(Centennial Fellow) OK, enough already. The battle is over, and, yes, the good guys lost. Since then, everyone with a word processor or access to a microphone has joined in the autopsy.
On the right, many are looking for a smoking gun, the one thing that spelled final defeat for Mitt Romney — it was changing demographics, the loss of momentum owing to hurricane Sandy, the candidate’s failure to attack the president on Benghazi, the Democrats’ successful “war on women” fraud, America’s evolvement towards an entitlement society or the GOP recalcitrance on some issues.
The fact is, there was no single factor to blame. It was a combination of determinants and circumstances that, added up, meant one thing: the Republican message was not adequately relayed to enough people.
Granted, liberals have an inherent advantage on this front. Their message is easier to convey. It’s easier to promise someone you’ll use the resources of the government to solve their problems than to point out the harmful consequences of doing so. Liberalism’s argument has always been more emotional and myopic, conservatism’s more empirical and judicious. Tugging at one’s heartstrings while promising immediate relief is always a simpler proposition than showing with charts and graphs why that relief will only result in further pain down the road.
But we knew this going into the fray. We also knew that certain demographic groups are more inclined to the liberal viewpoint. The task remains, as it always has, to structure the message of conservative truths in a manner that overcomes the advantages enjoyed by more sophistic liberal claims.
While we squabble amongst ourselves over how to do this, the nation faces some critical dilemmas.
Lest anyone forget, the “fiscal cliff” looms ever larger in the nation’s windshield. And we just re-elected a president whose intractable policy is to take a running leap at it.
President Barack Obama is unwavering in his insistence on raising tax rates to try and deal with the debt crisis. The fact that those rate hikes will make no appreciable impact on the debt, regardless of the economic harm they do, seems beside the point. Without the sort of tax system overhaul promulgated by the likes of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (and guys like the irreplaceable Jack Kemp before him), raising rates on the “richest” will only drive more money into the various tax shelters engineered into the tax code over the decades and, in any event, would only generate an insignificant amount of revenue.
Of greater consequence will be the economic effects of raising taxes during a recession. Revenue will not increase as long as large numbers of people remain out of work and the economy doesn’t grow. Tax rate increases will exacerbate both those issues.
Of course, spending will be harder to control as long as vast numbers rely on government largess, rather than paychecks, for their income.
Shifting our lens, there’s a world beyond our borders growing ever more turbulent and one over which the United States seems able to exert less and less influence. As this is written, Israel seems closer to full war than it has been in decades with a newly unpredictable Egypt. Syria is embroiled in a vicious civil war, and it’s anybody’s guess as to how it will turn out. China and Russia seem poised to try and fill the vacuum left by a persistently confused United States. Meanwhile, Washington seems more preoccupied with the unfortunate indiscretions of some top national security officials, the type of thing that activates the salivary glands of the tabloid set.
Even if these crises run their course and the United States somehow emerges more or less unscathed, serious concerns remain: rising health care costs that Obamacare, probably to no one’s surprise, will at best fail to control and more likely inflate; the debt that will continue to escalate despite or because of symbolic tax revenge and an entrenched unwillingness to accept the necessity of entitlement reform; Tehran’s by now probably unstoppable march towards nuclear armament, adding yet another catalyst to the Middle Eastern brew; and the list goes on.
There will be plenty of time for conservatives to engage in “self-examination” over the course of the coming months and years. For now, we can’t lose sight of the fact the country still needs conservative ideas to be prepared and on the table, if for no other reason than to provide an available remedy for the failures that are sure to come. It might not be the easiest way to get our message out there, but it might be the only way.