I Tip My Cap as I Enter the Wilderness
Today, I am a proud American and disappointed conservative.
Quick aside: The Redskins Model once again predicts the winner.
I heartily congratulate Barack Obama he ran an amazing (if deceptive) campaign. A campaign that not only beat John McCain yesterday, but one that knocked off the Clinton machine in the primaries, an even more impressive win I think.
There is no doubt that yesterday was a significant and historic moment in American history. I’d like to associate myself with Jim Manzi’s comment, about what we have overcome. The picture says it all.
I have argued in this space that I believe that neither of this year’s nominees was likely to be a successful President. I continue to believe that Barack Obama is likely to be a poor President who will attempt to implement policies that will be detrimental to the national interest. Further, I think most political commentary relies far too much on the sloppy sentimentality of “Here’s how I feel about things”, but here goes.
Legal racial segregation was prevalent in America within living memory, yet we appear to have just elected a black man to the position of maximum honor, authority and influence in the country. The manner of this political victory is important, as well. This was not some prize bestowed upon him, and Barack Obama didn’t just buy a winning lottery ticket; he out-smarted and out-worked both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. It is healthy that the American political system gathers the energies and talents of those who feel excluded into the nation to change it, rather than pushing them away from the nation to oppose it. I expect a lot of damage to be done to the nation’s economy, politics, and social order due to the excesses of a government dominated by a combination of Barack Obama and a radicalized Democratic caucus in Congress, but as a wise man once put it, “there is a great deal of ruin in a nation.”
There are about 1,460 days until the next Presidential election, and I assume that I will spend approximately the next 1,459 of them opposing Barack Obama. But I’m spending today proud about what my country has overcome.
I am joyful that we have leaped over one hurdle, but I do not believe for one moment that we have now magically “transcended” race.
Now for the disappointment:
We do not know if President Obama will govern as the post-racial/post-ideological politician he presented to the electorate or as the stealthy far left progressive, which his record suggests he really is. I do hope that Manzi and I are wrong, but I doubt it. Let’s face it there is nothing “new” about Obama or his policies. Transforming the United States into an immense, Denmark-on the Mississippi might have its pleasures. But would it still be America?
I found Obama’s victory speech encouraging, except for one crucial point, “partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.” I won’t argue the pettiness and immaturity point as both parties are guilty on those counts. However, I have grave misgivings about any politician who calls for an end to partisanship. Calling for “unity” to solve our problems and an end to “divisiveness” was the central theme of his campaign. The problem with this view is that a democracy is fundamentally about disagreement, not unity. The founders took a cynical view of unity, which is why they devised a system of divided government to diffuse the power of factions and set their passions against one another. They valued the rights of the individual over the group (faction) and hence saw divisiveness (partisanship) as means to secure liberty and thwart the state from taking away that liberty
Obama’s hoary rhetoric about unity and an end to partisanship is a siren’s song. What he really means is that conservatives must abandon their partisanship and get on board the progressive express to the sunny uplands of history. The thug tactics of his campaign to silence and intimidate those who engaged in speech it did not like belie the lofty rhetoric.
My friend Ron Smith, says beware of the Black Swan, “events that one would describe as highly improbable; things sprung upon us from out of the blue, unforeseen by ‘experts.’” Just a few short years ago there was talk of permanent Republican majorities and Zell Miller was labeling the Democrats, “A National Party No More”. Yet, the Bush administration seemed beset by a flock of Black Swans, many, of its own breeding. Oh my how things changed in four short years. I offer that warning to Obama supporters, especially those more detached from reality than others. Winning an election is one thing, governing and implementing your agenda in the face of political and economic realities is another, and as with much of the progressive project, the unintended consequences can be a bitch.
John McCain may have lost, the election, but the MSM also lost. That many supposedly objective journalists and broadcasters were so obviously in the tank for Obama is clear. Even Tom Shales, no conservative, said of the election night coverage:
Network anchors and reporters vied for airtime in which to express their own elation at Obama’s win, and a sometimes inappropriate personal sense of victory; were reporters who said they were thrilled by Obama’s winning sort of confirming charges of pro-Obama bias that had been leveled by McCain forces during the campaign?
MSM figures may rejoice in the victory of their preferred candidate however, they are Nero fiddling while their empire crumbles around them.
Senator McCain’s concession speech was quintessential McCain, classy and honorable. John McCain is a good man and dedicated public servant. However, he was a terrible candidate, the last man standing from a pool of admittedly underwhelming aspirants. He ran a disorganized haphazard campaign. In the case of Bill Ayers and ACORN, was either unwilling to make the right argument or failed to see it.
Even if McCain had pulled off a miracle and won, I wouldn’t see that as cause for celebration. That piercing pain conservatives would feel would be John McCain’s thumb in our eye (think cap and trade).
However, the bulk of this loss (and 2006) falls squarely on the GOP. Since the end of the Reagan era, the party moved away from its core principles, and in the interest of power followed another siren song: compassionate conservatism, which is decidedly not conservatism as I understand it. Compassionate conservatism is nothing more than right-wing progressivism. Whether it was enacting the largest entitlement since the Great Society (Medicare Part D), spending that would make Democrats blush, or well intentioned but conservatively abhorrent faith-based initiatives, compassionate conservatism is not the Buckley-Goldwater-Reagan style conservatism I embraced, and moved the country to the right over the last 28 years. I look forward to time spent in the wilderness. I hope that this will be a time for renewal and recommitment to the principles that made the conservative movement successful.
Renewal must not be merely retrenchment. Any future resurgence will not come without huge honking arguments amongst ourselves. It is not merely about recommitting to first principles but how best to apply them. Do we go the route of retrenchment to anti-state Limbaugh conservatism, or Ross Douthat’s reformist conservatism? I highly recommend Douthat’s bloggingheadstv conversation (video below) with Jonah Goldberg about this intra-conservative argument.
Of course, conservatives will be leading the loyal opposition. Brian is right that we should not descend into asshattery, or succumb to some conservative strain of Bush Derangement Syndrome. We need to as Mark Steyn says, “rediscover a coherent conservatism and find someone who can pitch it to sufficient numbers of people. We didn’t have either in this campaign.”
We got whipped butt good. However, the fight continues and although we have a new president the same old differences still exist, they always will.