November 9, 2008
What do the election results mean to conservatives?
The results of the 2008 election mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. What do those results mean to conservatives? The results do not mean conservative candidates lose elections. Obama got a big slice of the conservative vote, largely because he portrayed himself as a post-ideological as well as a post-partisan candidate -- and McCain tried to do just the same thing. Ronald Reagan in 1984 was the last man to run as an unabashed conservative, and he won by the last true landslide in an American presidential election.
President Bush, admired for his personal honor and deep faith, was respected by many conservatives, but he was hardly a conservative himself. No man who nominated Harriett Meiers to the Supreme Court could be considered a true conservative. Anyone who could embrace the vision of Ted Kennedy for our national education policy was not a true conservative. Anyone who could create a new entitlement for prescription drugs was not a true conservative.
Bush was simply a decent man who was not a Leftist Democrat. As McCain found out, being a decent man who is not a Leftist Democrat means nothing at all to the Left. Both men, like Bob Dole and like George H. Bush, are good Americans, admirable people, and men blissfully unaware that the Left is not just waging battles on issues like more socialism but are rather waging war on our entire way of life. Bush, Dole, McCain, and Bush Sr. were not wicked failures because they were not conservatives. They were more like Chamberlain at Munich: They did not grasp the true depth and nature of their adversary and, they thought, their adversary might be reasonable.
How far have "conservatives" come from Ronald Reagan's famous maxim "If you can't make them see the light, then let them feel the heat." In other words, conservatives must lead. Or, as Reagan also said "All they can do is hang us from a higher tree." This homey, typical truth trumped all the mush of moderation that brought Republicans in such disrepute over the last ten years or so. Courage is contagious and so is cowardice.
When Republican "leaders" like Trent Lott sabotaged the impeachment trial of a sitting president because they feared political fallout, conservatives cringed. We conservatives, after all, do not involve ourselves in the public arena because of the goodies we might get. That is what Leftists do. We intend to protect the sacred values of the Declaration of Independence, which are utterly nonpartisan (the founding fathers, of course, dreaded political parties) and we do this recalling that the signers of that document risked all in taking their stand for transcendent liberty. Ronald Reagan, a Hollywood star with a starlet wife and lots of money, did not enter politics to get but rather to give. He entered to lead and not to herd. This is what conservatives used to do.
And this is the way conservatives used to talk: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." Barry Goldwater defiantly rejected the idea that Leftists could place him on some invented "Far Right." He stood for specific things, which he recorded in books, and which represented an actual platform for conservative ideals. John McCain, the other Republican nominee from Arizona, would never have embraced extremism, even in the defense of liberty. The soft, warm, middle was his true home. The safe, predictable consensus was his real party.
He was in the good company of pleasant and worthwhile citizens like Tom Dewey, Wendel Wilkie, Herbert Hoover, and Gerald Ford. In a world at peace on a planet unscarred by a relentless ideological jihad on our values and our faith, these nice sorts would have made excellent managers of the republic. But war was declared on us long ago, long before September 11.
War was declared on us by militant atheists who sought to deconstruct all our values and to mask their crimes as science. War was declared on us by active, pernicious agents of the Soviet Union who sowed the seeds of racial hatred, gender warfare, and every other discord they could inflame and poison -- they were not in the business of calming and healing. War was declared on us by jealous and irreligious Europeans, who view our faith in anything as hopeless naïveté which it is their pleasure to debunk. War was declared on us by radical Moslems, who saw the version of God which serious Christians and Jews embrace as too loving and too peaceful.
War was declared on us, and the Left here joined the fight against us. War was declared on us, and notional "conservatives" tried to lead us. But, of course, they could not. While Ronald Reagan embarrassed the establishment by calling the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire," our putative conservative nominee would not even raise the malignancy of Jeremiah Wright. While Barry Goldwater nobly challenged federal grasping in 1964, his Arizonan successor called for Washington "solutions" to a Washingtonian financial disease forty-four years later.
What does this mean to conservatives? It means we must choose leaders who believe, even if their cause seems hopeless. It means that we must recall that liberty was not born in our nation in easy ways but at Valley Forge when Washington saw his men's bloody, frostbitten feet as he contemplated the loss of everything he possessed in life if he were to lose. It means remembering that Goldwater was routed in 1964, but came back to the Senate in 1968 with everyone - liberals included -- respected his courage and dignity. It means going back four years to the Reagan Funeral and seeing the long lines of thankful Americans who waited for hours just to say goodbye to the last true leader they had known.
We have hope now. Obama cannot end democracy in America and he probably cannot impose a melancholy quasi-official censorship. Obama can only assume total responsibility for what happens to us over the next two years. Please, conservatives, resist compromise! Make stands upon principle, like Reagan and Goldwater. Take the heart of Washington, the true leader of all conservatives, in fighting for what we believe even if the outcome is uncertain and the struggle is long. Contemplate Churchill in 1940, when he promised to resist rather than parlay with evil.
If we believe in God, then hope is ever certain. If we hold sure and proven laws of human experience, then we know that failed ideas in practice also fail. If we believe in the spirit of the American people and their nation, then we sense that though change comes in elections, the liberty to which we have become accustomed longer than any people in human history cannot be simply crushed.
We fight -- even today -- for our lives and the lives of our children. If we have not had leaders, we must find them. Victory may seem far off. But we can see it still. As another American wrote almost two hundred years ago: "Oh, say does that Star Spangled Banner still wave? Ore the land of the free, and the home of the brave." Francis Scott Key, like George Washington, were models of what conservative leaders must be. We had these men once, and we shall have them again.
Bruce Walker is the author of Sinisterism: Secular Religion of the Lie, and the recently published book, The Swastika against the Cross: The Nazi War on Christianity.