American Exceptionalism and Where to Go From Here
Conservatives Need to Hold Fast to Principles, Not Policy from the 1980s.
I, like most Americans, have been appreciating the historic nature of President-elect Barack Obama’s ascendency to become the first black President of the United States. It is a terrific achievement on the part of the former junior senator from Illinois, and one that all Americans can be proud of no matter who they voted for two Tuesdays ago. Like many conservatives though, I have been pondering where do we go from here? In a way Sen. John McCain’s defeat is sort of a mixed blessing, while we may loose some ground we have made over the last thirty years, we have been in desperate need of redefinition for quite some time.
There have been two trains of thought of where conservative should go, the first is we go back to our core principles and be real conservatives. The second is that we should moderate and try and catch up with the times. I think both scenarios are utterly foolish and those touting either approach are either living in the past or too swept up in the Obama hysteria that has captivated the attention of the American media. Conservatives must realize that it is not 1980, we’re not dealing with the same issues that Ronald Reagan and his coalition of social, economic, and defense conservatives were dealing with at that time. We face a global threat from Islamofacism (which President-elect Obama will find out about soon enough and hopefully adjust some of his policies to fit the reality of the situation.), we have a lopsided economy that for the past 16 years has over regulated the private sector and under regulated government-sponsered agencies that forced private banks to loan money to people who could not possibly afford to pay it back. We have a county that has not been more bitterly divided since the mid 1860s on nearly everything from taxes, to fighting this war, to important social issues that define our culture. We face challenges and hurdles that Ronald Reagan could not have ever dreamed of. So what are we to do?
We need to remeber what defines conservatism. We need to read our constitution and pay very close attention to the opening of it, “We the People….” Many people misunderstand the meaning of “American Exceptionalism,” far right wing evangelical Christians will take that and state that it is God who ordained the United States of America to be a leader. While I have no dount that God played a role in forming our nation (just as God has guided and shaped other events in the history of the world.) that is not American exceptionalism. America is exceptional precisely because of it’s stated intent that it be ran by “We the people.” It is the wishes and desires of the American people that should guide what we do. It is in their wisdom that we should govern. No politician should ever look on any American with disdain. Unfortunately, that is what has become our politics. Is America perfect? Absolutely not. Anything ran by people is going to be corrupt at some level. Unfortunately we set ourselves up for governing at the highest ideals of men and some Americans have not ever felt included in that ideal. It’s now time that changes and the first thing we realize as conservatives is the American people do not cater to us, we work for the American people. The President of the United States is not sovereign, Congress in and of itself is not sovereign, the Courts are not sovereign, it is the people of the United States that are the sovereigns of our nation. Conservatives used to hold true to this and unfortunately they have lost their way. In a way, Barack Obama’s rhetoric matched conservative philosophy on governance (Obama was referring to the economy.) We live in a bottom-up not a top-down society. The government does not rule over it’s people, the people dictate what the government can and cannot do through our Constitution.
So where does that leave us? What should conservatives do? What about educating the people about what conservatism is, how it works, and offer ideas and solutions to the problems we face in 2008 and beyond and allow the people to decide whether or not their ideas are worth pursuing? Ideas live in a marketplace like almost everything else in this country. The good, well developed ideas will win and the complicated over drawn confusing ideas will loose out. Obama won the election on one big idea: Change We Can Believe In. We wait anxiously to see what exactly he meant and I hope he doesn’t mean what he said in the closing days of the campaign: that he sought to “fundementally change this country.” I am confident that when properly articulated, conservative principles appeal to a large majority of people.
I don’t want to see that because if you strip away our history, if you strip away all of the things that worked and all the things that didn’t work if you go back to our founding ideals and the documents that set them into motion on a fundemental level our nation is good. We need changes in our policies, but not in our fundementals. I hope President-elect Obama doesn’t mean what he says and if he does I hope a Pheonix can arise from the ashes and the conservative movement can convince America of it’s exceptionalism and it’s greatness.