Look, I am as willing as the next conservative pundit to throw back a tumbler or two of whiskey and whine about our plight this election season. But in the past week, the Republican/conservative (hereinafter: RC) depression has become pathological. From the pages of The Wall Street Journal to Human Events to the Republican Conference in the House of Representatives, RC comments are sliding from the sensible observation that this may be a tough election cycle to unjustified self-loathing. Don’t loathe conservatism (or the GOP); loathe liberalism.
Conservatism will persist and more often than not prevail precisely because it realistically describes the human condition. It recognizes the fallen condition of man and thus rejects utopian principles of human perfection, or as conservatives like to say, we refuse to futilely try to immanentize the eschaton (bring heaven on earth). Thus, inter alia, we understand that, with all its crassness and winners and losers, the power of self-interest drives free markets and free men to maximum and best-distributed human productivity and fulfillment.
But also believing in the redemptive power of our faiths, we encourage the potential of nobility, charity and self-sacrifice also planted in our souls and thus reject the rump materialism, cynicism and duty-free citizenship that is the sour and hollow end product of modern secular liberalism and socialism. After a dose of the latter, the American people invariably return to the abiding truth of conservatism. I am not convinced yet that the public is certain to reject our principles even this November.
Our challenge this political season, as every season, is to bring alive to public understanding the utility of our principles when applied to programs for the general welfare and, conversely, to vividly explain the contradiction inherent in each liberal program that claims to redistribute wealth and rights to the many but inevitably merely expands economic misfortune and reduces freedom for all.
Moreover, the Democratic Party has not even advanced its programs to a plausible credibility yet. Their argument is almost completely a negative one: "Kick the Republican bums out." Thus, their central theme is the credulity-strained slogan that a vote for McCain is a third vote for Bush. Whatever McCain is, even the Democrats know he has almost been the anti-Bush (and anti-Republican) these past many years. Not too many elections are won on an obvious lie. And only rarely are they won mostly on the negative.
In 1980, Reagan ran against Carter’s manifold failures, but he also had a full positive and credible program of tax cuts, spending cuts, getting tough with the Soviets, and returning to respect for traditional values. In 1994, Newt Gingrich’s Republicans ran against Democratic corruption and policy wrongheadedness. But we also ran powerfully on the positive program of our Contract With America. This season, the Democrats’ message is about 80 percent negative. Maybe that will be enough, but even this season, they are not offering the public much to vote for.
Moreover, despite their presumed standard-bearer’s (Sen. Obama) admirable manner and wit and first-draw educational credentials, he is surprisingly weak when trying to discuss policy, history and current events at even a short step beyond the superficial. His recently manifested ignorance regarding the language spoken in Afghanistan was a revelation, especially as he has made Iraq and Afghanistan the centerpiece of his critique of Bush. The more the campaign forces him to speak without benefit of teleprompter the less confidence voters are likely to hold for the sureness of his knowledge and judgment.
I certainly am not predicting that Sen. McCain and the Republicans are likely to win. Obviously, the public is ready for change. But if RC candidates from president on down cheerfully and relentlessly make honest, principled arguments 12 hours a day for the next 5 1/2 months, we may well be surprised with the results. Let each candidate make his or her own argument to the local voters. If Republicans do well this season, it will be one district or state at a time. A nationalized election works against us. The local logic of each candidacy and his or her convictions is our strongest play.
Certainly, if our candidates wander around their constituencies crying into their beer while national conservative pundits inventively conjure up new modalities of public alienation from us, we can make defeat more likely.
We have one great abiding advantage: Obama, like most liberals these days (and unlike FDR and JFK), believes he sees a coming age of limitless energy, less trade, less prosperity, less rugged personal independence. Despite his high rhetoric, at its heart, his is a pessimistic message of hunkering down together to share whatever may perhaps be "sustainable" for us.
We conservatives believe in an exceptional America of ever-greater prosperity and happiness — if we have but the spirit and courage to fight for it. For more than two centuries, the American people almost always have believed in and voted for that American dream. And for more than two centuries, they have been right.
Sour peddlers of some over-intellectualized American nightmare usually lose. No reason they shouldn’t lose again this November.