May 19, 2006
What Conservative Paradigm?By Steven M. Warshawsky
In yesterday's American Spectator, Jeffrey Lord argued that "[e]lections are about paradigms, not presidents," and predicts that Republicans won't lose control of Congress this year because a "conservative paradigm" currently exists in this country and
I agree with Mr. Lord that Republicans are unlikely to lose control of Congress this Fall, but I think that has more to do with the realities of local gerrymandering that make incumbents extremely difficult to unseat. I am not at all persuaded that it has anything to do with a "conservative paradigm" that supposedly exists in this country.
Mr. Lord makes a compelling historical case that the dominant liberal paradigm that arose under FDR continued to thrive under Truman, despite the Republican takeover of Congress in 1946. He makes a far less compelling case that there is a dominant conservative paradigm in existence today, or that it would survive a Democratic takeover of Congress this Fall (assuming such an event were to occur).
What does Mr. Lord identify as the major elements of the previous liberal paradigm?
Does any of this sound familiar? It should, because it still reflects the heart of the domestic political agenda: public housing programs and massive government subsidies of the private housing industry, an ever—increasing federal role in primary and secondary education, the ever—expanding reach of Medicare and related health insurance programs (steadily moving towards socialized medicine), continued wasteful agricultural subsidies and special—interest legislation of all types (recall the "bridge to nowhere"), a constant push to raise the minimum incomes of lower wage earners (whether through minimum wage laws or tax subsidies), and, always, more and more "rights" and "affirmative action" for women, racial and ethnic minorities, and now sexual minorities (see, e.g., recent Supreme Court decisions on homosexual sodomy and affirmative action in college admissions).
All this despite the so—called "conservative revolution" of 1980.
For all intents and purposes, in 25 years conservatism has accomplished only two goals, albeit extremely important ones: reducing tax rates and strengthening the military. These gains largely were achieved by Ronald Reagan, and have been maintained, more or less, by succeeding Republican presidents. But that's about it.
We have achieved no meaningful successes in the "culture wars." Abortion on demand is still the law of the land. Academic scofflaws like Ward Churchill still dominate our universities. Our artistic culture continues to be characterized by immaturity, smut, violence, and cheap anti—American propaganda. Personal responsibility in matters sexual, familial, and financial is still appallingly low. Religion (or rather, traditional, Christian religion) is on the defensive in this country, indeed more so than ever.
We have achieved no significant liberalization of the economy. Federal, state, and local regulations continue to pile up, choking entrepreneurship, innovation, and greater wealth creation. Our domestic energy industry is completely stagnant. A proliferation of labor and employment laws makes the workplace increasingly acrimonious and inflexible. Outrageous tort verdicts (especially in the areas of products liability and medical malpractice) routinely punish industries that employ thousands of workers and generate billions of dollars, all for the enrichment of a handful of lawyers. The hysteria over global warming and "the environment" continues to build, and will provide a ready justification for even more regulations in the future.
We have not significantly slowed the post—1960s multicultural juggernaut that is eroding American culture and fragmenting the nation into separate groups, regions, and peoples. One symptom of the triumph of multiculturalism is the unwillingness of our elected leaders to secure our borders and impose reasonable controls on immigration, despite the backing of the majority of the country for such measures. The recent, and ongoing demonstrations by illegal immigrants and their supporters does not portend a positive future for this country. And it is highly unlikely that Congress, let alone President Bush, will move to correct any of the policy failures of the past 20 years that have led to the current illegal immigration problem.
And the list goes on and on.
So where is this "conservative paradigm" of which Mr. Lord speaks? While we have some conservative—oriented politicians, who occasionally pass some conservative—oriented legislation, the truth is that on the truly big issues on the ground, America is still in the grip of the liberal paradigm that came into existence under FDR. The American people may in some sense be "conservative," but the political, intellectual, and economic elites that set the terms of debate, and largely control the direction of society, are most definitely liberal —— indeed, in many ways, more so than they ever have been.
The Left has been exceptionally effective at moving people towards its positions, by making the most radical ideas —— e.g., gay marriage —— seem a question of simple human fairness and decency. So while most Americans oppose gay marriage, it's a "soft" opposition. Voters may vote for ballot initiatives (as we saw in 2004) —— but will they support affirmative steps to change the constitution or impeach wayward judges or engage in civil disobedience, etc.? No, they won't. So the Left succeeds by persuading a few judges or local officials to take that next step, and it nudges the rest of us along. Moving in the opposite direction becomes almost impossible to do. Abortion is another perfect example of this phenomenon, where even partial birth abortion is not heinous enough to mobilize large majorities in opposition to it. The same goes for affirmative action: unpopular but still with us.
Hence, we see that leftwing ideas are taken very seriously when laws and policies are at stake. Not so conservative ideas, at least the ones that do not appeal directly to voters' selfish interests. So, for example, advocating a pure "employment at will" policy would, I think, be seen as more pernicious, more unacceptable, to the average American (and certainly by opinion makers), than gay marriage or abortion on demand or [fill in the blank]. Conservative equivalents (or antipodes) to the most extreme leftwing positions are, generally, viewed as more extreme than the leftwing ideas. That's why I doubt the notion of a fundamental conservative paradigm in this country.
Unless and until conservatives and Republicans start fighting for their country and culture with the same unyielding vehemence that the Left has pushed for its agenda for the past 40 years, America will continue down the same liberal path leading to socialism at home, weakness abroad, and the end of both the American Dream and the American Century.
Steven M. Warshawsky frequently comments on politics and current affairs for The American Thinker and other conservative websites. E—mail.