Conservatives at a Fork in the Road

The Tea party at its inception was an eclectic mix of Tenth amendment Republicans, non-ideological, fiscally responsible Independents, isolationist Libertarians, Reagan Democrats and a smattering of those who routinely attach themselves to third party causes. Despite their divergent leanings, they united around key themes; government run amuck, fiscal sanity, entitlement reform).

What happened to the Tea Party movement? The Democrats and their friends in the media launched a relentless assault labeling the Tea Part as the lunatic fringe of the Republican party. They successfully raised the cost of associating with the movement and little by little the bonds that united the participants frayed and people returned to the corners from which they came.

Why was it once safe for Democrats to cross over and vote for Reagan but not cross over to the Tea Party movement? The Reagan movement was arguably more conservative than the Tea Party. If conservatives fail to understand, we risk becoming a permanent powerless minority, a curiosity, not unlike the Green party.

Our president has asserted some questionable, if not ridiculous notions; the stimulus worked; the Obamacare mandates will not result in employers dumping coverage; the capital gains rate should be increased in the name of fairness even if it results in diminishing revenues; raising the minimum wage will not hurt part-time employment for the young and minority populations. Nancy Pelosi actually said that extending unemployment benefits reduced unemployment.

None of the above assertions are true. Yet, the Democrats have successfully united millions of Americans around those themes. Hard work has carried the relatively weak arguments of the left. Democrats have given their voters a cause to unite behind and they have worked incessantly to ingrain it.

The hallmark of Reagan conservatism was the energy brought to argument. Reagan dedicated eighteen years to making the case that personal freedom and the free market provides the whole society with better outcomes than government control.

Today conservative displeasure has eclipsed conservative argument. Our energy is expended in angry bursts, not persuasive intensity.  I have maintained my conservative principles through eleven presidential elections. But there are times when I feel as if there is a litmus test for conservatism that I can no longer pass. Some vocal conservatives write as if conservatism is an exclusive club that only a select few should be allowed to join.

I don’t agree with Erick Erickson that we need to be happy warriors. I’m not that happy. Even liberals are not necessarily happy. But liberals recognize that message doesn’t deliver itself.

Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams. Linda Chavez, Ed Feulner, Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp have provided us with reams of evidence and argument to take to the debate. Ben Carson recently made clear that the collective wisdom of the whole society is far superior to the limited wisdom of the liberal elite.

Conservatives may ultimately pursue their goals in the Republican party or outside it. The fork in the road is just ahead. Conservatives can be content with our ideological purity, self-satisfied with our intellectual superiority or we can acknowledge that we are losing the battle and pursue conservative ideals with the same energy it required to bring the country from Lyndon Johnson to Ronald Reagan.

We need to bring something to the table besides our disapproval. The first amendment, the tenth amendment, a secure dollar and upward mobility will appeal to many Americans, if we are willing to make the case.