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Anyone familiar with American political history remembers that the Whig Party, a protectionist, pro-tariff political organization founded in 1833 to oppose the free-trade Democratic party, breathed its last in 1856 during the very contentious presidential campaign. The sharp conflict between Southern pro-slavery Whigs (or anti-anti-slavery Whigs) and Northern anti-slavery Whigs literally destroyed the party. The Southerners joined the states-rights Democrats who had won the election for Buchanan, and the Northerners created a new anti-slavery Republican Party, which in 1860 nominated Lincoln for the presidency.
Thus, a national political party that was plagued by serious internal divisions from the very beginning, finally gave way to the national internal conflict that would end up in a full-fledged civil war.
Do today’s Republicans face a similar situation? George Bush’s presidency revealed in sharp outline the great division in the Republican Party between conservatives and so-called moderates who lean more to the left than to the right. (In Ecclesiastes 10 we read: “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.”)
I think the two sides can be characterized as fiscal and social conservatives, with a strong belief in constitutional principles, and moderate CFR (Council on Foreign Relations) Republicans, internationalist in outlook, and wobbly on conservative social values.
George Bush did quite a job trying to bridge the two sides. He remained a staunch social conservative by opposing abortion and stem-cell research, and choosing good Supreme Court judges. But when it came to illegal immigration, creating a North American economic union, runaway spending by Congress, he revealed his CFR internationalist credentials.
As for his response to 9/11 and Islamic terrorism, he managed to secure the country from further internal attacks. This is no small achievement. But his decision to invade Iraq has badly divided the country, even among conservatives. Only history will tell us if the consequences of that war were worth the cost.
Thus, George Bush in his very person, dramatized the divisions within his own party. The big-tent theory could have applied to the Whigs. But when push came to shove, the big tent collapsed. Thus, the problem for conservatives these days is whether or not the Republican Party can ever become a truly conservative party.
A lot depends on what kind of leadership arises in the future. There are some very good conservative Republicans in Congress. We saw a few of them in the early days of the primary races. But none of them had the charisma of a great leader, and none of them had much of a following.
Anyone who lived through the Goldwater days in the 1960s saw how contentious the division was in the Republican Party between conservatives and Rockefeller Republicans.
When Nelson Rockefeller was booed at the Republican convention at San Francisco, in which Goldwater was nominated, he was able to turn the entire CFR-controlled media against his own party. The result was the victory of the center-left Lyndon Johnson, who then expanded the Vietnam War. That was a war conducted by anti-anti-communist CFR operatives who had no intention of winning a war against communists.
There we were, the most militarily powerful nation on Earth unable to win a war against the ragged, half-starved communist North Vietnamese!
While American soldiers were dying by the thousands in Vietnam, President Johnson was “building bridges” to the Communist enemy in Moscow. It was a treasonous presidency controlled by the CFR.
Today’s American conservatives are facing hard political decisions as the sleazy veil of liberalism descends on Washington. At stake is the very conception of the American government: Will it become a European-style social democracy in which unlimited government runs rough-shod over individual rights, or will it remain a constitutional republic with limited powers and secured, inalienable individual rights?
The Democrats want social democracy and will use all of the powers in their possession to get it. But since the Constitution stands in their way, they will have to find ways around it mainly through the courts and new liberal judges. And since they control public education, you can be sure that the young men and women emerging from the system will have no idea of the difference between social democracy and a constitutional republic.
So what are conservatives to do? Should they start a new political party that will be strictly conservative? Only if the present conservative leadership in the Republican Party is willing to offer its leadership to a new party.
But that is unlikely, for conservatives still rely heavily on seniority within the Republican Party to gain influential positions on congressional committees. If they leave all of that for a new party, they will lose all of that important influence.
The next alternative makes better sense: Encourage homeschooling and convince conservative parents to remove their children from the liberal-controlled public schools and create an alternative conservative system where children can learn to venerate our constitutional principles.
The road back to a conservative majority is not going to be easy. But conservative ideas are better for a free people than liberal ones. Thus, education has to be the main thrust of conservative action during the Obama years ahead.