Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Conservative But Not Republican: A Growing Trend

The polling numbers give the lie to two wrong impressions that are widely shared among many conservatives and many Christians today, as far as US politics is concerned. And these misconceptions affect the way many Canadian Evangelicals position themselves with regard to conservatism.

Myth #1: Conservative Christians have sold their souls to the Republican Party and are just voting robots who never question party orthodoxy.

This myth is widely promulgated by left-wing Evangelicals who wish to portray conservative Christians as uneducated, unthinking, and easily led. It serves as a backdrop to the argument that moving left is just what anyone must do who wishes to have any kind of influence in the world today. So the myth justifies the left-ward turn of certain Evangelicals in search of political "relevance."

The main problem with the myth is that it is not true. What is true is that sometimes Evangelicals have chosen to be part of a mainline party with a serious shot at wininng even though much of what that party stands for is alien to true conservative and Christian concerns. This is a strategic decision, which everyone in pratical politics has to wrestle with at times, and it demonstrates political maturity rather than immaturity.

Rasmussen Reports polls show that the majority of conservatives in the US do not call themselves Republicans (56%). This means that some conservatives vote for conservative Democratic candidates and that many others are independents. In fact, most Independents in the US are not poised half-way between conservative and liberal positions; they are actually mostly conservatives. Some conservatives typically vote Republican but do not call themselves Republican because they perceive the Republican Party as not conservative enough or not the right kind of conservative.

Myth #2: The Republican Party must "broaden" itself (meaning become less conservative) in order to reach out to moderates and have any chance of winning elections in the future.

This is probably exactly the opposite of what it needs to do in order to win. Rasumssen Reports shows that only about 20% of American self-identify as Republicans, with just under 40% self-identifying as Democrat and 30% as Independents. Yet, many polls show conservatives making up a majority of the voting population in the US. Obama won by convincing many of the Independents that he was not an extreme liberal and the swift drop in his approval ratings (from 67% in February to 46% now) are what one would expect to see once the extremity of his liberal policies - especially with regard to the economy - become clear. Obama's election was also helped by the number of conservatives who stayed home, rather than vote for a Republican party that had revealed itself to be too liberal for their tastes, especially on fiscal matters.

Rasmussen Polls also show that 73% of Republicans think that the party leaders have lost touch with their base. It would appear that the party leadership needs to re-think the question of whether or not it wishes to be the vehicle for conservatives to make their voice heard in Washington or if it does not. If not, it will lose conservative support and become unelectable. The Tea Party movement is targeting liberals from both parties and willing to support conservatives of any party. The Republican leadership should be worried about this kind of grass roots activism, which is more interested in the substance of policy issues than party labels or the careers of party hacks. All the talk from the likes of Rod Dreher and David Frum about moving to the middle is political suicide. What the Republican Party needs to do is re-define the middle further rightward in order to be in touch with the electorate.

Sarah Palin undoubtedly saved John McCain from being utterly humiliated in the 2008 election. If McCain had picked Romney or Gulianni as his running mate he might have lost by the biggest margin in history because the conservative base was fed up with the Republicans acting like a Democratic-lite party. The respectability of the margin was due to Palin's energizing of the conservative base at the last minute and what the Republican Party has to come to grips with is that to alienate this base again is to hand the next election cycle to the Democrats.

If they won't stand for principle, (which they should), they should at least act in their own enlightened self-interest to avoid political oblivion. There simply is no room in American poltics for a Republican Party that is neither conservative nor liberal. The lesson to be learned from Doug Hoffman's success in New York 23 is that the choices confronting the Republican Party are: (1) tack back to the right and shore up a base that may give it a chance to win or (2) tack to the left and witness the rise of a conservative third party that will split the conservative vote until the Republican Party itself sinks beneath the waves forever. There are no other choices.

The conservative movement in America has entered a phase of maturity with regard to intellectual and political matters that make it impossible for old-line, big-business, Northeastern, Republican Party bosses to manipulate it. Pundits who talk irresponsibly about the "death of conservatism" are out of touch with reality. America is not going to become Europe any time soon. I would be willing to bet that Europe is more likely to shift rightward in the next decade than America is to shift left-ward.

Obama is making the country more conservative the more he actually implements his big-government, tax and spend policies. The Value Added Tax he will need to introduce to prevent the deficit from destroying the economy will be the last straw and he will be gone in 2012. America cannot afford to be a military superpower and a welfare state like European countries. Canada, Europe and America all have similar levels of taxation; the difference is that what goes for welfare programs in Canada and Europe goes to military expenditures in America. I can't see Obama daring to gut America's military in the short term (although he clearly would like to do so in the long run), so the huge increase in Federal spending must be balanced with significantly higher taxation. What that will do to the economy is not pleasant to contemplate.

If you think that Obama can ramp up the welfare state to European levels, maintain US military dominance and keep taxes at current levels all at the same time, you are simply dreaming. In order for America to implement the liberal goals of the Obama administration, America would have to accept a policy of isolation, accept being held hostage by OPEC, accept the disappearance of Israel as a Jewish state, accept more than a few steps toward world government through the UN and accept the long, slow, decline of the American economy. I think America is a long way from being the kind of country that would accept all that. I think it is a lot more likely that Obama will be a second Jimmy Carter.


Anonymous said...

Sarah Palin didn't give McCain a measure of respectability, at best she had no impact, at worst some of the polls seem to point to her nomination as the turning point where McCain started his descent. Palin is a polarizing, divisive figure who is loved by perhaps 20-30% of the population, tolerated by another 10-15% and reviled by a much large chunk of people.

I'd argue what Palin sells is more reactionary nativism than bona fide conservatism. I certainly cannot imagine, say, Edmund Burke getting really excited about her. As for me her basic lack of knowledge about what a VP does vis-a-vis the Senate, her inability to name any Supreme Court decisions other than Roe v. Wade, and her unawareness of the Bush Doctrine (in an amazingly softball question that essentially fed it to her) made her eminently unqualified in my mind to take over the Oval Office ( and she would have been next-in-line behind a four-time cancer survivor in his 70s).

Peter Dunn said...

I can assure you, Dan, that many conservatives in the states would have sat out the election without Sarah Palin (I voted for her, not McCain--he was along for the ride as far as my vote was concerned). She was not as dumb as the media tried to portray her (of course it is hard today for Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric to overcome their own reputations for ignorance). The interviews with Sarah Palin with Gibson and Couric were hostile, edited and manipulated. One only need to compare the true softball questions that that BHO received: "How do you feel? Who will be your vice president? How does it feel to break a glass ceiling?" Compared to, "Don't you think it is hubris to think that you are qualified to be vice president?" Besides, Gibson's Bush Doctrine question has been shown completely to be ignorant by Charles Krauthammer: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/12/AR2008091202457.html

As for the question about what newspapers she reads, she understood the question that many Alaskans like myself would: "Do you even have newspapers in Alaska? Isn't it the bush where the vast majority of people don't even know how to read?" Palin had a moment of irritation with the Eastern, Lower 48 snobbery of Couric; the snobs then took that to mean that she didn't even read the newspapers.

What Palin provides for us fellow moose hunters and salmon fishers, is a real person that speaks her mind, not a dissembling leftist who can't tell people what he really believes. Obama was a radical who ran as a moderate. Sarah Palin is the genuine article. You may consider me reactionary and nativist, but you know that I'm not stupid. Of one thing I am certain, she would have done a better job as president than Obama, Biden or McCain, and she has my support if she decides to run for president, and my vote if she wins the nomination. If she does, she will win the election and start fixing America; not because she is some kind of savior or messiah like BHO, but by getting the federal government off people's backs.

Anonymous said...

You will of course note that you accused me of thinking that she was stupid, I do not have any comment on her actual IQ scores, because I do not know them. Whatever her intellectual abilities, she seemed to have little interest in applying them to understanding the United States federal government.

I don't much care for or about Charlie Gibson or Katie Couric and, for all I know, perhaps they are snobs. But snobbery does not preclude the possibility that Palin was woefully unqualified for the job. Moreover I would point out to you that every poll that I have seen suggests her unfavourable ratings are at least as high as her favourable ratings - in other words she might get out the conservative vote, but she'll turn off at least as many people as she energizes. The robocalls she made in NY-23 certainly didn't help a conservative to retain an otherwise safe GOP seat.

Anyway, that's all I have to say about her, I mean, if she runs everything in the numbers suggest that she'll lose badly.

Peter Dunn said...

Dan: You're right. You didn't say she was "stupid": just "unqualified" and ignorant (in so many words). Mea culpa!

Perhaps you don't understand what I am getting at. As a resident of Toronto, you find her ignorant and off-putting, but I am certain, that if it hadn't been for the hostile media constantly mocking her and her family (e.g., Andrew Sullivan, whose attacks were beyond the pail and who remains one of your favorite people), the majority of Americans (not Torontonians, or Bostonian elitists) would have found her disarming and compelling. The media knew that; that's why they attacked so viciously. She had overwhelming support in Alaska, higher ratings than any governor, until she ran for federal office and many of her Democrat friends became enemies overnight. My own dear father, who moved to Alaska in the 50s, thinks the world of her. She wasn't polarizing outside of the context of a national election, and that suggests that it wasn't Sarah Palin who caused the polarization but her political enemies on the left, in the McCain campaign (McCain is a mostly liberal Republican), and in the media. In a non-hostile situation she comes off very well. You should see, for example, the uncut John Ziegler interview.

One thing that I've noticed about
"progressives" is that they always claim that conservatives are ignorant, whereas their guys are just the brightest luminaries (e.g., Al Gore--"the thinking man's thinking man"). But stupid is as stupid does. The messianic BHO has led America to 20% real unemployment; Palin, on the other hand, was a top notch executive of the largest state in the US. She actually ran something that didn't fall apart; she works very hard; while BHO doesn't seem to have much work ethic at all (good thing too, one shudders at what he could accomplish if he had one) as he presides over a sinking ship. But talk about a man who had no executive experience and remains entirely unqualified and unsuited for the Oval Office. He's lost without his teleprompter. He is voting "present" on Afghanistan. He lets Pelosi write his budget bills (big mistake). Some analysts say that he has narcissistic personality disorder, and it showed in Copenhagen when he flew over there and said, give Chicago the Olympics because there is nothing I would like better than to take my daughters to it.

Sarah Palin may be exactly what the American people are looking for; which gets back to Dr. Carter's original post: most Americans are conservatives like Sarah Palin and they might actually appreciate a candidate who has been chewed up and spit out by the Republican establishment. What is certain to me is that McCain was a drag on Palin, and that the only energy and excitement that his campaign had came from her. The problem was that she wasn't at the top of the ticket.