Conservatism, when it moves forward, does not dash out like a sprinter from starting blocks, but rather it stumbles forward like a prizefighter, weary from the blows he’s received, dreading the blows to come, yet determined to press ahead.
Recent elections speak to the resiliency of Conservatism. In 2008 - the year of the economic collapse, Bush stimulus, TARP, and bailouts – Conservatism suffered as great imaginable, yet it managed to climb up from the canvas. 2008 saw the emergence of the Tea Party, and with millions of people protesting for lower taxes, smaller government, and Constitutionalism we soon saw the largest number of Conservatives elected to Congress since 1992. Republicans picked up 6 Senate seats, 63 House seats, and 6 governorships in 2010, but more important than the sheer number of victories won by Republicans was that the Republicans who won did so by running on Conservatism. The Republican Party seemed to be moving away from being a party of Arlen Spector and becoming the party of Pat Toomey, Allen West, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, and Marco Rubio.
In 2011 we saw how Conservatism could endure being bloodied and battered without being beaten particularly in Wisconsin, where its newly elected Conservative governor Scott Walker became a national punching bag for progressives. In protest of the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill; which required public union members to pay more for their health benefits and pension plans while limiting their union’s ability to collectively bargain; Wisconsinites, fueled by union money and the leftwing media, particularly MSNBC, unleashed a storm of protest against Walker. They occupied the State Capitol and college campuses, shadowed and heckled Walker at every public event, and eventually began a recall campaign that has succeeded in forcing later this year. One talking point circulating on the liberal blogs and MSNBC was that “Walker betrayed Wisconsin values”, which is extremely odd considering that Walker did what he promised to do while campaigning and eventually winning a majority of Wisconsin votes.
The expected and easiest course of action for Walker would have been to work out a compromise or to shelf the Budget Repair Bill indefinitely, or to attempt some sort of trickery to make it appear that he was conceding without actually doing so (much like the “compromise” Obama used to escape the “Catholic contraception controversy”). Yet Walker endures, the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill stands, and the recall effort goes forward.
It is worth mentioning the plight of Governor Walker if only to contrast his courage with the often perverse vision of Conservatism and timid leadership shown by the current crop of presidential candidates.
Almost every candidate who has campaigned for the presidency since 1980 has attempted to appear to be Conservative. Even, incredibly, Barack Obama, who saw to it that 2012 State of the Union address hit several Conservative notes, such as tax cuts and energy independence, attempts to appear Conservative when campaigning. Yet even for Republicans, it is easier it seems to run as a Conservative than to serve as a Conservative.
This is especially evident with the leading candidate for the GOP nomination. It is the onus of the Mitt Romney campaign to convince voters that Romney is a Conservative despite the fact that Romney has held a liberal position on almost every conceivable position- including illegal immigration, global warming, cap and trade, and even abortion. Today Romney says he is “severely Conservative”, whatever that means, but even his 2012 presidential platform is one of a Moderate. It is easily the most liberal platform of any of the remaining candidates.
Take corporate taxes, for example. At 39.2% American corporations pay the second corporate tax rate in the world and will soon pay the highest rate, which discourages job creation and investment. The average corporate tax rate of the 34 countries that comprise the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is 25.5%. Newt Gingrich wants to cut the corporate tax rate to 15%, Santorum to 17.5%, and even President Obama (running as a Conservative, remember) wants to cut the corporate tax rate to the high 20s. Mitt Romney wants to cut the corporate tax rate to 25%, only .5% lower than the OECD average, and still significantly higher than the corporate tax rate of many other nations, including Canada.
Also, Romney has reaffirmed his support for a linkage between the minimum wage and the inflation rate. As Dr. Thomas Sowell says, “to people who call themselves Conservatives, and aspire to public office, there is no excuse for not being aware of what a major social disaster the minimum wage law has been for the young, the poor and especially for young and poor blacks.”
Romney explains away the liberalism of his administration by pointing out how heavily Democratic a state Massachusetts is. Yet Massachusetts is that much more of a blue state than Wisconsin. Instead of complaining about how many liberals are in Wisconsin and using that as an excuse to campaign as and govern as a liberal, Walker has remained a Conservative.
As someone who supported McCain in 2008 over Romney, it is really surprising how the so-called Conservative media has turned on Romney in 2012. I remember being battered for voting for a “liberal” over a candidate everyone – people like Mark Levin, Jim DeMint, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and even Rick Santorum - was telling me at the time was the real Conservative, a portrait of Romney I found strange, given the Governor’s record. It seems that now, in 2012, all of these people are agreeing with me, though I don’t know what happened in the interim that the 2008 Real Conservative is now the 2012 Massachusetts Moderate. Now many of the very same people are telling me the real Conservative in the race is Rick Santorum.
Another politician who was previously considered to be a Conservative but is now generally perceived to be a Moderate by Conservatives is George W. Bush, due to his record on spending and increasing the size of the government. Yet if Bush is a Moderate, how then can a candidate who voted with him 97% of the time be considered a Conservative? Yet Santorum has been labeled as such, and he carries that perception despite of, rather than because of, his record.
Does a Conservative support earmarks or giving felons the right to vote? Would a Conservative support Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey? Would a Conservative have supported the spending under the Bush Administration, including Medicare Part D? Would a Conservative against NAFTA and for tariffs on steel? Would a Conservative vote against the flat tax? Would a Conservative have voted for raise the minimum wage six times?
Would a Conservative vote against a National Right-To-Work Act? Santorum did, and the reason he gave is “When I was a senator from Pennsylvania, I didn't vote for it because Pennsylvania's not a right to work state, and I didn't want to vote for a law that would change the law in Pennsylvania, number one. Number two, what can unions do? They can do training. They also do a lot in the community. I work with a lot of labor unions in Philadelphia and other places to do a lot of community involvement work and they try to participate as good members of the community like the business does.”
In other words, Santorum did not want to stand up to the unions. Again we see a candidate for the presidency failing to show the courage of leadership and adherence to Conservative principles that we witnessed from a freshman governor of Wisconsin.
Santorum’s chief argument for being The One True Conservative left in the race, besides his stance on social issues, is his record against the individual mandate, which he uses to bludgeon both Romney and Gingrich during every debate. But how pure is his stance against that mandate? Yet the 1994 Santorum-Graham bill called for ““Any individual with family income exceeding [100%] of the official poverty line . . . but who fails to purchase [the required] coverage . . . within 1 year of the date of the enactment of this Act, shall not be eligible for the insurance pool program under title V of this Act.” Also, ““No provision of Federal, State, or local law shall apply that prohibits the use of any statutory procedure for the collection of unpaid debts for medical expenses incurred by [these] individuals” As Bradley Latino continues in Health Reform Watch, under the Santorum-Gramm bill, not only would the person who does not have health insurance, s/he would “suffer the same tax disadvantages in the similarly-structured Stearns bill, but noncompliance at any point apparently nullifies whatever bankruptcy protections that would help relieve medical debt. “
More clearly, The One True Conservative’s plan imposed financial penalty upon those who could afford but did not buy health insurance. That makes sense, in my opinion, yet the line between an individual mandate and imposing a financial penalty upon people who don’t buy health insurance is a thin one.
More troubling to me is Santorum’s view on Libertarianism. I, as someone who considers himself a Reagan Conservative, agree with his famous quote that
The very heart and soul of Conservatism is Libertarianism. I think Conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals–if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called Conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of Conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what Libertarianism is.
Now, I can’t say that I will agree with all the things that the present group who call themselves Libertarians in the sense of a party say, because I think that like in any political movement there are shades, and there are libertarians who are almost over at the point of wanting no government at all or anarchy. I believe there are legitimate government functions. There is a legitimate need in an orderly society for some government to maintain freedom or we will have tyranny by individuals. The strongest man on the block will run the neighborhood. We have government to insure that we don’t each one of us have to carry a club to defend ourselves. But again, I stand on my statement that I think that Libertarianism and Conservatism are traveling the same path.
I also agree with Senator Jim DeMint, who says “I'd like to see a Republican Party that embraces a lot of the libertarian ideas."
But this is very different than how The One True Conservative sees Libertarianism. He says “I am not a libertarian, and I fight very strongly against libertarian influence within the Republican Party and the Conservative movement. I don’t think the libertarians have it right when it comes to what the Constitution is all about. I don’t think they have it right as to what our history is, and we are not a group of people who believe in no government… I've got some real concerns about this movement within the Republican Party and the Tea Party movement to sort of refashion Conservatism, and I will vocally and publicly oppose it."
Nor is Newt the perfect conservative. Newt has an enduring belief of the potential positive power of government which I do not share. Another Reagan quote – "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" – comes to mind.
At CPAC, Sarah Palin corrected stated that “our candidate must be someone who can instinctively turn right. It’s either there or it isn’t.” Unfortunately, the politicians who best demonstrate this Instinctive Conservatism are in places like Madison or Indianapolis; or are junior senators from South Carolina, Utah, and Florida; or are representatives from Florida’s 22nd District and Wisconsin’s 1st District.
Romney lacks this instinct. By his own admission he came to conservatism late, and it is questionable if he yet arrived at conservatism. Santorum clearly has an instinct towards social conservatism, yet on other matters he has displayed an instinct towards Big Government Conservatism, which is a problem for us who do not want a government that more powerful and more intrusive. As Eric Erickson of RedStateUpdate.com pointed out, Santorum is a “prolife statist.”
I believe Gingrich has an instinct towards Conservatism, though, perhaps due to his academic training, this instinct is muddied with an addiction to senseless intellectual exercises. Look at his experiments on issues like global warming and cap-and-trade. Witness his pointless determination that life began at implantation rather than at conception, which undermined his exemplary prolife record and needlessly irritated his fellow Catholics. Or recall his unfortunate attacks on Romney’s record at Bain, which made it appear that he was against capitalism.
Even his energy policy, though pro-growth, is encumbered by “the helpful hand of government.” In fact, during one his interviews on our show, we challenged him on his views about on tax credits and investments in alternative energies.
Yet I would argue that while neither Romney’s nor Santorum’s records are as Conservative as their rhetoric, Newt’s record is the inverse. His record is one of a solid Conservative, despite his bad habit of saying things that make it seem otherwise. His proposals are anchored in Conservative principles, even if not as libertarian as I would prefer. It may also be worth noting that the American Conservative Union’s lifetime rating for Newt Gingrich is 90, a bit higher than that of The One True Conservative, which is 88. I’d hate to think what Romney’s ACU rating would be if he had been a congressman.
The election of either Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney would change Conservatism. Santorum would crush Conservatism’s ‘libertarian heart and soul’, while the election of a candidate so moderate as Romney may effectively end the Conservative movement. Newt might create a Conservatism more active than should be but, of the three, I believe Newt has the best ideas and the best record on issues like economic growth, energy independence, and foreign policy. Most importantly, he has demonstrated the best instincts towards Conservatism. And it is hardly a surprise that the politician who best epitomizes that Reagan-esque Instinctive Conservatism mentioned in her CPAC speech has given Gingrich her tacit endorsement as well.
It’s just too bad Scott Walker isn’t running.