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The Conservative Curmudgeon
November 18, 2008

Conservatism Not Defeated in November Election
by Allan C. Brownfeld

On one level, the election of Senator Barack Obama as President is symbolically a major step forward in moving our country into a post-racial era. In America, every individual should be judged on the basis of individual merit, not race. It is now clear to all that this standard is becoming a reality.

Indeed, noted Ed Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, “President-elect Barack Obama’s acceptance speech concluded with words that should warm the heart of conservatives everywhere: ‘This is our time,’ he said, ‘to reaffirm the fundamental truth that, out of many, we are one. That while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with the timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.’

Feulner continued, “An abiding belief in our country's greatness, tinged with optimism, has long been a cornerstone of conservatism. And Mr. Obama’s been tacitly leaning toward conservative ideas since he became the Democratic nominee.”

We are told by many observers that the loser in this past year’s presidential election was conservatism. This, however, is not the case. Conservatism could not have been defeated because, during eight years of the Bush administration, it has never been tried.

Even Republican candidate John McCain pointed to this reality. Speaking to The Washington Times, he declared that, “We just let things get completely out of hand. Spending, the conduct of the war in Iraq for years, growth in the size of government, larger than any time since the Great Society, laying a $l0 trillion debt on future generations of Americans, owing $500 billion to China, obviously failure to both enforce and modernize the financial regulatory agencies that were designed for the l930s and certainly not for the 2lst century, failure to address the issue of climate change seriously. Those are just a few of them.”

Senator McCain emphatically rejected Mr. Bush's claims of executive privilege, often used to shield the White House from scrutiny. He said Republicans in Congress got drunk with power and lacked the resolve of President Reagan: “I think, frankly, the problem was, with a Republican Congress, that the president was told by the speaker and majority leaders and others, ‘Don't veto these bills, we need this pork, we need this excess spending, we need to grow these bureaucracies.’ They all sponsor certain ones. And he didn’t do what Ronald Reagan used to say, ‘No’; say ‘No.’ We’re not going to do this.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that the American people already have seen “the failure of big government” during the Bush years. “It is big government which tried to put people in houses they couldn’t afford, that gave Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the ability to borrow and lend on a scale they couldn’t sustain.” He also took aim at the interest-rate cutting of former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan: “It was big government that was giving away money at one per cent for two years and created an environment in which there was too much money in the system. So before I assume that our 200-year experiment with limited government is over, I would suggest we have no reason to believe the government is going to become more competent.”

George W. Bush came to Washington almost eight years ago urging smaller government. He will leave it having overseen the biggest federal government expansion since FDR seven decades ago. Not since World War II when the nation mobilized to fight a global war and recover from the Great Depression has government spending played as large a role in the economy as it does today.

Now, we have embarked upon a program to use $700 billion in taxpayer money to buy up financial assets and take an ownership stake in the nation’s largest banks and could be followed by a stimulus program of up to $300 billion. Mr. Bush is the first president in history to implement budgets that crossed the $2-trillion-a-year and $3-trillion-a-year marks. His final budget could near $4 trillion.

“Basically, we have had in the past eight years an unending growth in government and ever higher increases in the level of spending,” said Phil Gramm, a former Republican senator from Texas and chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs from l995 to 2000.

The Bush White House “didn’t focus on spending,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “They didn’t make it a priority. And this predates September ll. It just wasn’t on the list of things they were going to do.”

President Bush's third budget director, Rob Portman, admitted that the Bush administration and Republicans “took our eyes off the ball, and it was a mistake.... We also allowed earmarks to get out of control.” Two years after Republicans took control of Congress in l996, there were 3,055 earmarks special spending programs for members of Congress in federal spending bills, according to the Congressional Research Service. By 2004, the number of earmarks had ballooned to l4,2ll.

Linda Chavez, Chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and a former member of the Reagan administration, declared that, “The Republican brand has traditionally been identified with competence and fiscal responsibility. But mishandling of the war in Iraq, the bungled federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and the failure to recognize and avert the housing and credit crises have undermined that association. Neither President Bush nor the Republican-controlled Congress behaved as fiscal conservatives, weakening the argument that Republicans can be trusted to manage the people's money better than Democrats.”

Dov S. Zackheim was senior foreign policy adviser to George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign and served as undersecretary of defense and chief financial officer of the Pentagon from 200l to 2004. He recalls that in his campaign of 2000, Mr. Bush promised “modesty in international affairs; we would no longer preen as the world's “indispensable nation,” as the Clinton administration put it. Instead, noted Zackheim, “We forgot about humility in international affairs, succumbing to the pipe dreams of neoconservatives who pinned our global reputation and power on remaking a Middle Eastern society about whose values and priorities we knew next to nothing.”

In his recent book, Heroic Conservatism, Michael Gerson, President Bush’s former speechwriter, declared that, “Republicans who feel that the ideology of Barry Goldwater the ideology of minimal government has been assaulted are correct.”

On election day, voters did not reject conservatism. On the contrary, they rejected the Bush administration for expanding executive power, increasing deficit spending, conducting a far less than prudent foreign policy, and displaying a general lack of competence. Of the financial bailout package, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said: “If this isn’t socialism, then I don't know what is.” Conservatism, indeed, was not tried and found wanting it was not tried.

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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2008 2008 by Allan C. Brownfeld and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved. Editors may use this column if this copyright information is included.

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.

He is associate editor of The Lincoln Reveiw and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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