In the approximately forty years of my political consciousness, two events stand out as watersheds—the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the election of the Newt Gringrich-led Republican Congressional majority in 1994. The first represented the culmination of the maturity of the conservative movement, beginning in the mid-1950’s, from a fringe, reactionary backwater, to a truly competitive, policy-based governing alternative. The second represented the consummation of the conservative revolution against the New Deal/Great Society legacy of over-reaching twentieth century liberalism. Both of these events set the stage for what now can be the advent of a new governing majority that, if properly led and managed, can last for several generations. From all appearances, it seems that George W. Bush is at the right place at the right time, with just the right temperament, to lead this transformation. It remains to be seen, however, whether the other necessary ingredients will be in place. These are, in no particular order of importance, as follows:
*The necessity of what George Will and Jonah Goldberg have called the use of “dogma and rhetoric over demagoguery”. Relieved of the damaging demagoguery, dogma and rhetoric are necessary elements of our political speech used for outlining priorities and policy boundaries. It is more important to know the “why” of policy than to know “what” and “how”, for we should do things for the right reasons, and conservatives, Bush in particular, haven’t been as adept with this skill as they need to be. The high ground on enlightened rhetoric and dogma must be captured and held.
*Avoid the diseases of incumbency and arrogance of power. The new governing majority will be short-lived if it fails to reject the sense of entitlement and perpetuation in office that were the diseases it was elected to cure. In the tenth year of conservative Congressional ascendancy, there are quite a few symptoms of these ailments now in evidence. Whither the Revolution of 1994? Its spirit needs to be revived very soon. Bill Clinton was fond of saying that you cannot love your country and hate your government. Maybe not, but you can and should want much less of it, particularly its corrosive tendencies to coercion and dependency.
*Have no fear of boldness. The forces of “progressive” opposition and the vested interests of the liberal status quo will be no less strident and vicious against half measures or “reform-lite” proposals on such issues as permanent tax rate cuts, Social Security reform, Health Savings Accounts, judicial appointments, and tort reform, so the motto should be to “go for the whole loaf”, and don’t buy into the “no mandate” nonsense.
*Trust the people. Clearly, this President has enormous capital with the American people, he says he will use it, and he should, early and often, by appealing to them over the heads of the Beltway insiders. The liberal/left is back on its heels in disarray, greatly misunderstanding the innate and unique brand of American conservatism that is congruent with Bush’s, and it’s time to “close the deal”.
Most second term Presidents are preoccupied with building or preserving a legacy and are leery of bold new initiatives. This one has an opportunity to be very different, in obvious ways by successfully completing the mission in Iraq and firmly installing the Bush Doctrine in U. S. foreign policy, but also by laying the groundwork for ending 20th century liberalism as we have known it, launching the “opportunity society” century and, as a result, a new governing majority. Go for it!