Did Liberalism Die With 2006 Midterms?


By: Warner Todd Huston

Is liberalism dead?

Well, not entirely, but it certainly is on life support since Democrats have learned that to win they have to at least appear conservative as the 2006 election cycle increasingly showed.

Naturally, we are seeing all sorts of recriminations inside the GOP and among the punditry since the midterms resulted in a Republican reversal. There will be a million versions of what went wrong and a lot of finger pointing. These introspections are necessary, unavoidable really, but allowing it to consume us is something we should always avoid lest it paralyze us from future action.

So, what does the overall picture present to us? I think it is a picture that shows a generally conservative America, no matter which party they support.

In their 2004 book, “The Right Nation, Conservative Power in America”, British authors John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge investigated the American character and found it to be a conservative one. They found we are far more religious than our European counterparts, less dependent on government, and far more entrepreneurial.

Their conclusions seem rather inescapable, that the USA is at heart a conservative country and always has been.

Now, fast-forward from the book’s publishing date of 2004 to this midterm election in 2006. Has this “conservative America” held true now that Democrats have been swept into office nation wide?

I say yes. And it is drifting even further from its dalliance with leftism of the 1960′s, too.

Let’s use Illinois for an example. Illinois has become a deeply blue state with the morbidly stagnant and scandal-ridden Illinois Republican Party being headed only a few years ago by a governor so corrupt he ended up with a 6-year jail term. This state Party has no obvious talent holding high office in the state and no up and coming candidate or group of candidates on the horizon with statewide name recognition. And, this election, the GOP candidate lost a lopsided defeat to another scandal-ridden candidate heading the Democrats, incumbent Rod Blagojevich.

The Democrats hold nearly every Federal office and, with this election, widened their control of the state house to a nearly defeat proof majority.

About the only bright spot for the Illinois GOP is that Dennis Hastert, Peter Roskam and Mark Kirk will be going to represent the state in Congress along with 7 other Republicans; a dwindling 10 out of 19 Illinois House seats being in GOP hands. All other Federal offices were lost to Democrats and the top jobs in the State went to the Dems as well.

A pretty sad tale for the GOP. But, does it translate that Illinois is suddenly a far leftist state and no longer reflects any sort of conservative ideals?

Not entirely.

Nearly every Democrat in this bluest of blue states ran with conservative rhetoric to buoy them. They campaigned against raising taxes, ran on anti-corruption messages, claimed to want to make government smaller and many ran claiming to be religious.

Governor Blagojevich ran promising (again) to end corruption and keep taxes low and ran as an “outsider”, able to stand outside his Party as an independent actor. An unqualified candidate who was nominated by pure nepotism for Cook County board president claimed he was against raising taxes and further claimed that his Republican opponent was for them.

Now, it is highly doubtful that any of them will govern this way, of course, as they have not in the past. But, throughout the nation Democrats increasingly used conservative, center-leaning rhetoric to try to win.

In Tennessee, Harold Ford ran as a conservative (though he lost). So did Montana’s Jon Testor (and won). Interestingly, Virginia’s Jim Webb WAS a Republican not long ago. Even big taxer Charlie Rangel of New York claimed that the Democrats had no interest in raising taxes. Even more amazingly, lefty Nancy Pelosi has been claiming she would only be for a tax raise as a “last resort”, a far cry from the automatic call of leftists for higher taxes the second they get power.

Additionally, many Indiana Democrats ran in that once solidly GOP Midwestern state for Congress as conservatives. Baron Hill ran touting his “Faith in God”, Joe Donnelly ran against abortion and against pulling out of Iraq, and Brad Ellsworth ran carrying a hunting rifle in his TV commercials.

This claim of conservative values was seen from Democrats throughout the south, Midwest, and western parts of the country.

It should also be remembered that Bill Clinton ran as a conservative outsider, too, and he won on that basis. Old style liberals, like Kerry and Gore, on the other hand, have lost.

My point here is not that Democrats are really conservative, but that they had to run like conservatives to get the votes. This shows that the electorate is still leaning towards conservative positions and the Democrats know it, or at least have come to realize it. Democrats seem to have become aware that being thought of as a liberal is death to most campaigns. They are increasingly shying away from such a label.

Another area to look at is the attempts to legitimize gay marriage being repeatedly voted down nation wide. Gay activists have made little headway into making gay marriage acceptable for most Americans. Even the purported “healing powers” of fetal stem cell research has not found easy acceptance with advocates pulling for such research resorting to subterfuge to get the votes.– as they did in Missouri.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that the underlying ideology in the country is that of a basic conservatism. What we need to do as Republicans and conservatives is to learn how to tap into this bedrock conservativeness that form the basis of most American’s thinking instead of just taking it for granted.

To do that we cannot merely assume it. We must develop it and maintain a close touch with that feeling. When ideas that aren’t conservative (spending, abortion, liberal judges, etc.) come to the front we must beat down those challenges by reminding the voters how radical and un-American these ideas are.

In the end, this loss by Republicans was because they began to abandon their principles and started treating their lock on power as axiomatic. They turned away from the voters and they were slapped for it.

But, if the GOP thinks going “moderate” will solve their problems, they are sorely wrong. The Democrats have realized that looking conservative is the ticket and if the GOP doesn’t see that fact and if they head the other way, they will be out of power for a generation.

Can we learn this lesson?

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