December 19, 2007
After Clinton/Obama, Woman-friendly ConservatismBy Christopher Chantrill
Which of the two Democratic frontrunners would Republicans prefer to run against? That was what Hugh Hewitt asked his listeners last week as the Democratic race began to tighten.
But he was asking the wrong question. The right question is: which Democrat would you prefer to have in the White House in 2009, or more exactly, at the next mid-term election in 2010?
Even if a Republican wins the White House in 2008 he won't have much of a mandate. If the voters want "change," whether Obama's "Change You Can Believe In" or Clinton's "Ready for Change" or some other kind of change, it will be difficult for a Republican to offer it. There's a Republican in the White House, and many voters will keenly feel the chill headwind of the mortgage meltdown, the Iraq war, and the high gas prices.
On top of everything Alan Greenspan has now mentioned the "R" word. There's a 50-50 chance of recession, he says. Whether he is right or not, you can expect an uncomfortable economy in 2008, enough to encourage the Democrats to reprise the Clinton refrain of 1992. "Worst economy in 50 years," they said, just after the mildest recession since World War II.
Let us not think tactically about how to beat the Democrats in 2008. Let us think strategically about how to storm back into power when the voters next get fed up with Democrats.
Today the Republican program of reform is dead in the water. Whenever Republicans suggest what Mark Steyn helpfully calls the "teensy-weensiest little tweakette" of reform to the welfare state the Democrats say: Over my dead body.
We are never going to reform the welfare state in a set-piece battle. The time to reform entitlements is when Democrats are on the run or playing possum after an election like 1980 or 1994.
Both elections, in 1980 and in 1994, were elections in which a surging Republican Party cold-cocked the incumbent Democrats. You can't win that kind of election when a Republican is in the White House.
So the long-term view would be to ask which Democrat you'd like in the White House when Republicans come storming back after two or four years of a lackluster Democratic administration.
On this view, which of the two, Clinton or Obama, would be better for Republicans?
Clinton is the more experienced, and the more cunning. We could expect her to excel at creating stealth programs to advance the Democratic vision of Life as a Defined Benefit, craftily doling out to Democratic voters dollars taken from Republican taxpayers.
An Obama administration would be more likely get pushed around by the permanent government of the Democratic Congress, the Democratic bureaucracy, and the Democratic activists. Whatever Obama may say about change, the permanent government is devoted to the continuation of the Democratic vision of Life as a Defined Benefit.
It's a tough call. But after a couple of years of another President Clinton we can anticipate eruptions of acid reflux among the voters.
Under any president the long term challenge for conservatives remains the same. How do you persuade the moderate white middle-aged woman voter to sign onto reform? You are asking her to change a government school system that is all she has ever known. You are asking her to agree to health system changes that will confuse and annoy her aging mother. Women just won't step out into the unknown like that.
You must provide them with an alternative. That's what Margaret Thatcher said.
Conservatives must start to build a parallel system to demonstrate the conservative version of the services that women care about. We want those moderate women to start hearing from their friends about a new school that is really helping a child with special problems or a new clinic that is really helping an older women friend with her health problems.
It means making a reality out of the empty slogan Change You Can Believe In. You can believe in it because it already works.
Call it woman-friendly conservatism. The next Republican president must show women the conservative program of limited government and its luxuriant underbrush of mediating institutions actually working for women.
Then they will be ready to believe that the conservative agenda of family, church, and neighborhood delivers a much more woman-friendly world than the heedless bureaucracies of big government.