Sunday, November 7, 2010

Conservatives need to take stock, capitalize on this opportunity

By Kelly Sloan
Generally speaking, for conservatives in the United States, the sunrise seemed just a little brighter on Wednesday morning.
Nationwide, the Republicans picked up an historic 65 seats in the House; to put this in perspective, the GOP gain in 1994 was a comparatively paltry 54 seats, and the Republicans now hold more house seats than they have at any time since 1948. In addition to this, the Republican Party narrowed the gap in the Senate, reducing the Democrat majority to a shaky four, and won a swath of State legislatures and Governorships.

The nascent tea-party movement displayed both its strengths and weaknesses on Tuesday, as their support helped conservative candidates in some races (Florida, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky come to mind), while handing victory to Democrats in others, Delaware and Nevada the most conspicuous examples.

In Colorado, the results largely mirrored the national ones. Pickups for Republicans with the elections of Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner in the 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts, while tempered by the retention of Ed Perlmutter in the obdurately liberal 7th CD, was reflective of the national repudiation of the enormous- government agenda (“big” just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore) of the current congress and President.

The State house swung back to Republican control, along with the offices of the Treasury and Secretary of State, and the Democrat majority in the state senate found itself scaled back much like its federal counterpart. The assumption of John Hickenlooper as Governor was not much of a surprise, though it is rather indicative of just how bad things are on the left when the one race they could count on as a sure bet was so only due to a self-inflicted train wreck on the right.

The only near-anomaly was the defeat of Ken Buck, which can be attributed in part to a combination of well intended, but inexperienced, tea-party influence (a la Sharon Angle), and the hard realities of traditional politics – a monetary deficit in relation to Michael Bennet, coupled with a plethora of fallacious negative advertising, simply proved too yawning a gap to overcome.

But all in all, to say that this was a good election for conservative Republicans would be to put that sentence in contention for political understatement of the year. Mid-term elections are necessarily a referendum on the policies and performance of the sitting administration, all the more so if those policies are especially ambitious in nature. No one, on either side of the spectrum, could convincingly make the argument that President Obama’s agenda has not been an ambitious one, and the American people responded, quite conspicuously, by throwing a spike belt in its path on Tuesday.

But rather than wasting precious time on congratulating themselves, conservatives need to take stock and decide what all of this means, beginning with extracting a few lessons from this election cycle.

For the Tea party movement, the clearest lesson must be that electability matters. Conservatives will not, for much longer, be able to afford the luxury of being beguiled by the notion that ideological appeal alone is sufficient. Turning conviction into public policy hinges on being able to win elections. William F. Buckley’s maxim of “supporting the most conservative candidate that can be elected” holds as true as ever.

The Republican establishment, however, has just as crucial a take-away from this election year. The principle lesson is one that the party appears to need to relearn about every generation or so. The Republican Party must remain a conservative one, anchored on the right. It cannot keep letting itself be bullied into acquiescence by charges of negativity, polarization, and so forth.

The GOP periodically takes it upon itself to drift inexplicably off its conservative moorings, and adopt an attitude of accommodation towards collectivist innovations installed by the Democrats, as they did in the 1950’s by acquiescing to the expansions and entitlements of the New Deal, or when meekly accepting the existence of a federal Department of Education. They are punished every time they do. This new class of Republicans must resist any temptation to submit, that might result in an accepted permanence of Obamacare, or stimulus –level spending, similar to the acceptance granted Social Security or Medicare.

Finally the Republicans must be hesitant to yield to cries of “bipartisanship” for its own sake. They must realize that they were given the offices they now hold precisely as a result of demonstrating a clear distinction between themselves and the Democrats. This is the key to Republican success; there is little profit to having a two-party system if the two parties are virtually indistinguishable.

Conservatives have an opportunity now to put a brake on Obama’s headlong rush towards the quasi-European social-economic model of his dreams. They cannot realistically advance much of a conservative agenda, with a Presidential veto hanging constantly, but political survival, and the future of the Republic, demands that they try.

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