard work and success. What conservatives forget is that people forget.
And conservatives have done a terrible job reminding people.
Since Ronald Reagan rose from the ashes of the Goldwater movement, Republicans have articulated a message of freedom and opportunity — a rugged individualism that says if you work hard you can be what you want and do what you want. But people forget.
In the last decade or so, Republicans began to assume everyone just naturally agreed. They stopped explaining. They stopped being evangelists. Worse, conservatism morphed into Republicanism and instead of being about ideas, both became about the acquisition of power for the sake of power. Republicans no longer articulated a core set of principles through policy, but policies designed solely to keep them in power. The party leaders and many of its candidates began to do the same — freedom became a platitude, not a policy.
During Barack Obama’s tenure, Republicans tried to blur every line, make every compromise, and often surrendered before a weapon was even pointed at them. They did not articulate a positive conservative vision, but a defensive position that Obama was bad and they were good with little to show for it. They cut deals that sold out their core to preserve their power. They do so even today.
Republicans assumed Americans got it. They assumed Americans and Republicans were still speaking the same language. But they weren’t.
Politics is cyclical and Americans are forgetful. Republicans forgot that. They failed to keep advancing. They failed to keep explaining. They relied on on the tried and true that became the tired and stale.
Tax cuts? Yay!
But what else? Under Republicans and Democrats alike, the tax code has grown more complex, the lobbyist class has grown richer, and the banks have gotten too big to fail.
Moving forward, the conservative movement from within the GOP needs to advance new ideas, not just dust off and repackage old ideas. The principles remain the same. The principles are fixed. But the ideas that advance those principles must fit into the twenty-first century.
The GOP should start with education reform. They should tackle tax reform. They should work the break up big banks by forcing big banks to capitalize further. They should not shy away from tackling social security and medicare reform — ideas that did not hurt them with senior citizens and will ultimately help them with younger voters. They should still fight to repeal Obamacare and explain to the American people why it is sucking the life out of the economy.
But more importantly, conservatives must be able to show Americans in this age of a stagnant economy that conservatism has ideas not just to make one prosperous, but also to help the poor and needy. There are those who do depend on and deserve a helping hand. If the GOP cannot show how small government lifts people up and provides for those who cannot, the GOP will fail.
Republicans should not be afraid to be obstructionist, but must be willing to explain that the obstruction prevents the passage of ideas that history once discarded before we all forgot.
These are exciting times for the conservative movement. But the conservative movement must get up and lead now — lead with conservative ideas for the GOP, not a Republican agenda packaged as conservative. We must begin again anew talking conservatism as evangelists, not fellow travelers. We must remember we are not in a permanent decline, but a cycle of politics that is only permanent if we let it be.
Our think tanks must stop producing white papers designed to woo donors and must produce ideas designed to persuade voters to limited government.
In 2004, George W. Bush beat John Kerry, delivering a surprising defeat to the Democrats. Two years later, the Democrats took the House and two years after that took the White House.
In 2014, like in 2010, Barack Obama’s base will not show up as it did in 2012 and 2008. In 2016, it will split between factions in a diminished field of a shallower bench with no guarantee that Barack Obama’s coalition is the Democrats’ coalition. The GOP will have a deep bench of articulate conservatives.
We must lay the groundwork now with fresh ideas embedded with timeless principles sold by voices who understand people forget and must be reminded why America is great and why conservatism helped make it that way. We must continue, as a conservative movement, challenging and ending the political careers of Republicans who carry the banner of conservatism while selling it out.
We must still be willing to fight against the implementation of Obamacare, a policy still opposed by a majority of Americans.
Be of cheerful heart. The world spins on and I fight on. Join me. Let’s take the country back as happy warriors for a cause we know is right that too many on our own side have forgotten is right.
In the words of William F. Buckley, Jr., RedState, the conservative movement, you, and I must stand athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.