I suppose that Election Day 2010 was about all I could ask for. OK, Barney Frank, Barbara Boxer, and Harry Reid all survived, and the best California can do in its dysfunction is to resurrect Governor Moonbeam, but we need a few poster children as continuing reminders of the threat from the goofy left. The bottom line here is a major repudiation of the Obama regime, a rejection unlike any in almost 80 years, and the best part for me was that we can take hope from the fact that the American people, for all their gullibility in putting these people in office in the first place, stood up and said STOP!
So now what? First, the exhilaration is not the same for me as were the watershed elections of 1980 and 1994. The first of these represented the culmination of the maturity of the conservative movement, beginning in the 1950’s, from a fringe, reactionary backwater to a truly competitive, policy-based governing alternative. The second represented the consummation of the conservative revolution against the New Deal/Great Society legacy of over-reaching twentieth century liberalism. This wave was much more a return to the norm, a recognition that the progressive binge is over, a reminder that this remains a center-right country, and that the death of conservatism predicted just two years ago by Sam Tanenhaus and James Carville was delusional.
Second, this is not the same caliber of event because the party that serves as the principle vehicle for political conservatism has been there before, has blown the opportunity before, and still suffers from critical brand damage as a result. In the wake of George W. Bush’s re-election in January 2005 I wrote that the new governing majority must avoid the temptations of incumbency and arrogance of power and “will be short-lived if it fails to reject the sense of entitlement and perpetuation in office that are the diseases it was elected to cure”. Well, guess what? They couldn’t stand the prosperity, they succumbed to these vices, and paid a terrible price, along with the people they were elected to serve. This election merely represents a temporary reprieve, and Republicans should not suffer any delusions about their anointment–they were by and large the “default” choice.
Third, I want to return to some insight from Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution on the role of conservatism in America in the 21st century. He builds on the work of Edmund Burke in his view that the essence of modern conservatism is the balancing of the claims of tradition and liberty, or showing how liberty depends on tradition. Further, he adds that the divisions within contemporary American conservatism–social conservatives, libertarians, and neoconservatives–arise from differences over which goods most urgently need to be preserved, to what extent, and with what role for government. And I would add: at what cost, both in terms of the use of scarce material resources as well as the unintended costs in social and moral order. As we move ahead to the enormous challenges of this exceptional experience, the need for this balance is more crucial than ever.