As the reality of the election sinks in across the country two things are happening, 1) Democrats are dancing in the end zone, and 2) Republicans are looking for excuses. Please note I did not say liberals and conservatives. It may be hard to tell, and quite frankly sometimes I tend to fail at this, but I draw a distinction between the two terminologies. For me Conservatism, and Liberalism are a set of beliefs and ideas about the nature and the role of government in our lives, Republicans and Democrats are the institutions that loosely try to represent those beliefs and ideas. It is the same distinction I draw between things like Catholics, and the Catholic Church. I do this because conflating the institution with the ideology often stifles debate. We can’t have a discussion about the scandals of the Catholic Church when it comes to protecting bad priest, if I am chastising you for simply being Catholic. In other words the problem isn’t necessarily your ideas, but more the people and the institutions in charge of implementing your ideas.
Parsing the Divide
To me this is the reason why Romney’s loss has come as such a shock to many people on the right and such adulation on the left. They feel it is a rebuke of the core message of conservatism, it isn’t. There is a lot of talk about what this election means, does this mean we are no longer a center right country or we turning into a center left, or a left country. Looking at the results though what is clear to me is that we have a center leaning country. Forget the electoral map for a second, Obama in popular vote only one by 2.5%. The Senate is 55/45 split, and if it weren’t for gerrymandering after the 2010 election it is quite probably the house would be a similar break down. But what about that 2010 election. Republicans swept into office promising to fix the problems they claimed were caused solely by the Democrats. The problem is they elected people like Allen West, Thaddeus McCotter, and Joe Walsh. The problem is they promoted people like Michele Bachmann to national importance. The problem was institutionally the party was elevating gross incompetence.
The Broken Record
Why do I think this election was in no way a rebuke of conservatism, because as I’ve said countless times, Obama has been a moderately republican president? During the debt ceiling crisis, Obama put Medicare and Social Security cuts on the table in an effort to achieve a grand bargain. Obamacare came from republicans, and was first enacted by a Republican from Massachusetts, though I can’t remember his name at the moment. Obama has actually tried to reduce regulations when possible. He’s promoted education policies that come from Conservative organizations like ALEC, and he has proposed cutting taxes on businesses. In terms of national defense he’s been as hawkish as any republican, advocating military strikes on sovereign lands to ensure our national security. The major difficulty Romney had in attacking Obama was outside of cutting taxes more aggressively there was very little he could point to that he could say he would do differently. He often ended up saying he would just do what Obama was doing; only because of his business experience he’d do it better.
How to revitalize Conservatism
For the last few decades conservatism has boiled down to God, Guns, and Gays. Yet when I ask most of my conservative brethren they say while those issues sometimes matter they invariable say they are more concerned with the growing size of our government and how intrusive it has become in our daily lives. If this is the largest concern for conservatives then let’s attack the area where government has truly exploded. Let’s decriminalize the use of illicit drugs. I’m not saying make the sale of drugs legal. I think that is a discussion for another time. I’m just saying that criminalizing drug use has in no way reduced its prevalence in our society but has resulted in one of the greatest expansions of intrusive government. Let’s stop trying to ban abortion by introducing laws and regulations that intrude on doctor patient relationships, Lets instead try to advocate polices that reduce the need for abortions. Let’s work to dismantle the security complex that allows our government to spy on our emails and phone calls and track us indiscriminately without warrant.
Let’s actually fix something
We have a ton of problems in this country. The choice after this election for conservatives is to decide what is more important institutional dominance, or ideological progress. Conservatives can find common ground with the democrats in power on a variety of conservative issues, but the result will be an effective government. This may make it difficult to portray their opponents during the next election as the embodiment of all that is wrong with this country, but it will actually reflect the conservative vision. Or conservatives can take this defeat as they did the first term of the Obama presidency and dig their heels in and back a GOP that will do everything in their power to deny any progress by this administration. This will make solving any of the problems impossible. This is not me speaking as a Liberal because as a liberal I have a different vision of the country. No this is me speaking as an American, who knows at the end of the day it doesn’t matter whose method of solving the problems of the country are right or wrong as long as the problems are solved.