After their dismal performance in November, conservatives are taking stock. As they debate the causes that have driven them into the political wilderness and as they contemplate paths out, they should also take heart. After all, election 2008 shows that our constitutional order is working as designed.I have to say that I put a great deal of faith in the Constitution and very little in the ability of Congressional Democrats, President Elect Obama and even the current Bush Administration to effectively adhere to the tenents of the Constitution regarding limited government.
, while sorting out their errors and considering their options, conservatives of all stripes would be well advised to concentrate their attention on the constitutional order and the principles that undergird it, because maintaining them should be their paramount political priority.
A constitutional conservatism puts liberty first and teaches the indispensableness of moderation in securing, preserving and extending its blessings. The constitution it seeks to conserve carefully defines government's proper responsibilities while providing it with the incentives and tools to perform them effectively; draws legitimacy from democratic consent while protecting individual rights from invasion by popular majorities; assumes the primacy of self-interest but also the capacity on occasion to rise above it through the exercise of virtue; reflects, and at the same time refines, popular will through a complex scheme of representation; and disperses and blends power among three distinct branches of government as well as among federal and state governments the better to check and balance it. The Constitution and the nation that has prospered under it for 220 years demonstrate that conserving and enlarging freedom and democracy depends on weaving together rival interests and competing goods.
But even the conservative branches of the Republican party are falling all over themselves with regard to what they see as socially important topics, i.e. same sex marriage, abortion and other "moral" issues that may well end up hijacking the Republican party. No matter how you look at it, the fact is that just like bi-racial marriages of 40-50 years ago (religious conservatives and Jim Crow holdovers were vehemently opposed to the notion), the fact is that the trend on same sex marriage is that it will be permitted probably within my lifetime. To be frank, there is no legal foundation for denying it, only religious and societal. But as I have explained before, it is a weak argument. Furthermore, Constitutions are a very bad place for matters related to social engineering.
When it comes to abortion, the conservatives are slowly being victorious in this arena. Abortions are at their lowest rate in 30 years and it is a trend that can continue. However, even most conservatives are willing to grant that conditions do exists where abortions should be permitted, i.e. rape, incest, physical life of the mother or some combination thereof. The vast majority of Americans may be personally opposed to the idea of abortion on demand, but most can readily accede to teh notiont that the procedure, as abhorrent as they may find it personally, should be legal, safe and available. After all, just as liberals are wrong to pursue abortion on demand in almost every case, conservatives are just as wrong as to deny it almost every case. Neither side is likely to sway the other.
Conservatives would do very well to take a long look at their principals and begin espousing a set of guiding principals based on the Constitution, that the government is one of limited powers, limited purposes and is not and never was intended to be all things to everyone. As a society, we have gotten comfortable, too comfortable with the notion that when in doubt the government will bail us out. Yes, government can and should be a last line, safety net, but it should not be the solution of first resort.
We need a return to Constitutional government, not a government based on immediate government intervention into every problem, particularly when the intervention is "throw money at the problem."