Out of the Wilderness

After the Watergate scandal, Nixon’s resignation and pardon from Ford, the Republicans suffered huge losses in the 1974 elections: 46 House seats and five Senate seats. The number of voters identifying as Republicans stood at 20 percent (versus slightly more than 30 percent today). Then as now, the party leadership was divided on how to win back voters.

Should the Republican party forsake its conservative principles in an effort to court “moderate” and “independent” voters as defined by hostile “mainstream” media elites? Or should we ignore the siren songs of political expediency and calculation, and reaffirm our core convictions?

As usual, Ronald Reagan shows us the way out of the political wilderness. His 1975 speech at CPAC still ring true today. Here are some choice excerpts:

Since our last meeting we have been through a disastrous election. It is easy for us to be discouraged, as pundits hail that election as a repudiation of our philosophy and even as a mandate of some kind or other. But the significance of the election was not registered by those who voted, but by those who stayed home. If there was anything like a mandate it will be found among almost two-thirds of the citizens who refused to participate.

Bitter as it is to accept the results of the November election, we should have reason for some optimism. For many years now we have preached “the gospel,” in opposition to the philosophy of so-called liberalism which was, in truth, a call to collectivism.

Now, it is possible we have been persuasive to a greater degree than we had ever realized. Few, if any, Democratic party candidates in the last election ran as liberals. Listening to them I had the eerie feeling we were hearing reruns of Goldwater speeches. I even thought I heard a few of my own.

Bureaucracy was assailed and fiscal responsibility hailed. Even George McGovern donned sackcloth and ashes and did penance for the good people of South Dakota.

But let’s not be so naive as to think we are witnessing a mass conversion to the principles of conservatism. Once sworn into office, the victors reverted to type. In their view, apparently, the ends justified the means.

Save for the McGovern and Goldwater references, this could have been written about the 2008 election.

This is no time to repeat the shopworn panaceas of the New Deal, the Fair Deal and the Great Society. John Kenneth Galbraith, who, in my opinion, is living proof that economics is an inexact science, has written a new book. It is called “Economics and the Public Purpose.” In it, he asserts that market arrangements in our economy have given us inadequate housing, terrible mass transit, poor health care and a host of other miseries. And then, for the first time to my knowledge, he advances socialism as the answer to our problems.

Underneath the new Hope and Change marketing slogan are the same failed prescriptions based on a fundamentally flawed anthropology and perverse juxtaposition of economic incentives and disincentives so that success is penalized (Marx’s first commandment: Let no good deed go unpunished), while failure is subsidized.

Shorn of all side issues and extraneous matter, the problem underlying all others is the worldwide contest for the hearts and minds of mankind. Do we find the answers to human misery in freedom as it is known, or do we sink into the deadly dullness of the Socialist ant heap?

Those who suggest that the latter is some kind of solution are, I think, open to challenge. Let’s have no more theorizing when actual comparison is possible. There is in the world a great nation, larger than ours in territory and populated with 250 million capable people. It is rich in resources and has had more than 50 uninterrupted years to practice socialism without opposition.

We could match them, but it would take a little doing on our part. We’d have to cut our paychecks back by 75 percent; move 60 million workers back to the farm; abandon two-thirds of our steel-making capacity; destroy 40 million television sets; tear up 14 of every 15 miles of highway; junk 19 of every 20 automobiles; tear up two-thirds of our railroad track; knock down 70 percent of our houses; and rip out nine out of every 10 telephones. Then, all we have to do is find a capitalist country to sell us wheat on credit to keep us from starving!

As usual, Reagan understands the fundamental choice is always between freedom and slavery. The advocates of slavery don’t prefer slavery per se; they prefer to live well at no expense, which requires others to support their profligate lifestyle. They succeed by painting advocates of freedom and limited government as “fascists” and themselves as “liberals.”

. . . Can we live with ourselves if we, as a nation, betray our friends and ignore our pledged word? And, if we do, who would ever trust us again? To consider committing such an act so contrary to our deepest ideals is symptomatic of the erosion of standards and values. And this adds to our discontent.

We did not seek world leadership; it was thrust upon us. It has been our destiny almost from the first moment this land was settled. If we fail to keep our rendezvous with destiny or, as John Winthrop said in 1630, “Deal falsely with our God,” we shall be made “a story and byword throughout the world.”

Americans are hungry to feel once again a sense of mission and greatness.

I don ‘t know about you, but I am impatient with those Republicans who after the last election rushed into print saying, “We must broaden the base of our party”—when what they meant was to fuzz up and blur even more the differences between ourselves and our opponents.

It was a feeling that there was not a sufficient difference now between the parties that kept a majority of the voters away from the polls. When have we ever advocated a closed-door policy? Who has ever been barred from participating?

Our people look for a cause to believe in. Is it a third party we need, or is it a new and revitalized second party, raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people?

Let us show that we stand for fiscal integrity and sound money and above all for an end to deficit spending, with ultimate retirement of the national debt.

Let us also include a permanent limit on the percentage of the people’s earnings government can take without their consent.

Let our banner proclaim a genuine tax reform that will begin by simplifying the income tax so that workers can compute their obligation without having to employ legal help.

And let it provide indexing—adjusting the brackets to the cost of living—so that an increase in salary merely to keep pace with inflation does not move the taxpayer into a surtax bracket. Failure to provide this means an increase in government’s share and would make the worker worse off than he was before he got the raise.

Let our banner proclaim our belief in a free market as the greatest provider for the people.

. . . A political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency, or simply to swell its numbers.

I do not believe I have proposed anything that is contrary to what has been considered Republican principle. It is at the same time the very basis of conservatism. It is time to reassert that principle and raise it to full view. And if there are those who cannot subscribe to these principles, then let them go their way.

Full text here.

Here is a modest proposal for a conservative agenda for 2010 and beyond that conservatives of virtually every stripe should be able to agree on:

(1) Limited government — based on a renewed appreciation and understanding of the Framers’ prescient insights on human nature and the restraints they devised to circumvent the will to power a century before Nietzsche articulated the defining ethos of 20th century totalitarianism.

Limited government means adherence to the foundational Constitutional principles of federalism and separation of powers, and a return to a federal government limited in scope and authority to those powers expressly listed in Article I section 8 of the Constitution.

In truth, all three branches the federal government have been complicit in ignoring these fundamental restraints since the New Deal, and the result has been an intrusive, overreaching and omnipresent Leviathan state whose insatiable demands pose a clear and present danger to our national security and a growing threat to our diminishing freedoms. Limited government means principled opposition to any and all unconstitutional expansions of federal power, including George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind programs and prescription drug entitlements.

(2) Lower taxes — This follows from the first principle of limited government; when you shrink the size and scope of government, taxes go down. It’s that simple.

Unlawful expansions of government is usually accompanied by inequitable distribution of the tax burden. Conservatives must oppose “tax cuts” for people who don’t pay taxes and ever-increasing burdens on those who work hard, save and invest. If we take Joe Biden at his word that paying taxes constitutes the highest form of patriotism, then by his admission, many of his constituents are not patriots.

We must end the cynical Marxist class warfare via the twin evils of “taxation without representation” for the 50 percent of the population who pay 100% of the taxes and “representation without taxation” for the 50% who pay no taxes. Citizenship has its burdens as well as its privileges. We may disagree on what constitutes a fair share, but we can at least agree that as long as we have an income tax, then anyone who has an income should pay something.

(3) Ordered liberty — based on fidelity to the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law, not selective appeals to international law when it is politically convenient and arbitrary rulings benefiting the politically connected at the expense of those who followed the rules.

(4) Finally, a return to our unshakeable faith in the universal truths and inalienable rights affirmed by the Declaration of Independence and safeguarded by the Constitution. As conservatives, we affirm the ideal of Equal Protection; everyone is equal before the law. Our government “servants” seem to think that some are more equal than others, cheerleading the growing Balkanization and fragmentation of our national unity. E pluribus unum means “out of many, one” and not, as Al Gore tellingly mistranslated “out of one, many.”

Hat tip: Steve Hayward at The Corner on National Review Online.


One Response to Out of the Wilderness

  1. Good Article. The reason the Republicans lost is that they forgot their fiscal conservativism. George Bush, Jr. & Sr. were not committed to fiscal conservatism and liberty. When the Republicans won the all three branches of the federal government they squandered their opportunity on bork barrel politics, so they lost badly in the next two elections. Republicans also have to be careful to not be exclusively the party of the religous right. This is not the core of the republican party and is not the path of liberty.

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