For the greater part of the early conservative movement, all conservatives, whether they were libertarians, individualists, or the later social, paleo and fiscal conservatives, had one overarching issue, one common threat that united them despite their differences: the threat of communism. That threat served as a focal point, an issue that everyone in the movement could agree on. This was the common cause responsible for the intellectualism of William F. Buckley, Jr. and the founding of the National Review, the founding of conservative youth groups like Young Americans for Freedom and the Goldwater and Reagan Revolutions of 1964 and 1980.
Once the Soviet Union fell and communism was vanquished, the conservative cause fell into a kind of malaise and took an intellectual and activist vacation. A conservative Republican was replaced with a one-term moderate Republican who raised taxes. In 1992, George H.W. Bush gave way to a liberal Bill Clinton who continued to raise taxes and also began to make significant cuts in defense through his “peace dividend.” During this time, with the exception of the brief Contract with America revival of 1994, conservatives stayed relatively quiet while assaults on traditional values and on our national defense were launched.
When George W. Bush was elected in 2000, it looked like conservatism might once again be on the rise. A strong conservative was back in the White House who had the support of both houses of Congress. The 9/11 attacks united the country once again, this time against a threat less tangible but just as dangerous as the Soviet Union. Americans enthusiastically supported American intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, and conservative values seemed to be on the rise. But Americans soon lost interest in the wars and began to forget about the attacks, in part due to our strong national security programs. Liberals began to argue that the war was being waged under false pretenses. Even President Bush rejected some of his own principles, passing a gigantic Medicare plan that significantly grew the size of government.
As 2008 rolled around and the age of Obama’s big government was ushered in, conservatives became energized like never before. The grassroots “Tea Party” movement has energized conservatives all over the country, some whom have never been involved in politics. Their message is simple: they oppose the big-government and high-tax policies Washington has adopted, and they wish to return to the principles of our Founding Fathers; two basic and very conservative ideas.
But instead of uniting conservatives, the Tea Party has caused deep divisions within the conservative movement. Feuds between Tea Party and establishment candidates have erupted all across the country. Rahm Emmanuel puts it best when he said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” Well, we are faced with a crisis right now, one of big government and spiraling debt.
Conservatives are once again posed with an opportunity to revitalize and rejuvenate the movement. We must unite and use this opportunity to usher in a new revolution, the likes of which has not been seen since 1980. Otherwise, we may be forced to remain conservatives without a cause.
Travis Korson currently serves as the President of the GW Chapter of Young America’s Foundation. As a result of his efforts, Travis was recognized as the top student activist in the country for the 2009-2010 academic year and has been named a Ronald Reagan College Scholar. Previously, Travis worked in the Communications department at Americans for Prosperity and served in the Bush White House.