The Emerging Conservative Consensus
Republicans can win big in 2010 and 2012 by talking less about social issues and more about economic liberty and federalism.
December 16, 2009 - 12:50 am
Second, economic conservatives (or “eco-cons”) would be wise to emphasis economic liberty over economic growth. For years, eco-cons have argued that big government was hurting big business and therefore hurting the main beneficiary of unfettered big business, the proverbial “little guy.” This message doesn’t resonate so much in an era where big government and big business cooperate and collude on nearly everything imaginable, from credit loans, to subprime mortgages, to environmental regulations, to pharmaceuticals — and as a result, got us in the mess we’re in today. “Economic liberty will bring sustainable economic growth” should be the message. It’s a winning message.
It’s also a bold one. Why focus solely on the unfairness of our current tax bracket structure — where the top 1% pays 40% of the nation’s taxes and the top 50% pays 97% — when this is a prime opportunity to attack the insanity (and unconstitutionality) of federal income taxation itself? Where is the discussion about the improprieties of the Federal Reserve? Who is promoting the idea of a consumption tax as an alternative? Who is explaining the FairTax (or flat tax) to the American people in a coherent manner? Where is the national debate on the fall of the U.S. dollar, on deficit spending, on the debt, on returning to the gold standard, on abolishing the IRS?
This is the eco-cons’ moment. We should be having a dialogue on what Jefferson, Adams, Madison, etc. — “right-wingers” all, by contemporary standards — would be doing if they were in our shoes. The 18th-century political literature is there to be read and it’s as fascinating as it is prescient to today. Who cares which candidate will cut taxes a few percentage points? Eco-cons ought to be thinking big, illuminating our history, explaining who we are, and revealing how statism is alien to the American experience.
Last but not least, there’s the national security conservatives, forever splintered into two primary camps: the so-called realists (think: Colin Powell) and the neoconservatives, or “neocons” (think: Paul Wolfowitz). These two camps have been at loggerheads ever since Nixon went to China. The realists insist theirs is a pragmatic foreign policy, aimed at achieving great things like “regional stability,” “détente,” and the “balance of power.” To get these things, the realists are ready and eager to make a deal with the devil and consequently sell out our allies.
The neocons, on the other hand, believe in promoting democratic principles and supporting democratic dissidents throughout the world — particularly those in tyrannical countries — in order to uphold our national purpose and achieve our national interests. In other words, “stability” is pointless and counterproductive if it means stabilizing rogue regimes. Better to support freedom, the neocons say.
Common ground between these two camps is hard to come by, but there might be an opportunity in the aftermath of Iraq. Needless to say, there’s little political support in the U.S. to replicate our Iraq experience elsewhere. In fact, considering we are a war-weary nation — unlikely to initiate another massive preemptive intervention anytime soon — this allows the realists and neocons to unite on the means with which they agree (i.e., a strong military) and save debates about the ends with which they disagree (i.e., what to do with that military) for prestigious seminars and think tank meetings. This puts both camps right back where they’re most comfortable: reserving their open hostility toward one another until it’s time to vie for cabinet posts in the next Republican administration.
For too long, conservatives allowed themselves to be labeled cold corporatists on economics, warmongers on national security, and moral busybodies on social issues. The irony is: the more conservatives embrace the foundations of conservatism — economic liberty, individual freedom, states’ rights, and opposition to international tyranny — the more likely they are to dispel these unfair labels. Changing their opinions won’t unite conservatives, but rediscovering their philosophical roots — and explaining the timeless logic behind their philosophy — will.
And that’s exactly what’s beginning to happen today.