Editor: After Vincent McGuire, CU political scientist and Centennial Institute Fellow, suggested Tom Tancredo's third-party run for Governor of Colorado might drive structural changes in the way conservatives organize themselves politically, Centennial fellows Paul Prentice, Alan Crippen, and Bill Moloney weighed in with complementary or contrasting views. Here is the resulting symposium.
MCGUIRE: I am very ambivalent about Tancredo. On the one hand, I believe there is a real conservative grassroots movement occurring, possibly for the first time. I do not think the Reagan revolution was of this grassroots level nor was Newt’s takeover of the House. We can disagree on that of course. Conservatives have a unique opportunity here to attract a large group of people based on ideas. If we look at polling data voters are unhappy with both parties. Therefore, I think it is in the best long-term interest of conservatives to have the establishment Republicanism hitch its wagon to the tea party movement.
On the same note, I do not think either of the Republican candidates are electable. This too we can disagree on. I believe that what voters in general are looking for, similar to 1976, are anti-political politicians. Plus, Tancredo has a better shot at beating ‘the looper’ for as well as advancing the conservative cause.
On the other hand I do not like extremism from either side. I am not saying the tea party movement or Tancredo is extreme. However in this Obama era there seems to be no consensus on what moderation is. What could happen is another realignment of the type we had in the elections of 1964 and 1972. In the election of 1964 Barry Goldwater, the most conservative major candidate ever, drove many of the liberal from the Republican Party making that party a conservative party. In the election of 1972 George McGovern, the most liberal candidate from a major party up until that time, drove many of the conservatives out of the Democratic party. The result has been a Congress as ideologically split as we've seen in 100 years.
Thus, the task of the conservative movement should be not merely to drive Democrats from office but to change the discussion; educate, in the best sense of the word, the American people and the values of conservatism. I am not sure that the establishment Republican Party, especially at the national level, is capable of doing this.
This is a unique political time, much like 1994. That year elections turned on the state of the nation. I believe the next two elections will be very similar. I think that if we can center the discussion around the core values of progressivism and conservatism, even in local elections, we will have a double victory – un-electing Democrats and creating an ideological base of conservatives.
PRENTICE: Unless and until the Republican Party realigns around America's founding principles of limited government, free markets, and private property, there is no purpose to it. Conservative Americans will no longer accept Democrat-lite as the lesser of two evils. Let us not forget that the out-of-control spending and debasement of the currency began with GW Bush and continued with a Republican House and Senate. Republicans institutued the first "stimulus" and "bail out". Obama simnply ramped it up. The Republican Party has lost claim to any moral high ground: "We had to go against free market principles in order to save the free market." -- President GW Bush
The problem, to me, is not the "Party" as represented by the voters. It is the elitist politicians and operatives who neither understand nor appreciate these principles, but rather are in it for their own power and agrandizement. That is the core of the current mess in Colorado. Judge Andrew Napolitano says we don't have a two-party system, we have only one party: The Party of Big Government. There is a Democrat wing of that party and a Republican WIng of that party. I agree wholeheartedly. Here in Colorado, it was the Republicans under Bill Owens and Jane Norton that began the dismantling of TABOR with their support for Ref. C.
During the health-care debate, I got the sense that fiscal conservatives would be all for socialized medicine, if only it was budget-neutral. They argued on policy, not principle (likely because they don't have any). Social conservatives would be all for socialized medicine, if only it didn't fund abortion. They argued on policy, not principle (likely because they don't have any).
We have to clearly restate the meaning and purpose of government, and clearly articulate the proper relationship between the governing and the governed: "To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men." -- Thomas Jefferson
Instead, we have a philosophy that government exists not to secure these rights, but rather to give us stuff (for which it must first take from others). This is a Marxist, not a Jeffersonian, vision of government. It is supported and implemented by both parties.
In a recent poll, people were asked which they think is better: A free-enterprise economic system or a government-controlled economic system? Free enterprise won 70%, to 30% for government control. Given that, the fact that the Republican Party cannot secure a permanent governing majority speaks to their own philosophic bankruptcy. (Paul Prentice on on the Board of Directors for El Paso County TEA Party)
CRIPPEN: It would seem to me that the current political moment cries out for leadership to define conservatism as something other than kinder, gentler libertarianism. Libertarianism (aka John Stuart Mill) is the failed political philosophy that birthed the progressivism (Republican and Democratic) of the early 20th Century. That "TR" Rooseveltian and Wilsonian Progressivisms have morphed into today's social democracy is manifest to varying degrees in both major parties. In reaction to this, I think the Tea Party movement is dangerously close to pursuing libertarian impulses.
Certainly, Tancredo's temptation to a third party is not the answer. It strikes me as too reminiscent of the failed strategy of Ross Perot and the Reform Party of the early 1990s -- a spoiler movement to real conservatism.
Reformation of the Republican Party is what we need. We need candidates with a political philosophy and vision that offer something more compelling than minimalist government and less taxes. Rather, we need a cohesive, comprehensive and compelling vision for maximizing civil society and the non-governmental institutions that have real promise of providing a moral, social, and economic bulwark against the omni-competent nanny state.
MOLONEY: In McGuire's speculations about realignment, there is a downside that cannot be ignored- a huge one! For generations Republicans and Conservatives have disemboweled themselves in a fruitless quest for “Purity” (e.g. Goldwater 1964). If conservatives insist on “clarity, specificity, and agreement” on identity, issues etc., we are just forming up yet another circular firing squad. The ultimate temptation of course, is the suicidal Third Party impulse (e.g. Perot 1992).
If our country is to be saved, it is imperative that Democrats be decisively defeated in the next two elections. All else must be subordinated to that goal for if we fail the damage to our country will be catastrophic and irreversible. As I sit here in Nantucket watching the liberal species up close (John Kerry and Chris Matthews within
walking distance) I am reminded that Democrats never accurately define themselves or publicly admit of their real plans for “transformational change”. Such deception allows them to win elections every time Republicans screw up.
The Progressive agenda like that of its union core is narrow, radical, and unchanging and it has advanced incrementally- by fits and starts- for nearly a century. Great
election victories (1932, 1964, 1980) are when people decisively reject the opposition (Hoover, Goldwater, Carter). The issues all conservatives can agree on are the Deficit, the Debt, runaway Spending, Metastasizing Government, and the Death of the American Dream for our own children and grandchildren. Let’s leave Purity, and Perfection to the afterlife.