The GOP Will be Back

01.02.13

Commentary's Symposium on the Future of Conservatism

Commentary magazine has published an important symposium on the future of conservatism.

I suspect many people will have much sympathy for Brett Stephens' entry:

I’d be content simply to be less frequently embarrassed by the party to which I belong.

My entry in the symposium is below. And if you're not subscribing to Commentary - well, you should that's all.

The re-election of President Obama has uncorked a jeroboam of conservative pessimism.

Have we arrived at the much-feared "tipping point," beyond which Americans will depend so heavily on government that there can be no turning back, only an onrushing collapse? Will the Obama coalition now forever outvote and and pillage the makers of American wealth?

Many conservative commentators say yes. I say: In this defeat is the path to a more successful future, if Republicans keep their heads and their perspective.

The president's re-election portends a more expensive federal government in the years ahead. More costs implies more taxes. More taxes generate more resistance. That resistance will be the basis of the conservative coalition of tomorrow. As sure as the New Deal yielded to the conservative Congresses after 1938; as sure as the Great Society called forth the conservative revival after 1970; so will the Obama years be followed be a more conservative period.

The next Republican coalition will be a multi-ethnic coalition to temper the excesses and over-reach of the Obama years. It will jettison the reactionary messages that alienated so many persuadable voters in 2012. It will instead avow a Republicanism that is culturally modern, economically inclusive, and environmentally responsible. It will be younger, better educated, and more secular than the coalition that lost in 2012.

That next coalition will not undo everything done in the Obama years. That never happens. What it will do is temper and reform the Obama legacy - just as prior generations of conservatives eliminated swathes of New Deal economic regulation, got government out of the business of building public housing, broke up telecommunications monopolies, and ended unconditional welfare for able-bodied adults. This idea that the state only advances and never retreats is contradicted by the record of the past half-century.

We're a freer society in almost every way than we were in 1963, and we are in no danger of losing our freedom over the next four years. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper retorted to Marxist historians who imagined that the course of history must lead inevitably to socialism: “When radicals scream that victory is indubitably theirs, sensible conservatives knock them on the nose. It is only very feeble conservatives who take such words as true and run round crying for the last sacraments.”

The next Republican coalition will not repeal universal health coverage. That commitment is here to stay, and high time too. But the next coalition will control and reduce health care costs. It will finance healthcare in ways less burdensome to economic growth. It will fight the good fight for private enterprise and free markets in ways relevant to the politics and society of the decades ahead. It will win some and lose some, and when it fades from the scene, it will leave the country better than it found it - as every generation of Americans has left the country better than it found it.

Do I say "it"? No, not "it." I mean - us.