19 April 2009

Rebranding Versus Reforming, Part II

One of the problems with the current conservative label is that in the very recent past there has been very little practice of that which could rightly be called fiscally conservative. Indeed, government expansion under the Bush administration was a cause of alarm for more than a few conservatives, though I doubt the concerns matched those on the left. I, for one, had no problem at all with the Patriot Act, with wire-tapping calls involving foreign nationals, or with holding terrorists at Guantanamo. All of these can be viewed as responsible government reactions to a real and present threat.

What did bother me occurred on the domestic front; this thing called “compassionate conservatism” turned out to be nothing more than a statist euphemism. Federal intrusions into education through No Child Left Behind top my list. But not far behind are prescription drug “benefits” and government “partnering” with private charities. Then the Bush bailouts began, and President Bush admitted that he had “abandoned free market principles to save the free market system”. This was a bridge too far for me.

The conservative label, it seemed, became quite blurred with its supposed political opposite, especially on the economic front. But what had really happened, I believe, is that conservative politicians had somehow convinced themselves that government had somehow changed from an obstacle to a solution; indeed, government had become the solution.

(I realize that the above statement is a generalization. I generalize only to make a point, not to provide a comprehensive view of the situation as it was or is.)

So, from a domestic conservative/libertarian point of view, what politicians who would call themselves conservatives must do has nothing to do with rebranding. Though it may be tempting to rebrand conservatives as something else – say, traditionalists – I doubt the move would be very successful. The problem with rebranding for conservatives is that for them, definitions are supposed to matter. Being conservative means something: “belief in natural law, belief in established institutions, preference for liberty over equality, suspicion of power—and of human nature, belief in exceptionalism, [and] belief in the individual.” These are in stark contrast to the statist point of view.

What conservative politicians must do is to reform their governing policies to conform more so with the principles stated above. The two main difficulties that conservative politicians in office at the federal level face are that 1) they are in the minority, and 2) their brand is tainted. Because of these two factors, the road to reform will not be easy for them. It is imperative, however, that they (and those who would see true conservative governance return) work tirelessly to offer conservative policies and options to both their counterparts at the federal level and to the electorate at large. In doing so, conservative politics may reform itself into what it ought to have been and perhaps thwart the statist movement which is afoot.

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