The Daily Caller: Who Owns Conservatism?
“We need more conservative Texans in Washington, D.C., including my friend David Dewhurst,” Texas Governor Rick Perry said during his state’s Republican convention last week. Perry’s comments were met with loud boos from the mostly conservative audience.
Dewhurst, the lieutenant governor of Texas, is running for U.S. Senate. He is being challenged in a run-off by former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, who many Texans see as the more conservative candidate.
But Perry does have a point. Just a few short years ago, say in 2005 or 2006, a fairly moderate Republican like Dewhurst could’ve successfully passed himself off as a conservative with most Republican voters. During that time, conservatism was not measured by one’s limited-government record or fidelity to the Constitution, but simply by whether someone was on board with George W. Bush’s policies. Some Republicans still consider Bush a conservative, even though Bush was the most big-government president in our history until President Obama.
I belong to that segment of diehard constitutionalists, libertarians and others who’ve been anxious to get rid of these phony big-government conservatives and replace them with bona fide limited-government advocates like Cruz. For some of my more radically libertarian friends, even Cruz isn’t good enough. I strongly disagree, but certainly prefer that sentiment to Republicans trying to convince me that John Boehner is a conservative.
The left’s contention that the Republican Party has been “hijacked” by a bunch of limited-government “extremists” is partly — and thankfully — true. A Daily Caller story in June titled “Obama to portray Romney as a libertarian extremist” quoted the president saying: “We [Democrats] haven’t moved that much. … What’s changed is the Republican Party.” Obama is right. The Democratic Party’s agenda since the New Deal has been to make America as socialist as possible. During the Bush administration, the Republican Party doubled the size of the Department of Education through No Child Left Behind, created the largest new entitlement program since President Lyndon Johnson with Medicare Plan D and increased the debt by trillions of dollars. For most of the last decade, the Republican Party was as socialist as the Democratic Party.
This is why when John McCain lost to Obama in 2008, I cheered. Not because I wanted Obama to become president, but because I wanted the Republican Party to get its ass kicked. The GOP desperately needed to hit the reset button. A President McCain would have made that virtually impossible, but now it’s finally happening.
I’ve learned something from living in Washington, D.C. for the past year: most of the people who work in and around politics in this city are not that ideological. Of course, there are serious conservatives, libertarians and limited-government champions, just as there are serious progressives and liberals. But by and large, most who seek to work within either major party are primarily interested in becoming staunch partisans. If Obama defines the Democratic Party, that’s what liberalism is. If Bush defines the GOP, that’s what conservatism is. The thinking of most Beltway types really doesn’t go much beyond this sophomoric level.
President Obama’s contention that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is a “libertarian extremist” is just plain dumb. But Democrats are recognizing a real shift happening within the GOP, as Republicans are seriously re-examining what it means to be a conservative.