After successfully shifting the center of American politics and social thought to the right over four decades, conservatism is at its weakest point since Barry Goldwater's landslide defeat in 1964, Richard Posner writes. The author of A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of '08 and the Descent into Depression cites four reasons for the recent sharp decline of the conservative movement:
- the failure of military force to
achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives;
- the inanity of trying to
substitute will for intellect, as in the denial of global warming, the
use of religious criteria in the selection of public officials, the
neglect of management and expertise in government;
- a continued
preoccupation with abortion; and
- fiscal incontinence in the form of massive budget deficits, the Medicare drug plan, excessive foreign borrowing, and asset-price inflation.
Leading conservative intellectuals, he contends, have grown old and died, and remaining ones no longer feel at home in the Republican Party. We've seen the waning of issues that fueled conservatism's dominance. He writes that most people now believe there is
Conservative columnist William Kristol doesn't seem to get this. In "An Anti-Obama Agenda for the GOP," he argues that the GOP can rebuild itself simply by complaining about Obama's spending and the growing national debt; Obama's refusal to spend on favored GOP defense contracts; Obama's over-emphasis on diplomacy with the nation's adversaries; his closing of Guantanamo and softness on terrorists; and the anticipated backfiring of health care reform or backlash against it.
I doubt Kristol is right. Barring another terrorist attack on U.S. soil, with clear evidence of Obama administration negligence, I seriously doubt the American people in key swing states like North Carolina will presume Obama negligence on national security, nor buy the charge that he's weak on defense since he's increasing defense spending overall. The GOP has a terrible record on fiscal responsibility, so their criticisms in that area do not offer any confidence that they could do better. Their obstructionist approach to health care reform is unlikely to win votes as most people realize major changes are needed.
Gary Becker, a conservative and Nobel-prize-winning economist who shares a blog with Posner,
writes about "the serious conflict in the modern conservative movement" -- essentially between classical libertarian conservatives and moralists/interventionists. He recommends that the Republican Party embrace far more flexible approaches on hot button issues like gays in the military, gay marriage, abortions, and cell stem research, and develop a "less interventionist" foreign policy, with more skepticism toward American military involvement abroad. If the Republican Party does not embrace a "consistently skeptical view of government," he argues, it will have a very difficult time emerging from the doldrums.
These essays have elicited interesting comments. Ed Cone points out that "as if on cue, an unsurprising number of the comments (in response to Posner) concern global warming and abortion," essentially proving his point about the ideological rigidity of anti-intellectual elements within the GOP. Andrew Sullivan, author of The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back says, in essence, that George W. Bush ruined conservatism.
The hope for an expanding, inclusive conservatism is for issues like gay marriage, race, immigration, abortion, religious tests for political office, and for "spokesmen" like Rush Limbaugh to go away. I would guess that in eight years, gay marriage will be widely accepted, race-based affirmative action will not be of much concern, immigration reform will have happened, there will no longer be much debate over Roe V. Wade or prayer in public schools, and Limbaugh will have retired.
The political pendulum swings. By 2016, maybe conservatism will come back.