Work and Days

The Problem is not conservatism, but conservatives who aren't conservative

A Simple Conservative Message

There is a lot of anguish among Republicans as they look at the dismal polls and the even more depressing performance of their candidates in various preliminary House races. New books and prophets forecast an end to conservatism, and a need to formulate a new sort of muscular liberalism to meet new challenges. Expect more such nostrums if Barack Obama wins in the fall.

What mystifies is the paralysis of Republicans and their impotent protestations that “Bush did it”. The truth is that Congressional Republicans, responsible for turning principles into governance, deserve to lose—unless they craft clear positions that won’t be compromised and then offer them as alternative choices to the voters this fall. Here are some examples:

Spending: a balanced budget, no exceptions. Voters are tired of hearing that this or that projection assures a balanced budget in 2, 3, or 5 years. Revenues continue to soar after the tax cuts, so the problem is too much going out, not too little coming in. Surpluses are preferable to deficits, since we want to retire, not add to out foreign debt. Just say no—or better yet “Please pay for it” — the next time a new entitlement is introduced.

The War: Afghanistan and Iraq have radically improved. Anti-war hype and slurs are a year out of date. We are finally on the edge of having done the impossible: removed the most odious regimes in the Middle East and fostered constitutional governments in their places. Spending on general defense and the war still run at only 4% of GDP, not high by historical levels. The reforming Petraeus army is stronger and wiser, despite the toll of war, for our ordeals in the Middle East. As troops slowly begin to come home next year, let everyone take credit for it.

Energy: Drill, explore, conserve. The answer does not lie in any one area, but in the willingness to produce more energy in all of them. We must ensure more oil, coal, and nuclear power, conserve more energy as we produce more—to prevent going broke while we transition to next-generation fuels.

Why should others abroad, who are far less careful, extract oil for us in areas of the world more fragile than our own? We must end the notion that ANWR only yields a million barrels a day, or the coasts only 2 million, or tar sands or shale only a million, or nuclear power and coal only so many megawatts of power. To paraphrase, Sen. Dirksen—‘a million barrels a day here, a million there, pretty soon it adds up to real production.’

Economy: We are in a natural down cycle, not the Great Depression—interest rates, unemployment, economic growth, and stock prices do not reflect a recession. Use this downturn as a warning not to spend what we don’t have when things rebound.

Close the border, and then, and only then, argue over what’s next. Stop illegal entries, while we promote assimilation, the English language, integration, and education in American civics. Do that and most of our seemingly insurmountable problems will shrink as we endlessly bicker over amnesty, guest workers, and legal quotas.

Trade: free and supervised trade creates more jobs, makes us more competitive, and fosters alliances. Protectionism does the opposite. Americans like to compete and usually win—when they know the rules of the contest are fair and clearly explained to them.

Foreign Policy: Neither provoke nor talk to our enemies in the Middle East, Asia, or South America. Instead, cultivate our allies, build our defenses—and be ready for anything.

Homeland Security: the framework is in place. Let the Democrats try to repeal it. Let them make the argument that the Patriot Act and Guantanamo haven’t made us safer.

Ethics: Warn Republicans that in matters of sex, influence peddling, and graft, the Party of family values suffers the additional wage of hypocrisy. So the tolerance level for these sins is zero.

If Republicans could adopt such a simple message, stick to it, and find the most articulate spokespeople, they could still win.

The Alternative

Why? Because for all the charisma, Barack Obama advocates antitheses that most in most years would not otherwise choose—higher taxes, more government spending; pie-in-the-sky promises of wind and solar while gas hits $5 a gallon; more government intrusion into the economy that leaves us with more obstacles after the economy improves on its own; more illegal aliens as we talk in lofty terms of “comprehensive immigration reform,” a de facto euphemism for open borders; a protectionism that only antagonizes friends, drives prices higher, and insulates us from reality; and a multilateralist foreign policy, patterned after UN leadership, in which we deny rather than confront challenges.

In short, the Republicans’ problem? They forgot who they were and can’t explain what they might be. They need to go back to basics, adopt conservative principles to confront new challenges, and then find the most effective spokesmen they can to explain their positions—hourly.