Opinion

The Conservative Revival Begins

By Peter RoffSenior Fellow, Institute for Liberty/Former Senior Political Writer, United Press International

As the political intelligentsia explains it, Barack Obama's election sounded the death knell for American conservatism.

It's true that Obama, who garnered 53 percent of the popular vote, is a formidable figure but not necessarily a realigning one. Only the fifth Democrat to break the 50 percent mark in a national election since the Civil War, Obama won the White House by beating Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.), a comparatively weak and underfunded opponent who achieved political distinction by starting fights within the center-right coalition rather than with the left.

It is too early to predict the outcome of the next election. Freed from the responsibilities of "governing", conservatives are refocusing their energies on developing a new agenda and promoting a new group of leaders who can carry the banner forward.

The party in power typically loses seats governorships and seats in Congress in the mid-term elections. But that's an historical fact, not a trend; it has little predictive power. Obama and the Democrats are governing from the left, ballooning the deficit, growing the size and scope of government and preparing to raise taxes on working Americans by letting the Bush tax cuts expire and, as the president indicated in his address Tuesday to a joint session of Congress, by instituting a "cap and trade" program that will make anything that is grown, shipped or manufactured in the United States more expensive.

Conservatives are not resigned to an Obama-driven realignment. They have adopted a serious, sober mien, opposing the Democrats' race to the left.

They cheerfully point to signs of life in their political movement, suggesting it is actually growing stronger, having shed itself of its own "big government" wing.

The response to the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the GOP's vice presidential nominee is one key indicator. A conservative in the Reagan mold, Palin gave the McCain campaign one of the few boosts it got during the general election. She galvanized the support of Republican presidential voters for whom a vote for McCain would be accompanied by a nose pinched shut.

Palin's selection also prompted a debate within the GOP that led, ultimately, to a reexamination of basic principles that helped the party reorient itself as it moved forward following the election.

Another reason for optimism, say conservatives, is the robust health of the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering that first met in 1973. Conference organizers say the close to 9,000 energetic activist expect to attend the conference, which opens today, is the largest ever, surely not a sign of a movement in decline.

Conservatives also seem to be coalescing on Capitol Hill. Some suggest they are, in the long term, winning more than they might if they had actually defeated the president's stimulus package by presenting a united or nearly-united -- if losing -- front in opposition to the Democrats. That House GOP Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and his leadership team were able to hold the entire Republican Conference in line, with each member voting "No" on the stimulus not once but twice, helped bring about a badly need sense of unity. And it helped them deliver a number of significant body blows to the stimulus package, and to the president.

It is also a significant testament to the continuing influence of the center-right on the nation's politics that Obama and congressional Democrats spent so much time trying to win Republican votes for the stimulus when it could have passed without a single Republican vote in its favor in either the House or Senate.

There have also been tactical improvements to the conservative game plan. The election of former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele to head the RNC is one example. Steele, a black Catholic, was the state GOP chairman who laid the groundwork leading to the election of the Maryland's first Republican governor in two generations. As national chairman, he has promised to shake things up, remaking and rebranding the GOP as a party that appeals to most every demographic and every region of the country.

The use of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a first-generation American whose parents came to this country from India, to deliver the Republican response to Obama's Tuesday address is another indication the message of the last two elections has been delivered. Jindal possesses impeccable conservative credentials and a personal narrative that is at least as compelling as Obama's if not more so.

Jindal's response including specific objections to the Obama agenda crafted along Reaganite principles of limited government, and specific alternatives flowing from the idea, again a Reagan theme, that America is a great country whose people are capable of great achievement when their labor and their capital are liberated from the need to fill the coffers of government.

It is too early to predict the outcome of the next election. Freed from the responsibilities of "governing", conservatives are refocusing their energies on developing a new agenda and promoting a new group of leaders who can carry the banner forward. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rebirth of conservatism currently underway suggests the reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated.

Peter Roff, a former senior writer at United Press International, is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom, an organization that advocates for educational freedom and reform.

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