The wrong diagnosis leads to the wrong solution
By Charles Bloomer
Over at The American Thinker, James Lewis says, "American conservatism has taken a trouncing...." I disagree. American conservatism was not even on the ballot since there was no conservative candidate in the running. In the Republican primaries, the prospective conservative candidates bailed out. Fred Thompson, probably the most conservative prospect, just didn't have the "fire in the belly" to fight his way to the top of the ticket. Consequently, we ended up with a Republican on the ticket who was not a conservative, but a moderate appeaser who put more emphasis on reaching across the aisle than he did on appealing to the conservatives in the Republican Party.
It is true that Sarah Palin injected a healthy dose of American conservatism – both social conservatism and fiscal conservatism – her selection as the Vice Presidential candidate came too late. American voters had already been saturated with "maverick" conservatism for over a year. It was too late in the cycle to bring voters up to speed on Palin's political philosophy and its relevance to the issues facing the country. In addition, the liberal mainstream press was immediately biased against her, refusing to air her ideas while magnifying every minute detail to be used against her (remember the wardrobe flap?). On top of that was the animosity of Republican elitists – George Will, Peggy Noonan, Kathleen Parker, et.al. – that tarnished her image even before she was able to introduce herself and her ideas.
The handlers assigned to Palin by the McCain campaign also erred considerably. Instead of exhibiting any confidence in Palin's ability to communicate her conservatism, the handlers kept her under wraps, afraid she might make a mistake to be pounced upon by the hostile press. Their lack of confidence significantly undermined Palin's greatest asset – her ability to connect with voters.
American conservatism did not get trounced. The empty hype of "hope and change" won because liberals appealed to voters' emotions while Republicans confused them. American conservatism was not on the ticket. Republicans for too long have decided they need to be more like Democrats. Republicans in Washington and in the party leadership think that being "liberal lite" will help them stay in power. That type of thinking has led to failure, both in 2006 and now in 2008. That type of thinking alienates the conservative base and does not impress liberals. Why would liberals vote for a semi-liberal when they can have the real thing? And why would conservatives vote for a semi-liberal who has abandoned conservative values? Why should conservatives vote for a candidate who offers the watered-down, diluted, mushy snake oil of "compassionate conservatism".
Likewise, the argument that social conservatism is alienating fiscal conservatism is false. The elitist crowd making this claim are simply whining that their "values" – the intellectual in-crowd, inside the Beltway "values" – are superior to the conservative values held by those social conservatives in flyover country. Yet Sarah Palin is proof the social conservatism and fiscal conservatism are indeed compatible.
Saying that American conservatism got trounced will lead to the wrong conclusions and to disastrous solutions. Pushing elitist conservatism while insulting social conservatives will get Republicans nowhere. When conservatives run on solid conservative principles, they generally win.
The Republicans need to reestablish their conservative credentials and improve their communication of those values. Republicans will not win as long as they sell out conservative principles in an attempt to win over the muddled middle. They need to explain how conservatism benefits real-life, working Americans who have real-life problems. Republicans need to stop letting the opposition define American conservatism by taking the initiative and explaining, in clear uncompromising terms, exactly what conservatism means.
Finding the right solution, though, requires an accurate understanding of the problem. Conservative values are not the problem; abandoning or watering down those values is.
Charles Bloomer is a Contributing Editor at Enter Stage Right and the creator of Liberty Call U.S.