I confess, I find myself less devastated by Obama’s victory than I had expected. Perhaps it is in part due to my own secret desire for a new face, any face, in the White House born out of the innate short American attention span that lives in all of us. Or it may have been the realization, upon seeing the reaction of Obama’s African American supporters watching him with tearful eyes at Grant Park, of what his election meant to them. It may also be my perverse yearning, to date never acted upon in the voting booth, to see the Republicans dragged from power and scolded for their abandonment of the crucial conservative and libertarian principles of small government and a balanced budget, if only to force them to sit in time out and reform their ways. In any case, today I am still capable of smiling, whistling, getting out of bed, and generally seeing the bright side of life, despite the election of what is without doubt the most liberal president in American history and the imminent assault upon the sacred principles of our republic. My above thoughtful speculation aside, I do indeed know the real reasons why I haven’t stepped into oncoming traffic.

1. Obama ran on either conservative (tax cuts for the middle class) or populist (health care reform) principles rather than overtly declaring his radically left-wing ideology; indeed, he went to great lengths to keep it hidden.
2. John McCain’s campaign was incoherent and, sadly, ill-conceived (we’ve known this all along, but we put on a happy face for the sake of party unity), rallying conservative support not based upon his candidacy, but upon opposition to Obama’s radicalism.
3. Obama is a great communicator, as Reagan was. John McCain is not. While it grates me personally that talking pretty is valued by our society more highly than what someone is actually saying, I understand that the “Communificator In Chief” George W Bush has left the country increasingly more nostalgic for the flowery rhetoric of a Reagan or Clinton.
4. Right or wrong, the American public is tired of the polarizing image of George W Bush, fostered by the media
5. A bad economy always hurts the sitting president and his party. Always.

All of these things add up to the truth behind Obama’s big win: conservatism didn’t lose in this election, John McCain did. Obama had to move to the center in order to attract the support that he did. He greatly moderated his tone on health care reform, criticizing the notion of universal health care advocated by Hillary Clinton. His central message was a tax break for the middle class, a message that he managed to steal from the Republicans and own throughout the campaign. How did this happen? Unfortunately it was allowed to happen by the fumbling McCain campaign. It’s not my intention to be the armchair quarterback here or pile on McCain for his loss, but facts are facts. They couldn’t get their message straight and were never as masterful as their Democrat opponents in finding their voice. It wasn’t until Joe the Plumber came along and articulated their thesis for them that they finally seemed to get it right. But by then it was too late. McCain’s inarticulate conversation with the American people was all the more ineffectual in contrast with Obama’s superlative oratory skill, which cannot be understated. The economy tanked at the peak of the campaign season. Throw in the exhaustion Americans felt as a result of constant battery and demonizing of George W Bush by the Democrats and the media, and you have a playing field tipped greatly in Obama’s favor. And despite all this, he still didn’t win the landslide the Democrats were hoping for.

What this means for conservatism is that we need to pick our next candidate wisely. The conventional wisdom that led to McCain’s primary victory was that we needed someone who couldn’t be tied too closely to Bush’s policies. Well, look how that turned out. Our candidate’s message was off the mark; he repeatedly ceded rhetorical ground to his opponents. For instance, the premise was adopted by our own party that Bush was entirely to blame for the economy, when, if anything, the blame lay clearly with the Democrats. McCain let Obama be the candidate of the middle class, when this is traditionally conservative territory. The Republican candidate in 2012 needs to be, of course, a conservative rather than a moderate. They must also have the ability to communicate clearly and comfortably on their own terms, rather than on the terms of the opposition. They must be able to relate the conservative message to ordinary, middle class Americans (note: this may take some reimagining, though not at the expense of the principles themselves). They must be a superior debater and mentally nimble. They must be a new face in the Republican Party rather than a member of its tired establishment. And they must surround themselves with an experienced and clever campaign staff that understands the lessons of 2008.

Fortunately for the Republican Party, and more importantly conservatives, the Democrats are running the show exclusively for at least the next two years, and unless I miss my guess they will be easy targets. If the Democrat Congress’ performance and approval ratings since 2006 are any indication, there will be plenty of material to work with in 2012. Though I’m sure the Democrats will be running against George W Bush for at least the next four to six years, that message will become increasingly irrelevant as they pursue and enact radical reforms. They will overplay their hand and cause fracturing within the delicate coalition they managed to cobble together in 2008. If Republicans can shore up their conservative base while chipping off one of those critical factions, such as Hispanics or young voters, they can retake at least one branch of government.

So be of good cheer! Things have to get worse before they get better, and hard times always bring out the best in Americans.


Hariolor said...

I wouldn't really say the abject incompetence of McCain and the bastardization of wonderful Sarah Palin into an uber-conservative caricature makes me not want to step into oncoming traffic. Nor does the effectiveness of Obama's "moderate" shift in having hoodwinked America.

Nay, I don't walk into oncoming traffic because I'd hate to hurt people when their cars bend around my remorseless, indestructible body.

But I digress.

The facts are, Obama:
1) isn't actually president yet
2) will be hamstrung by a weak economy for at least the first 6 months of his term, probably longer
3) is smart enough to at least listen to alternative views, hopefully softening his stance a bit, even if he is still far more liberal than we'd hope.
4) the analogy of our liberties and money being taken away bit by bit like a frog in a pot of slowly warming water is an apt one, but two years from now there is only so much irreparable harm that can have been done, and by then conservatives have a good shot at regaining some seats in the congress.

And finally, and most importantly, I think it's because regardless of how badly Obama screws us over, there is no amendment that can't be un-amended, no tax code that can't be re-written. Assuming the nation survives his social experiments intact, history will march on and his radical agenda will be forced to stand the test of the ages.

Vive America.

Ben Wheat said...

Regarding point 4, I think the issue here is that conservatives won't have a chance at taking back seats in Congress UNLESS the Democrats do a whole helluva lot of damage.

On your closing remark, unfortunately when the changes made are free money from the government, they are impossible to roll back. They invariably become the "third rail" of politics, like social security, medicare, etc. Supreme Court rulings are a bear to overturn as well, and appointments are, of course, for life. The residue of a liberal Court will cling to our society for at least a generation.

These are the things that worry me most, but as I find myself in an optimistic frame of mind and hope for the best.