Mean­while, the con­ser­va­tives are in dis­ar­ray

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Con­ser­vatism is in dire straits. Yet don’t tell that to the foot sol­diers, who just fin­ished at­tend­ing the Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Action Con­fer­ence. They don’t grasp the mag­ni­tude of their cur­rent po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic, cul­tural and ide­o­log­i­cal de­feat.

CPAC is the largest an­nual gath­er­ing of con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists. Many of them come from Mid­dle Amer­ica — in­tel­li­gent, de­cent and crack­ling with en­thu­si­asm, they are the very op­po­site of the ef­fete Wash­ing­ton con­ser­va­tive es­tab­lish­ment. They be­lieve prin­ci­ples trump power. For all their en­ergy and in­ten­sity, how­ever, con­ser­va­tives are liv­ing in a fan­tasy.

Led by Newt Gin­grich and Rush Lim­baugh, many on the right are call­ing for the restora­tion of the Rea­gan­ite agenda. Tax cuts, lim­ited gov­ern­ment, fam­ily val­ues and winning the war on ter­ror — th­ese are the slo­gans con­ser­va­tives be­lieve will cat­a­pult Repub­li­cans back to po­lit­i­cal dom­i­nance.

Yet the once-suc­cess­ful Rea­gan coali­tion is now in dis­ar­ray. White males and evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians form an in­creas­ingly smaller pro­por­tion of the elec­torate. Blue-col­lar eth­nics — the so-called “Rea­gan Democrats” — have aban­doned the party. They may be cul­tur­ally con­ser­va­tive, but they are also in love with biggovern­ment pro­grams and are skep­ti­cal of free trade. Women and in­de­pen­dents largely op­pose the war in Iraq — and in grow­ing num­bers, also ob­ject to the troop surge in Afghanistan as well.

More­over, mas­sive im­mi­gra­tion, es­pe­cially from Latin Amer­ica, has trans­formed the po­lit­i­cal land­scape. His­pan­ics now out­num­ber African-Amer­i­cans. They are the sec­ond-largest racial group (af­ter whites). And they vote over­whelm­ingly Demo­cratic. Dur­ing the 2008 elec­tion, 67 per­cent of His­pan­ics voted for Barack Obama — even though Sen. John McCain cham­pi­oned com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form and cul­ti­vated the His­panic vote for years.

The dis­as­trous open bor­ders pol­icy has re­sulted in an in­flux not only of low-wage, low-skilled work­ers, crim­i­nals and drug traf­fick­ers, but cre­ation of a pow­er­ful left­ist eth­nic con­stituency that de­mands more ac­tivist gov­ern­ment poli­cies. This has shifted Amer­i­can so­ci­ety to the cen­ter-left.

It is not just that con­ser­va­tives are be­com­ing a nar­rower slice of the elec­torate. The right has lost the most im­por­tant bat­tle of all: the cul­ture war. Lib­er­als con­trol nearly ev­ery in­sti­tu­tion of cul­tural power — the uni­ver­si­ties, Hol­ly­wood, the arts, the me­dia, tele­vi­sion and the pub­lic schools.

Since the 1960s, the rad­i­cal left has sought to trans­form Amer­ica by its “long march through the in­sti­tu­tions.” It has suc­ceeded.

In fact, an­ti­war lib­er­als sim­ply fol­lowed the pro­gram out­lined by Ital­ian Lenin­ist An­to­nio Gram­sci, who ad­vo­cated the the­ory of “cul­tural hege­mony.” Gram­sci ar­gued for an in­cre­men­tal so­cial­ism. He stressed that the key to winning po­lit­i­cal power lay not in seiz­ing the eco­nomic means of pro­duc­tion, but in cap­tur­ing so­ci­ety’s com­mand­ing cul­tural or­gans. This way the left could re­lent­lessly mold pub­lic opin­ion and in­doc­tri­nate the youth. He pre­dicted that, once the left at­tained cul­tural hege­mony, the state would fall into its hands — like a ripe fruit.

Pres­i­dent Obama’s elec­toral victory rep­re­sents the cul­mi­na­tion of the left’s march to power. Mr. Obama deftly ex­ploited nu­mer­ous ad­van­tages — a weak op­po­nent, a fawn­ing me­dia, a fi­nan­cial cri­sis and a de­mor­al­ized, frac­tured Repub­li­can Party. But the cul­tural ground­work had been laid for decades.

Mr. Obama is an anti-cap­i­tal­ist, anti-fam­ily and anti-Amer­i­can left­ist. And here is what most con­ser­va­tives do not un­der­stand: Large swathes of the Amer­i­can elec­torate don’t care. Mr. Obama’s ap­proval rat­ings re­main above 80 per­cent. The re­cent $787 bil­lion stim­u­lus pack­age has broad pub­lic sup­port, even though it sig­ni­fies the largest gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion in the econ­omy dur­ing peace­time.

Polls show vot­ers are re­cep­tive to even more spending and tar­geted tax in­creases — pro­vided they work (which they won’t). Small-gov­ern­ment con­ser­vatism is out; big gov­ern­ment lib­er­al­ism is in.

Con­ser­va­tives must wake up to this fun­da­men­tal fact: The coun­try has changed since Ron­ald Rea­gan. We are no longer a cen­ter-right na­tion. This doesn’t mean the right — as is be­ing de­manded by some neo­con­ser­va­tives, such as David Frum and David Brooks — should jet­ti­son its prin­ci­ples. But it does mean con­ser­va­tives must face the depths of their predica­ment. We are now a dwin­dling mi­nor­ity. And un­less we re­verse Amer­ica’s eco­nomic and cul­tural de­cay, our num­bers will con­tinue to drop.

Many con­ser­va­tives are con­vinced that the Democrats’ over­reach will cost them con­trol of Congress and maybe the White House in 2012. Mr. Obama’s poli­cies are a recipe for dis­as­ter: ane­mic eco­nomic growth, per­ma­nent high un­em­ploy­ment, crip­pling debt, dis­as­ter abroad and na­tional de­cline.

Yet, the very same thing hap­pened dur­ing the 1930s. The New Deal failed to end the Great De­pres­sion. The pol­icy of ap­pease­ment em­braced by Franklin Roo­sevelt em­bold­ened Nazi Ger­many and Im­pe­rial Ja­pan — paving the way to World War II.

This dis­mal record didn’t pre­vent Roo­sevelt from winning three suc­ces­sive re-elec­tion vic­to­ries. Mr. Obama and the con­gres­sional Democrats may re­main in power de­spite a tank­ing econ­omy and de­feat in the Mid­dle East. There are no guar­an­tees in pol­i­tics.

Even if Repub­li­cans do man- age to come back in 2010 or 2012, rid­ing a wave of voter dis­gust at Demo­cratic in­com­pe­tence, it won’t solve the un­der­ly­ing prob­lem: The de­mo­graph­ics and trends are against con­ser­va­tives.

To win, the GOP will be forced to be­come more like Democrats; Ge­orge W. Bush’s call for a “com­pas­sion­ate con­ser­vatism,” with its stress on ma­jor spending on ed­u­ca­tion, pre­scrip­tion-drug cov­er­age for se­niors and amnesty for il­le­gals was an ex­am­ple of the ero­sion of the Repub­li­can iden­tity.

This is why, if the right truly seeks to cap­ture na­tional power, it must aban­don its pol­i­tics-only strat­egy. That is a road to de­feat, de­cline and even­tu­ally, obliv­ion. It must en­gage the left on the cul­tural front, and seek to take back key in­sti­tu­tions con­ser­va­tives have sur­ren­dered — of­ten without a fight. Lib­er­als have been on of­fense for too long, set­ting the terms of de­bate. Con­ser­va­tives must stop play­ing de­fense. They must be proac­tive, bold and coura­geous in craft­ing a longterm revo­lu­tion.

Con­ser­va­tives didn’t lose overnight. And they won’t win overnight. The path to power lies not in Wash­ing­ton, but in New York and Los An­ge­les — and ev­ery­where in be­tween. It’s the cul­ture, stupid.

Jef­frey T. Kuh­ner is a colum­nist at The Wash­ing­ton Times and pres­i­dent of the Ed­mund Burke In­sti­tute, a Wash­ing­ton pol­icy in­sti­tute.

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