Wednesday, November 19, 2008

And Then I Woke Up

Real life intruded for a bit. Sorry about the long absence. I'd been feeling fatigued, so I laid down and had this crazy dream that Barack Obama became the Democratic nominee for president and then he actually got elected! I know, crazy, right?

Part of the reason I haven't posted is because I've felt the need to write something long about the future of conservatism, and I just haven't had the time for a long, thoughtful post. Which has never stopped me before. (Ba-DUM-bum.) I've also wanted to do my post-mortem of the McCain campaign. But most of it has already been said by now. Still, just for the sake of posterity, I'll throw a few of my thoughts out there over the course of a post or two (or three).

First, the future of conservatism. The election did not represent some massive shift in the electorate. The race was about even until the economy tanked. People were scared about it, and Obama appeared sure-footed while McCain was anything but. Obama won 52% of the vote. That's convincing (unless, of course, 52% of the people in, say, California vote to protect traditional marriage, in which case 52% is a practically laughable, meaningless number that we should all ignore). But it does not indicate some massive ideological shift.

McCain was a lousy, non-conservative candidate who (because of that) drew almost zero help from outside 527-type groups, had the entire national media working tirelessly against him, had no clear message, ran from the same party as a wildly unpopular incumbent president, was outspent in the campaign by several magnitudes, stumbled at a crucial point when the economy collapsed--and still finished within about 8 million votes of Obama in a 300 million-person nation. And since one more than 50% is a majority, that means that there were really only about 4 million actual voters separating McCain and Obama. Flip those 4 million and the election goes the other way. Considering the stacked deck, that's amazing. I predicted, because McCain was such a bad candidate, that he'd lose 40 states. He did much better than I expected. If nothing else, it shows that the country has experienced nothing close to a sea change, no matter what the pundits say.

The fact is, this is still a center-right country. Two states that Obama won also passed marriage amendments. 62% of people in Florida --which Obama won--voted to approve a marriage amendment. Social conservative issues are still a political winner when presented well. McCain inexplicably decided to minimize social conservative issues, and he lost as a result, garnering no real fervor from his own side while failing to win any converts from the other side either. But when social issues come up for a vote, the American public in general shows itself to be socially conservative.

For instance, every single state (more than 30 of them) that has had a chance to outlaw gay marriage has done it. Think about it: why did Obama feel the need to disguise himself as a social conservative? Obama came out in opposition to gay marriage (and if you believe him on that, I have some land just west of me here in Florida...) and claimed to want to reduce the number of abortions (though Planned Parenthood and NARAL ardently supported him). Why did he present himself that way? Because he knows that the country won't vote for gay-marrying, open abortion-without-restriction loving politicians, that's why. Even on economic issues, Obama made the most headway on McCain running to his right. Obama's main economic argument was that he was going to cut more of your taxes than McCain was. And he was able to accurately criticize Republicans for being irresponsible on spending. Ultimately, I'm confident that Obama will not prove to be better on any of these scores because he's a Democrat and will do what Democrats always do. But the point is, he won by stealing essentially conservative positions from the hapless Republican candidate.

Many voices in the Republican Party are calling for an abandonment of conservatism. To which I say once again, "How about trying conservatism?" So-called "compassionate conservatism" ends up being neither, and it has been a huge failure. The mortgage mess was caused by big-government policies. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were both created by big-government policies. The extremely unpopular bailout is a big-government policy. How do these things impugn actual conservatism? The answer is: they don't. They do impugn a chunk of the Republican Party. But not conservatism. When Republicans run for the presidency as solid conservatives, they win. When they run as mealy-mouthed middle-of-the-roaders, they lose. Sure, conservatism needs to have a smile on it. Nobody wants Newt Gingrich to be president (except perhaps Newt). But presented well, conservatism is still a winning proposition.

Whatever the pundits say, don't forget that at the end of the day, people elected a guy who said he was going to cut their taxes, curb federal spending, reduce the number of abortions, and opposes gay marriage. How exactly does this prove the death of conservatism?

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