“Conservatism” must die….
... and rise again under a new, more accurate moniker!
Following the election, the editor of this blog, Erick Erickson pointed out that he had predicted almost a year to the date that it happened that if Mitt Romney were the Republican nominee, Conservatism would die and Barack Obama would win re-election. It’s a little disheartening to see Speaker John Boehner, the defacto leader of the Republicans in Washington making that prediction come true by purging conservatives out of committee positions. But a “death” of “conservatism” doesn’t have to mean a death of the values and principles that we hold dear. Keith Koffler of Politico has a very interesting, must-read piece out today where he argues that we should drop the label “conservative”:
If conservatives want to begin the process of refashioning their image, they can start out with the most fundamental rebranding technique of all: changing their name.
That’s, after all, what the left did. In the two decades since Ronald Reagan turned the term “liberal” into a kind of epithet, liberals have chosen to drop it and call themselves “progressives.”
At first, it might seem like a rather jarring prospect. Conservatives have proudly worn that badge through the 20th century. It made sense too, as the Democrats and some Republicans (I’m looking at you Teddy Roosevelt!) began guiding America down the road toward socialism, “conservative” became an appropriate term. We were the people who wanted to hold back all of the “progressive” change that was happening in the early 20th century, we wanted to take America back to it’s roots: the Constitution, freedom, liberty. We wanted to conserve what made America great. “Conservative” became a badge of pride through the 20th century with great leaders from Senator Robert Taft leading the conservative Republicans in congress, to President Calvin Coolidge, Senator Barry Goldwater, and President Ronald Reagan. And those are just some of the elected officials, not to mention countless other men and women who made the case in various other forms. America experienced unparalleled prosperity under Presidents Coolidge and Reagan, only to be thwarted by weak kneed moderate Republicans following their tenure. But that was the 20th century. Unfortunately, most of the Republican presidents either sat idle while progressive Democrats socialized our country if not even assisting them in doing so in the 2000’s.
Socialism is now the norm. No, it’s not the obvious cradle to the grave entitlement state of European variety, but anyone can receive some form of government assistance now in America from birth to death. It is now the norm. It is the status quo, there are few people in our country who know or remember anything else but this. And unfortunately most people expect it to be there.
The term “conservative” no longer fits us, it’s actually not who we are. Anything our forefathers in the conservative movement were trying to preserve is gone. There are social conservatives, but they are only part (a large and important part) of the movement. Look at the definition of conservative does this accurately describe us? (from Apple’s Dictionary)
con•serv•a•tive |k?n?s?rv?tiv|adjective holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.
ORIGIN late Middle English (in the sense ‘aiming to preserve’): from late Latin conservativus, from conservat- ‘conserved,’ from the verb conservare (see conserve).
Does reforming major entitlements like social security and medicare sound cautious to you? Yes, we opposed ObamaCare, but our proposals for health care reform were far more of an overhaul than ObamaCare was, except it would have actually made health care cheaper and more accessible. Does a fundamental restructuring of our tax code to spur economic growth sound like something that’s “conservative”?
The fact is, we have ceased being the conservatives. But we still behave like we are the conservatives. A conservative mind set is on the defensive, it’s protective, it obstructs. It is not offensive, innovative or facilitative. We’re holding on to dear life for things we actually should be fighting for because they’re not there anymore.
You may say it’s just a word, but language matters. Words matter. We need a term that inspires us to fight again. Mr. Koffler has a suggestion and I can’t say I disagree with him:
And now it’s time for the right to discard the term “conservative” and start describing themselves as … liberals.
That’s right, liberals.
If Democrats are going to leave “liberal” lying around, conservatives should immediately scoop it up and make it their own. Because it was theirs to begin with.
He’s right. Prior to the 20th century, people with our philosophy were called liberals because pretty much everyone had a “conservative” understanding about what America was all about. “Liberal” stemming from liberty, is an economic philosophy that emphasized less government involvement, lower taxes, and less regulations. It wasn’t just an American philosophy, it was a philosophy that was quite popular all over the world. In fact the center-right parties of many countries around the world are called the “Liberal Party” – the prime example that I can think of off the top of my head is in Australia.
Shedding “conservative” and embracing “liberal” would do a few important things for us. It would get us to start thinking like a “liberal” – fighting for what we believe rather than holding onto something that’s long gone. It would reinvigorate us to remember what our party was founded on – liberty, freedom, and opportunity for all people no matter their background. And it would make us fresh to people who believe conservatism is stale.
Of course, it would be awkward to have people who blasted the term “liberal” for years suddenly embrace it, so Koffler suggests we start by calling ourselves “classic liberals.”
Whatever we do, we can not abandon the principles of our party. We have to articulate the prosperity they bring so that we can win elections.