By Kelly Sloan
For all the hand-wringing, soul searching, and despair evident among some conservative Republicans contemplating the 2012 GOP Presidential slate, the lineup is really a testimony to the success of the conservative movement over the last 60 years.
Though we may squabble over the relative merits or apostasies of one candidate or another, it is helpful to remind ourselves that compared with the wide disparities between its conservative and liberal wings in the 50’s 60’s and 70’s, the current Republican Party is remarkably united around a predominantly conservative nucleus.
Certainly there are no strong vestiges of the old liberal, Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party in evidence any longer, at least not in the slate of Presidential candidates that populate the stage every couple of nights or so. Even most of today’s moderate Republicans are at least nominally well to the right of characters like Nelson Rockefeller, Thomas Dewey or Richard Nixon.
This is no accident. The conservative resurgence orchestrated in the 1950’s and 60’s by such giants as F.A. Hayek, William Buckley, Frank Meyer, Russell Kirk, and others, gave voice, form, and purpose to the millions who had become disenchanted by the excesses of the New Deal, and even more so with the pervasive Republican accomodationism of the day (which by comparison makes Republican compromises in the last 20 years look like obdurate entrenchment). This set up the test pilot candidacy of Barry Goldwater, to whom conservatives in the early to mid-60’s looked to for Mosaic guidance out of the political desert.
His failure to win the White House was a crushing disappointment for many right-wingers who felt they finally had, after a long absence, a standard bearer. But the campaign accomplished its greater purpose, fulfilling its role as a sort of a boot camp for what would become the Reagan army.
Every Presidential election since 1988 has prompted a lamentful wail from Republican’s pining for “the next Reagan”. It goes without saying that the Gipper is not going to run again, save perhaps by some form of providential proxy. But one of Reagans finest legacy’s was his transformation of the Republican Party into a truly conservative one – virtually every Republican candidate for office, and certainly every Republican Presidential candidate, for the past two decades, has invoked the essence of Ronald Reagan to one degree or another. His ideals have been etched into the GOP platform; his name, and the axiological, unabashed conservatism he represented, has become synonymous with the Republican brand, if not always closely adhered to — in response to which, in part, the Tea Party emerged to help ensure the GOP remains anchored on the right.
All of which has come together to create a pool of candidates who, in the main, are all fairly conservative, differing only in temperament and detail on most issues. All are talking about entitlement reform to one extent or another. All speak of substantive tax reform. All speak of the principles of federalism, and returning the balance of power to the states. All seem to recognize the ball and chain effect of an engorged federal bureaucracy. Most recognize the healthy role of Judeo-Christianity in the public square. All claim fealty to the constitution. All, save Ron Paul, display a realistic appreciation of foreign affairs and America’s role in the world, coupled with a prudent dedication to America’s national security.
This is not to suggest that there do not remain areas of concern; conservatives are, for instance, justifiably uneasy (to say the least), about Newt Gingrich’s fetish for the use of government programs to effect desirable results where such results would be better accomplished by the marketplace. He has a long record of affection for government incentivisation, especially through the use of tax policy, which many conservatives would be quite accurate in characterizing as, to borrow a phrase, “right wing social engineering”.
Gingrich’s predilection for achieving conservative aims through government macro-management (as opposed to liberals attempt to effect radical changes through government micromanagement) is reminiscent of the “big government conservatism” often practiced by George W. Bush, with the same pitfalls; a temptation to assign to a central political intelligence, questions which ought to remain the province of private enterprise and free markets.
And yet, this from the man who gave us the “Contract With America”, and helped bring about welfare reform and balanced federal budgets.
The point really is that while each GOP candidate has flaws, some of which warrant close scrutiny and explanation, each, too, is easily conservative enough to offer a desirable alternative to the present. It should not be surprising that there exists some turbulence within a political affiliation that so steadfastly resists definition. But it would be tragic if it resulted in complicity towards the appalling consequences of a second Obama administration.