The Next Conservative Idea?


I can’t think of anything more contrary to the spirit of Burkean conservatism than a search for the “next big thing.” Indeed, I would argue that a large part of the problem with modern conservatism is that Bush and the K Street Gang were more concerned with finding something big to do than with standing athwart history shouting stop.

Megan's response: a policy matter, conservatives need to figure out how they're going to stop the juggernaut. Reagan did it with tax cuts, big increases in defense spending, and deregulation. The first two are pretty much out of the picture, and no one's mounted a serious drive at deregulation for more than a decade. It would be nice if one could win an election on "Don't just do something--stand there!" This would quite warm my little heart. But it doesn't work. Conservatives need to figure out how they are going to roll back the bad ideas and prevent new bad ones from getting through. For that, they need a proposal a bit more eloquent than "Stop!"

My related thoughts here. At a deeper level, the betrayal of so many conservative principles by the Republicans under Bush and Rove means that whatever emerges from the ashes of conservatism will probably not emerge quickly. Obama's redistributionist approach to taxes is galling; his insouciance toward the welfare state unappetising.

But his return to pragmatism and realism in foreign policy, his support for transparency in government, his less statist version of healthcare reform, his disavowal of torture and the overweening executive, his respect for the Constitution, and his potential for taking us past the post-Vietnam culture wars: these are definitely appealing to small-c conservatives after the last eight years. When you add to this the unknowable cultural impact of the first black president, the re-branding of the US in the world, and the new interest of a whole new generation in the fate of their nation, it doesn't seem to me to be a "crazy left-wing" idea to be attracted to his candidacy. Gerson agrees:

The enthusiasm of many Republicans and conservatives to defeat Hillary Clinton would have come unbidden. Against Obama, it will come harder.

The only thing worse in politics than not having power is forgetting why you wanted it in the first place. My own sense is that the great debate about conservatism that is in its infancy would be more fertile out of power than in it.