Modern communications requires the use of shorthand to describe a whole host of concepts. When it comes to politics, we are liberal, moderate or conservative — left, center, or right. I cannot remember a time when the majority of political pundits did not believe that America was a right-leaning country with a few bastions of left-leaning elites condensed on either coast.
Some people contend that the election signaled a shift to the right. But I think the 2010 election was a treatise on American political philosophy — more of an awakening to traditional American civic values than a political realignment. Monty Pelerin, writing in the American Thinker, sees the end of the Democrat Party in sight:
In the two most recent elections, each political party was soundly, sequentially rejected, but for different reasons. Simply and bluntly: The Republicans were tossed out because they did not govern according to their principles. The Democrats were tossed out because they did govern according to their principles. One party lost because it misbehaved; the other because it revealed itself.
First, what are those principles?
From the early 20thcentury to the present, conservative meant that your political philosophy hewed more closely to that of the founding generation. At the heart of that philosophy was a deep distrust of consolidated, federal power. The practical results of that philosophy were traditionally a federal government that was limited to the original intent of the founding fathers as written in the U.S. Constitution. In today’s shorthand, it meant a small federal government that only regulated what was in its power to regulate and required minimal contributions (taxes) from citizens. Private property ownership and wealth creation as a means to an ever-more prosperous society were core values. Those powers not expressly granted in the Constitution were left to the states, counties, cities, towns and, ultimately, families. The founding generation was keenly aware of the evils of big government and its destructive impact on individual freedom.
Liberal meant that your political philosophy more closely hewed to the European socialist philosophy of wealth redistribution espoused by Marx and Engel. The practical results of that philosophy in the United States have been a reliance on expansive federal power that emanates from interpretations of what the Constitution can mean in the view of a like-minded federal judge at any moment in time. Modern liberalism puts the federal government at the heart of every American’s everyday life. It supports ever bigger government, higher taxes and a downward-shifting definition of wealth in order to capture as many Americans as possible in higher tax brackets and the rest in government programs.
Unfortunately, the two philosophies began to blur (in the minds of the people) with the last century’s federal expansions that began with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and exploded with Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Today Americans accept as necessary what would have been considered outrageous overreaches by the federal government from 1789 to the first quarter of the 20th century. Social Security, Medicare, the modern welfare state, and the federal bureaucracy that has sprung up around supposed rights to food, housing, healthcare, education and apparently, taken to today’s extremes, television (see the federal subsidy of HD conversion boxes), would have been anathema to Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Washington, Jay, Adams, Franklin and the rest of the founders. The confiscatory federal tax regime that has been implemented to sustain the growing federal government would have been, in their eyes, cause for revolution.
Sadly, too many Americans take no umbrage at these intrusive federal government programs. More alarmingly, too many Americans have become dependent on these programs. Lulled into a sense of security by almost constant economic growth since the 1980s and beaten down by the class-warfare rhetoric of the left, middle-class Americans accepted higher taxes and gargantuan amounts of federal spending and turned over to the federal government their civic responsibilities to govern their own affairs at the local level. Let the Feds take care of the poor. Let the Feds take care of housing. Let the Feds send kids to college. Let the Feds take care of health care. And make the “rich pay their fair share.” In return, we all get to feel warm and fuzzy and caring. Seemed like a reasonable solution — despite the radical break from the founding principles for which the first generation of Americans pledged and sacrificed their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.
But something happened in the last election. Disheartened by the first real, sustained economic recession since the 1970s, and horrified by the Obama administration’s handling of the crisis, the vast majority of Americans stood up and yelled “STOP!” The Obama/Pelosi solution — to bail out failing banks and car companies with taxpayer dollars, borrow and spend trillions more on stimulus programs that didn’t stimulate anything but the public sector and the national debt, grow the already incomprehensibly large federal government, print more and more dollars devaluing the currency, and replace the American health care system with the president’s ultimate statist vision, which we now shorthand as “Obamacare” — was met by a truly American reaction: revolt. Side note: With a hearty “Omnino mirabile!” (“Totally awesome” in Latin), William F. Buckley actually interrupted his interview of St. Augustine on “Firing Line, Heaven Edition,” to deliver the election results to the audience.
I prefer to believe that the election was a restatement of America’s founding principles and of our true national character rather than a simple movement from left to right. It was more of a realization that we were allowing, through our own negligence, the shift toward government-run everything. Call it conservatism ascendant. Call America center-right. Call it whatever you want to call it. I like to think of it as the marriage of traditional American principles of limited federal government, low taxes, local governance and adherence to the Constitution as written to the practical realities that we the people can no longer afford to pay for all of those federal programs that gave to many Americans those warm, fuzzy feelings. The president and Congressional Democrats just don’t associate themselves with either those principles or those practical realities.
In that context, Pelerin’s central contention that this election signaled the end of the modern Democratic Party may be the first time that someone brave enough to make that contention is proven right.
Mark Corallo is the owner of Corallo Media Strategies, Inc, an Alexandria, Virginia Public Relations firm.