What the Right has to say

16 02 2008

Everyone I talk to agrees. There is new political space opening in the U.S. We’re helping build a critical moment where we can make a lot of change a lot faster than in perhaps four decades. And it’s not just us who are saying it. My friend Max recently shared this article with me – written by right wing ideologue David Frum.

Beware the coming Democratic sea-change
Financial Times – February 7, 2008
By David Frum

The conservative ascendancy in American politics is coming to an end.
For three decades, the right has dominated, with the Republicans
winning five of the seven presidential elections since 1980.
Conservatives did more than just win elections: even when liberals
gained power, they governed on conservative terms.

What were the most important accomplishments of the Clinton
presidency? Balancing the budget, welfare reform and the expansion of
Nato – not exactly left-of-centre projects. And of Jimmy Carter’s?
The deregulation of the airline and natural gas industries.

Neither president set out to accomplish these goals. Indeed, they
often resisted them. In the end they had to accept the limits of the
possible – just as Republican presidents Dwight Eisenhower and
Richard Nixon accepted the limits of the possible in the liberal era
from 1930 to 1975.

Neither Mr Clinton nor Mr Carter created a single, major, permanent
new national social programme. Mr Clinton failed to bequeath power to
his chosen successor; Mr Carter failed even to win a second term.

John Mitchell, Richard Nixon’s attorney-general, predicted in 1970:
“This country is going so far right you won’t recognise it.” His
prophecy was vindicated. Now its time is up: 2008 is shaping up to be
the first decisive Democratic victory since 1964 – a 1980 in reverse.
The signs are gathering everywhere. Three-quarters of Americans now
describe the country as “on the wrong track”. Almost 90 per cent
express strong dissatisfaction with the costly healthcare system.

In primaries and caucuses, Democratic contests have drawn more voters
than Republican ones. An early estimate after Super Tuesday suggests
that, thus far, 11m Americans have cast ballots for Republican
candidates, while more than 15m have voted for Democratic ones.
Democrats outpolled Republicans by 20 per cent even in the state of
South Carolina, maybe the most conservative in the nation.

Usually pundits expect that the party that chooses its nominee first
will win the election. That will probably not be true this time.
Although the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama contest looks likely to
continue longer than John McCain’s march to the Republican
nomination, Democrats tell pollsters they like both candidates – they
are just deciding which they like best. Republicans remain divided,
with Mr McCain, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee each passionately
disliked by opposing factions within their party.

In polls, Americans express preference for Democrats over Republicans
on almost every issue surveyed, including such traditional Republican
advantages as taxes, ethics and competence.

In 2002, equal numbers of Americans identified as Republicans and
Democrats. In the six years since, Republican identification has
collapsed back to the level recorded before Ronald Reagan. The
decline has been steepest among young voters. If they eat right,
exercise and wear seatbelts, today’s 20-somethings will be voting
against George W. Bush deep into the 2060s. Most ominously, US polls
show an ideological sea change: a desire for a more activist
government, a loss of interest in the tax question and a shift to the
left on most social issues (although not, interestingly, abortion).

As things are going, the Democratic nominee will win a majority of
the votes cast (unlike Mr Clinton). They will almost certainly gain
an increased majority in Congress (unlike Mr Carter). If the present
mood lasts, that nominee will have a green light to move the US in
new policy directions (unlike either Mr Clinton or Mr Carter).

The stage has been set for the boldest and most dramatic redirection
of US politics since Reagan’s first year in office. Of course, there
are no guarantees in politics. An inept president could bungle his or
her chances. Unexpected events could intrude: a nuclear test in Iran,
a major terrorist attack on US soil or some attention-grabbing
political scandal. But given moderate luck and skill, the next
president could join Reagan, Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt as
one of the grand reshapers of politics and government.

Tragically, that reshaping is likely to be for the worse. The things
that Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama want to do are likely to prove costly
and counterproductive, if not outright disastrous. A greater
government role in healthcare, higher taxes, tighter regulation, more
social welfare, an increased flow of low-skilled migrants with
amnesty for those already here, a cut-and-run from Iraq: these are
not measures likely to improve US competitiveness or enhance
America’s standing in the world.

To prevent these negative consequences – to retrieve victory from
impending defeat – would require more creativity and responsiveness
than Republicans and conservatives have displayed for many years.
Unless American conservatism can rejuvenate itself, the odds favour
the liberal left holding sway until the day that its own errors and
delusions lay it low again.

The writer, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute,
is the author of Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again.

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