The War On Conservatism

( – promoted by Patrick)

Will the left score a critical victory in its war on conservatism in 2008?

Progressives are seemingly convinced that political conservatism is on its last legs in America, as a result of the perceived underachievement of the Bush administration. I’ve never seen the left as enthused and motivated as they are today; they truly believe that the conservative era–born in November 1980–will die next year of heart failure.

In a way, you can’t blame the left. People are frustrated these days, irritated by the high price of gas, the shaky stock market, the unstable housing market and the constant reports of a possible economic slowdown. There’s a natural temptation to blame the guy in charge–Dubya–for all of these problems, and the left is confident that anti-Bush, anti-GOP rage will seal the deal for the Democrats next November.

Anti-Bush rage will indeed be a factor next year, even if Bush won’t be on the ballot–but will anti-GOP sentiment really put the Democrats back in charge of the White House?

It’s possible that the electorate could separate anti-Bush sentiment from anti-GOP sentiment. Voters may feel that Bush dropped the ball in many areas, but they may still be uneasy about entrusting the Democrats with executive power again, especially considering the mediocre job that party has done running the House and Senate since January 2007.

If voters truly believe that the economy will get better and gas prices will get lower in a Democrat administration, the Republicans will be out of luck. However, if voters suspect that things might get even worse under Democrat rule, the GOP might just have a chance.

Even anti-Bush sentiment can be overcome; if the Republicans nominate a candidate who comes across as competent, and the Democrats nominate a candidate who comes across as less than competent, will voters really reject the Republican simply because they now think Bush was incompetent?

In some ways, the ’08 election will be a referendum on conservatism, specifically a referendum on whether Americans still believe that it’s better for a right-leaning President to be in charge as opposed to a left-leaning President. All throughout the 1980s, America supported right-of-center Presidential candidates; in 1992, they voted for a Democrat who ran as a moderate, and four years later they re-elected that Democrat. In 2000 and 2004, the country supported a self-professed “compassionate conservative.” Since that “compassionate conservative” is a rather unpopular figure these days, there is a possibility that voters could decide to go for a pseudo-moderate Democrat again.

Will that possibility become a reality? That depends on whether voters are have soured on the theory behind electing a Republican President. The idea behind voting for a GOP candidate is that once in office, that candidate will keep taxes low, keep the economy strong, protect the country from attack and appoint sensible, non-radical judges to the bench. While Bush reduced taxes, kept the economy vibrant for most of his administration, thwarted a follow-up to 9/11 and made solid appointments to the federal bench, the political/cultural malaise that has defined Bush’s second term could cause more than a few voters to conclude that the grass is greener on the left side of the lawn. If enough voters feel that way, the Democrats’ victory is assured–and that victory could well represent the end of the Reagan-conservative era.

This is why the left is so energized about ’08. If the Democrats return to the White House, they will do everything within their power to make the center-left the default political position of the United States–and achieving this goal will be much easier in the late-2000s and early-2010s than it was between 1993 and 1995. Conservative opposition to the Democrats’ agenda was much stronger in those days; supporters of the Reagan vision of government were powerful, outspoken and committed to forestalling the implementation of the Clinton vision (although they couldn’t prevent Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer from being confirmed to the Supreme Court). With the conservative movement injured by Bush’s missteps, it will be difficult for the right to mount a vigorous campaign against a Democrat President’s decisions.

The Democrats can certainly smell victory, but tasting it is another matter. In order for the party to win, the electorate will have to be so radicalized–not only against Bush, but also the GOP–that the Democrat candidate will essentially be the only name on the ballot. Many voters have obviously turned on Bush. However, if those voters still have some love for the GOP and for the party’s underlying philosophy, then the Democrats will look back upon the election of ’08 with contempt and hate.

About D. R. Tucker