So, in the tradition of one good turn deserving another, I’m going to give you guys some advice. Blaming Democrats for the trouble you’re in now doesn’t pass the laugh test, for a number of reasons. Keep pushing that meme, and it will prove as laughable as your new slogan turned out to be.
It’s not the Democrats’ fault that you lost a House seat in Mississippi — in the heart of Mississippi — that should have been a “secure” seat for you guys. That makes three losses in a row, in districts your president won easily, once upon a time.
It’s not the Democrats’ fault that you’re going to be down one more House seat, as Rep. Fosella’s drunk driving arrest means he’ll be spending more time with his families instead of sitting on Congress.
It’s not the Democrats’ fault that you could lose 20 more seats in November.
It’s not the Democrats’ fault that you’ll probably lose seats even if your candidate wins the White House.
It’s not the Democrats’ fault that a record number of Republicans are retiring from Congress, and their fundraising potential is leaving with them, to the tune of millions of dollars not raised for this election cycle.
It’s not the Democrats’ fault that more and more evangelical voters are prioritizing issues like poverty and the environment — issues that you guys have never been too keen on, though you did give the “Clean Air Act” and “the Ownership Society.” Nor is it Democrats’ fault that some evangelicals have written a manifesto, declaring an intention never again to become “useful idiots” for one party or another. Again, that’s part of your bedrock coalition breaking off.
It’s not Democrats’ fault that young evangelicals are abandoning the party, disillusioned. Again, bedrock.
It’ not the Democrats fault that President Bush is “radioactive” now, when he should be your standard bearer and greatest campaign asset right now, as a sitting president.
To be honest, I think you guys know all of this stuff already. Else, why would you be questioning your leadership and whether the “killer instinct” needed for November is lacking? Why else would you be re-thinking your direction as a party? Why else would you try to re-brand yourself a change party? (And you’re apparently sticking with that branding, despite the unfortunate association.)
But here’s the thing, guys. What exactly do you want to change? More to the point, why change? You guys have pretty much been in charge for most of the last 7.5 years. You’ve held the White House all that time, and both houses of Congress for much of that time. You even “hit the trifecta” after 9/11 (President Bush’s words, not mine), and ended up with the media and most of the country unwilling to challenge almost anything you wanted to do — from tapping their phones, to expanding executive power, invading a country that didn’t (couldn’t, and had no plans to) attack us, and even torture) if it could be sold as something that would make them safer, or if they were simply frightened enough. I’m hard pressed to think of much you wanted, policy-wise, that you haven’t gotten — even, much to my chagrin, after the Democrats won majorities in both houses of Congress.
Why change now, unless you’ve had your shot and it hasn’t worked out? Has it worked out? You guys have been giving us the change you thought we deserved for the last seven-and-a-half years, pretty much unimpeded. It must have worked out for someone, right? Because if it hasn’t, then you’ve got a bigger problem than needing a new slogan.
The real question, and the one you’re probably asking yourselves, is this: Has conservatism worked?
The answer, given all of the above, is: it depends.
Of course, one letter is far too little space to address the whole of conservative philosophy, or its failures. Or its successes, if where Americans find themselves today — facing an economic crisis stemming from Wall Street speculation run amok, paying for a war started on false pretenses that’s already trillions of dollars over budget, dealing with agencies so understaffed and under-funded that a trip to the grocery store is like playing Russian roulette, and so ineffective as to make natural disasters even more disastrous — is the inevitable outcome of applied conservative philosophy.
It depends on whether conservatism even considers the problems Americans are facing to be actual problems. Ezra summed it up pretty well.
Conservatives like to argue that politics is about ideas, and to them, and many of the people who write about them, it is. But those ideas are politically useless unless they’re understood by the electorate as solutions. Solutions, however, require problems. And that’s what the GOP is lacking at the moment. The conservative movement has plenty of ideas for a certain universe of problems: Overly high taxes, say, or the need to respond to bluntly assert American power in response to foreign aggression. They have solutions for combatting a culture that’s spun out of control and rebalancing a welfare state that’s too generous to minorities. They have solutions for restoring order when the law no longer contains the crime.
What they’re lacking, right now, are the appropriate problems. Because they don’t have solutions for 47 million Americans without health insurance. They don’t have solutions for a failing invasion that’s exposed American power as significantly more constrained that the world imagined it to be. They don’t have solutions for high gas prices, or a credit and mortgage crisis, or a dawning recognition that we’re ruining the only planet we have.
But the message in all the realities above is that it’s not working; or the very least, a growing number of people are realizing that it’s not working for them; conservatism isn’t solving their problems, and maybe doesn’t even see them as problems requiring a solution.
If you guys want to keep governing, you’re going to have to think about whether these are problems that require a solution, and whether a conservative government — or government, period — can solve them. No, scratch that. You’re going to have to think about whether a conservative government — or government, period — should solve them.
Nail that down, and maybe then you’ll know what you need to change.