Conservatism is in disarray. Over the past several decades, conservative think tanks, magazines, talk radio hosts and Republican election victories have proliferated. This has given the illusion that the country is tilting increasingly to the Right. But the movement has lost its defining essence.
Modern conservatism emerged onto the national political scene with Barry Goldwater’s historic 1964 campaign for the presidency. It culminated with Ronald Reagan’s election to the White House in 1980. From its inception, conservatism was a counter-revolution aimed at rolling back the New Deal-Great Society welfare state and the moral anarchy unleashed by New Age liberalism. Many conservatives falsely believe the movement co-opted the GOP. Instead, as the conservative movement grew in power and influence, it became co-opted by the Republican Party.
The facts do not lie. Republicans have occupied the presidency for 26 of the past 38 years. They have dominated Congress for the past 12 years. Since 1968, however, the GOP has failed to implement conservatism’s two fundamental goals: shrinking the size of government and reversing America’s cultural decline.
In fact, the Bush presidency and the Republican Congress have substantially increased the federal leviathan. Non-defense, discretionary government spending has exploded during the past six years. The role of federal education (under the “No Child Left Behind” Act) has grown dramatically. The prescription-drug bill represents the largest expansion of entitlement spending since the 1960s. Highway outlays and farm subsidies—laden with wasteful pork-barrel projects—have risen substantially. The result has been rampant corruption, a bloated federal government, and sky-rocketing deficits. Moreover, the administration and the GOP-led Congress did not deliver on their promises to overhaul Social Security and to reform the outdated, Byzantine and anti-growth tax code. The greatest achievement of Congress has been to pass the 2003 Bush tax cuts, which have spurred the current economic boom. Besides this, however, Republicans have failed to institute a real conservative economic agenda.
Nor have they done better on the cultural front. Rhetoric aside, the GOP has done little to preserve traditional values. The family is the basic institution of society. It is under assault from a shallow secular humanism that promotes hedonism and individual gratification. According to the late Pope John Paul II, the West is gradually being destroyed by a “culture of death.” Republicans have been largely passive: they have not waged a concerted and effective campaign against abortion, family breakdown, pornography, drugs, euthanasia, soaring illegitimacy rates, and the gratuitous sex and violence that saturates TV and Hollywood movies. There are a few exceptions—Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas—but for the most part the GOP has abandoned the culture war.
Despite this, President Bush and the Republican Party deserve our support in the forthcoming election in November: We are in a war against Islamic fascism and the future of the democratic West hangs in the balance. The Democrats have no credible plan to win this war; Mr. Bush and the Republicans do. This is why conservatives should flock to the polls on Election Day.
But it is time conservatives stopped kidding themselves. They have not captured the GOP; rather, the GOP has captured them. Republicans have done nothing to tame the leviathan state or stand-up to the forces of cultural liberalism. They are a moderately Right-leaning, corporatist party that stands for Big Business, Big Government and Big Defense. Goldwater-Reagan voters may rightly feel the GOP is the more prudent and responsible of the two national parties. This, however, should not blind them to the true nature of the political beast.
Conservatives need to be reinvigorated in their pursuit of core principles; the movement must become more than simply an ideological fig leaf for the Republican Party. It is time to focus on achieving real victory—a victory over the economic collectivism and cultural barbarism that is modern liberalism.