Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Conservative Renewal

Peter Berkowitz is a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution and he has a very good essay in the Wall Street Journal in which he discusses the premature obituaries written on the death of political conservatism. He reminds us that:
In late October 2008, New Yorker staff writer George Packer reported "the complete collapse of the four-decade project that brought conservatism to power in America." Two weeks later, the day after Mr. Obama's election, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne proclaimed "the end of a conservative era" that had begun with the rise of Ronald Reagan. And in February 2009, New York Times Book Review and Week in Review editor Sam Tanenhaus, writing in The New Republic, declared that "movement conservatism is exhausted and quite possibly dead."

Mr. Tanenhaus even purported to discern in the new president "the emergence of a president who seems more thoroughly steeped in the principles of Burkean conservatism than any significant thinker or political figure on the right."
These gloating assessments have proven to be wildly mistaken as Saturday's turnout of an estimated 300,000 or more people in Washington D.C. illustrates. The Restoring Honor rally was superficially apolitical, to be sure, but it would be foolish to think that those who made the trip to the Lincoln Memorial were people enthusiastic about the policies of Reid, Pelosi, and Obama.

Mr. Berkowitz goes on to discuss what, exactly, conservatism is:
Progressives like to believe that conservatism's task is exclusively negative—resisting the centralizing and expansionist tendency of democratic government. And that is a large part of the conservative mission. Progressives see nothing in this but hard-hearted indifference to inequality and misfortune, but that is a misreading.
What conservatism does is ask the question avoided by progressive promises: at what expense? In the aftermath of the global economic crisis of 2008, Western liberal democracies have been increasingly forced to come to grips with their propensity to live beyond their means.
It is always the task for conservatives to insist that money does not grow on trees, that government programs must be paid for, and that promising unaffordable benefits is reckless, unjust and a long-term threat to maintaining free institutions.
But conservatives also combat government expansion and centralization because it can undermine the virtues upon which a free society depends. Big government tends to crowd out self-government—producing sluggish, selfish and small-minded citizens, depriving individuals of opportunities to manage their private lives and discouraging them from cooperating with fellow citizens to govern their neighborhoods, towns, cities and states.
Berkowitz offers us much more at the link, including a good discussion of the challenges facing those who wish to sustain the conservative renewal. He packs a lot of good thinking into a relatively short column.

Unforced Errors

Fred Barnes talks about President Obama's "four disasters" at the Weekly Standard:
Recovery summer, opposition to Arizona’s immigration law, negative campaigning, and intervention in the Ground Zero mosque dispute—call them Obama’s Four Disasters. As policy, they’re questionable. As political exercises, they’re losers. As clues about Obama, they’re evidence he’s lost his political knack.
That's Barnes' opening. His elaboration on these four calamities, what politicians refer to as "unforced errors" - i.e. they were totally unnecessary - occupies the remainder of the column.