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ARE CONSERVATIVES WINNING OR LOSING?
By Bill Sizemore
July 19, 2003
Today, many conservatives have allowed themselves to become discouraged. Some are even giving up and quitting, because they are persuaded that in spite of all their efforts and sacrifices the good guys are losing the war for the hearts and minds of the American people and have been betrayed by the Republicans.
Those conservatives, who have focused on recent setbacks and given more weight to our losses than our gains, have become faint and weary of heart.
Here is a prescription for the discouraged, battle-weary, true believers, who feel like giving up: Read more liberal stuff. Yes, that's right. Read more liberal stuff. It will cheer your hearts. Many liberals today are suffering from a bad case of discouragement. They see themselves as the ones losing the war. They see the tide turning against them. They see their sides as the ones losing much of the ground they fought so long and so hard to win.
So be of good cheer. This is a time when rampant discouragement on both sides is to be expected.
You see, whether a war is a military one, a political one, or even a spiritual one, there comes a time in most great struggles when both sides will be pretty much of equal strength. As that occurs, as one side, the lesser or weaker side, begins to grow in strength, and become more competitive with the stronger side, something begins to occur in the thinking of the troops on both sides.
Those on the stronger side, even though their side is still stronger than the challenger, becomes discouraged, because they see the tide turning against them. They see that they have lost the momentum they once had. They know that if things keep going the way they are going, they will soon be the weaker side.
Also, as the sides become of comparable strength, each side wins some of the battles, but they also lose some of the battles. Thatís when it is easy for the troops on both sides to become discouraged. This is not the time, however, for the wise and committed to quit or to withdraw in discouragement. In fact, this is the most critical time of the war.
It is when the scales are approximately in balance and both sides are of comparable strength that the scales can most easily be tipped in either direction.
Is there justification today for discouragement on the part of conservatives? I think not. Sure, we are losing some of the battles, but do you remember when we used to lose all the battles? Do you remember when we didnít even expect to win?
Much of the discouragement experienced by conservatives today is due to unrealistic expectations and an ignorance of the way things really work in politics.
Letís look at the big picture. For nearly 50 years, liberal Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Conservatives were routinely clobbered by the superior numbers of those espousing the liberal philosophy. Today, however, Republicans control both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, as well as the presidency. An entire generation of conservatives has never experienced such a phenomenon.
So. imagine how the liberals must be feeling about such a dramatic turn of events. Remember an entire generation of liberals also has never experienced a Republican House, Senate, and presidency. And they are in shock.
On the other hand, however, it is not all rosy for conservatives. Republicans are in control alright, but they are doing such a lousy job of controlling spending and are doing such a great job of compromising with the liberals that many conservatives are wondering if it is even worth the effort to work for and support Republicans. I've wondered that more than once myself. But letís look at the part of the glass that is half full.
Al Gore is not President. Al Gore is not sitting in the Oval Office vetoing conservative bills passed by Congress, like tax cuts and elimination of the estate tax. Al Gore is not the one standing before joint sessions of Congress and giving state of the nation speeches outlining his liberal prescription for stimulating the economy. We don't have President Gore lobbying the Senate for ratification of the Kyoto Treaty and throwing our economy into the dark ages. Be glad that the Bush administration is not focusing its attention and resources on some foolhardy war to stop global warming. Gore would be.
Yes, the glass is half empty, but it's half full. Conservatives should be discouraged by recent Supreme Court decisions regarding affirmative action and gay rights, but the news from the court isnít all bad. For example, both decisions were both close. A small shift on the court could turn things around entirely.
More encouragingly, the candidates President Bush has nominated for the federal bench have been for the most part the kinds of strict constitutional constructionists that conservatives have been asking for. This bodes well for the future. We could be looking at eight years of Al Gore appointees; judges that would only reinforce the liberal bent of the judiciary for the next decade or two, but we're not. Things indeed could be worse. There is actually cause for hope.
Not only is there hope of turning the judiciary around, but also consider the progress conservatives have made in the media. For decades, conservatives have complained about the stranglehold liberals have held on the media. Today, the major networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, the bastions of liberal bias, collectively have suffered greatly diminished market share; reaching a much smaller share of the American people with their bias. And the New York Times, another liberal stronghold has recently lost a tremendous amount of clout and credibility.
And itís not just in the electronic media that liberals have lost ground. Daily newspapers across the country, which are overwhelmingly liberal, have been losing readers at a record rate. Reduced circulation means, of course, reduced influence.
Meanwhile, Fox News, the Internet, and talk radio offer serious competition for the traditional liberal propaganda machines.
The break-up of the liberal media monopoly is clearly good news for conservatives. It certainly has the liberals worried. Have you heard them rail ad nauseum about the conservative lock on talk radio? They don't know how to respond. Liberal talk show hosts draw such small audiences that they are not economically viable.
It is also worth noting that the best selling nonfiction books on the New York Times Best Seller list are usually written by conservative authors; demonstrating that there is a growing mainstream market for conservative ideas.
Discouraged conservatives should also consider what is going on in state legislatures across the country. Liberal programs are being re-evaluated on a wholesale level, because the nationís economic doldrums have resulted in a decline in revenues to fund state budgets. Twenty years ago, the response to revenue reductions would have been to simply and automatically increase taxes. Today, cuts to social programs are being seriously considered in many states, while increasing taxes is not even being seriously discussed.
Letís go back to the Bush administration for a moment. Yes, conservatives could be discouraged that the Bush tax cuts were not as big as we wished. But they were Bush tax cuts, not Gore tax increases. The movement towards lower taxes, albeit small, is in the right direction. And how can conservatives not be encouraged that both the estate tax and the marriage penalty are on the way out. Thank you, President Bush and Republican Congress.
Should conservatives be upset that for political purposes Bush is trying so hard to be seen as a compassionate conservative that he failed to condemn the Supreme Courts misguided decision on affirmative action; and has even lobbied for some of the social programs that the Democrats want? Of course. And we should let him know about it.
Don't misunderstand, I donít want to make excuses for the presidentís failures, but letís put things into perspective. We conservatives tend to be purists. We want a conservative country with low taxes and a more limited government, and we want it now. That vision puts the fire in our bellies. But thatís also part of the reason we lost for so many years.
For decades, conservatives stood on the fifty-yard line and made every play a ďHail MaryĒ pass into the in-zone. Then, when the ball wasnít caught, when the long shot didn't break our way, we complained that we were losing the game. Every time we stepped up to the plate, we swung for the fence, hoping for a grand slam to win the game. I admit that Iíve been guilty of this a few times myself. But that's not the way to win a cultural war.
Have we forgotten that we got into this mess one step at a time. Remember, it took the liberals more than fifty years to create the semi-socialist government under which we subsist today. It took fifty years to get into this mess, but we expect Bush in two or three years to turn the ship of state, which has every bit the momentum of an oil tanker traveling across the ocean at full steam, a full 180 degrees. It doesnít work that way.
Many conservative activists have no sense of the inertia of the status quo of the government bureaucracy. It is a huge monster with a life all its own. It will not change quickly. Every government program has a constituency fighting for its perpetuation, including the employees and managers for whom the program is their very livelihood. You canít just slam on the breaks and start the entire political ship to start going the other way.
Liberal incrementalism got us to where we are today, and conservative incrementalism, one step at a time, is the only thing that will get us back on a proper course.
In the world of politics, radical change it is not always a realistic option. It is a political reality that it is the swing voters, the apolitical ones in the middle, who decide most elections, not the true believers on the left and the right. Those voters in the middle are afraid of extremes. They are frightened by sudden or radical movements in either direction, to the right or the left. Any effort to move the country too quickly in either direction will cause them to move the opposite way.
For that reason, President Bush may be wise to take smaller, measured steps. Are his steps too small or too measured? Perhaps.
In many ways, however, the Bush administration is merely a reflection of the times in which we live. Remember, George W. Bush became the president of the United States in an election decided by a margin that was as narrow as a gnatís eyelash. Remember, he actually lost the popular vote.
Such a close election reflects a very divided country. Where the president has sensed that the country is ready for strong action, he has moved decidedly, such as the war on terrorism and the war with Iraq. In other areas, though, he has sensed popular resistance and moved more cautiously than many armchair quarterbacks, conservative activists would have preferred.
Also, donít forget that he is president, not king. He must lead. He cannot rule. In this country, our leaders govern at the consent of the governed and right now there are some very powerful dissenting voices.
Conservatives have indeed made great strides in recent years, but we have not yet overwhelmingly won the hearts and minds of the American people. Most city dwellers, for example, and they are many, are still very much addicted to finding government solutions for every problem. For them, the concept of individual responsibility is entirely foreign to their everyday thinking and overall worldview. To them, every bum, dropout, and criminal is a victim and worthy of a handout at taxpayer expense.
Most of those folks are going to vote in the next election. Bush knows it and Bushís advisors know it. Those moderate and liberal urban voters almost defeated Bush in November of 2000 and if he is not careful, they will get him next time and we will have a Gore or Gore clone in the White House.
Finally, many conservatives have criticized Republicans in Congress and in those state legislatures, where they hold a majority, for not advancing more of a conservative agenda, i.e., for not reducing state spending and cutting taxes. Many have said, ďThere is no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. They are all tax-and-spenders. A pox on them all!Ē Sometimes such criticism has been warranted. Sometimes, though, it has been unfair.
Republican officeholders do not decide who will run for office under the Republican banner. Truth is, in most cases when Republicans hold a slim majority in Congress or a state legislature, that majority includes enough RINOs, enough Republicans in name only, that "Republican" control does not at all mean "conservative" control. In those circumstances, conservatives simply do not have the votes to move a conservative agenda and must do the best they can with the votes they have.
Office holders who are "Republicans in name only" vote with the Democrats so often as to make Republican control of the legislature a mere technicality. Condemning Republican leadership for not doing what they donít have the votes to do is unfair, because thanks to the RINOs Democrats effectively control which legislation passes and which legislation fails.
When we look at the big picture, however, we see that conservatives have made great strides in recent years. We have gone from way behind to maybe a little bit ahead. This is hardly the time to give up. This is the time rather to push harder than ever before. The tide is moving. Momentum is shifting to our side.
As I said at the beginning of this column, ultimately, in every great struggle, there comes a time, as one side in the struggle declines and the other side increases in strength, that both sides exist in a state of flux and balance. It is at that critical time that the outcome of the war will be determined. It is at that time that even minor efforts by either side can tip the scales in their favor. It is also the time when retreat can be fatal to the cause.
At the time of flux, the side that more clearly sees the reality of the circumstance and the crucialness of the moment, and thus makes the extra effort and sacrifice to win, is the side that will prevail.
Do not judge where we are today by the victory or loss of the moment. Look at the trend. See the shift in momentum. And remember, it is not necessary that we score a touchdown today. It is only necessary that the ball be advanced, one yard at a time, down the field in the direction we want it to move. As long as that is happening, we're winning.
Still discouraged? Go read some liberal literature.
© 2003 Bill Sizemore - All Rights Reserved
Bill Sizemore is a registered Independent who
works as executive director of the Oregon Taxpayers Union, a statewide
taxpayer organization. Bill was the Republican candidate for governor
in 1998. He and his wife Cindy have four children, ages eight to thirteen,
and live on 36 acres in Beavercreek, just southeast of Oregon City, Oregon.
"Letís look at the big picture. For nearly 50 years, liberal Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Conservatives were routinely clobbered by the superior numbers of those espousing the liberal philosophy. Today, however, Republicans control both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, as well as the presidency. An entire generation of conservatives has never experienced such a phenomenon."