Conservatives rightly rejoiced at the results of the 2010 midterm elections, but a more sober analysis could lead them into abject depression. One could almost believe that last November’s results indicated real progress until one remembers that just two years earlier the landslide belonged to the liberals. We deceive ourselves if we think that there has been a tectonic shift in the way that Americans think. In reality, there was probably no principled, informed change in American sentiment. In all probability, it was a mere change in American winds.
We may see evidence of that in the reaction to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s reform attempts. This July, six Wisconsin GOP senators are facing a recall election. In contrast, most of the Democratic senators that walked off the job are likely going to get a pass by the electorate. Oh, how quickly the winds change!
What we really need is an America that knows what its values are and remembers them from one election to the next. Before we address how to bring this about, we should consider why it is otherwise.
For example, recall G.K. Chesterton’s famous statement, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” A similar charge can be made about conservatism, except it isn’t difficult – just not tried.
For decades, conservatives have been under fire regarding the effectiveness of their philosophy, but the real truth is that it hasn’t really been implemented in America for generations. Actually, we’ve seen much of the opposite:
Richard Nixon established the EPA and OSHA and a variety of other highly intrusive government programs. Carter may have created the Department of Education, but Reagan didn’t abolish it. G.W. Bush created the massive Department of Homeland Security. Then we hear that former Gov. Mitt Romney is the current “front runner” for the GOP in the 2012 presidential election. This is the same man who, while governor of Massachusetts, oversaw the implementation of a health-care law suspiciously like the national one foisted upon us by Obama, including the individual mandate!
Is it any wonder why reflective conservatives may fall into a deep depression?
But my reason for raising those examples is to point out that American society has had little opportunity to see true conservatism in action, even when conservatives are in office! For generations. Without being able to point to clear examples of the superiority of small-government conservatism, is it any wonder Americans can swing from extreme to extreme in the course of mere months?
Unfortunately, the pool of reliably conservative candidates is usually pretty shallow. However, the reason that pool is shallow is because even Republicans have bought into the “big government” mentality, and not just at the federal level. Cities and towns and villages across this country have multiplied ordinance upon ordinance, constantly limiting the liberties of individuals and property owners. Government intrusion at all levels always increases, it never decreases. Layers are always added, never taken away. Just try, and see what happens!
You now begin to see the underlying issue: The belief that (more and more) government is the solution to our problems runs all the way down and infects both parties, not just the Democrats. This makes sense: Naturally, people who see the government as a solution will gravitate toward using it, seeking public office and then working their way up the chain. This includes those in the ostensibly conservative party, as Romney so well illustrates.
This isn’t the whole problem. Political positions come with power and prestige, as well, and those who desire such things will also gravitate toward public office. Even the most principled small-government conservative elected official will face the temptation to compromise in an effort to be re-elected at the expense of following through on their principles. But in reality, political offices tend to be filled with ambitious individuals who sincerely believe that more government is the fix for everything. Those who believe otherwise obviously tend to steer clear of elected office and in general just want to be left alone.
I contend that in actuality, these are the people we most need in public office.
I would push it further. Imagine if the people serving us on Capitol Hill were selected at random from American society. Do we think these “average” folks could sink the housing market any lower than it already is, ruin the economy any more, inflate gas prices any higher, or put us into even deeper debt than we already are? Personally, I doubt it.
No doubt, government would have to be limited and simplified a great deal in order for average Americans to manage it … and there you see the point.
But such a system is admittedly impractical, if only because it would require legislation from legislators who would be putting themselves out of a job in passing the legislation!
Therefore, I propose an alternative that requires no permission from our legislators. Instead of relying on individuals to voluntarily run for office, conservatives should look around in their local areas for reliable conservatives and nominate, push and prod them into running for office, whether they want to or not!
Indeed, I believe that the less such a person desires political office, the more suitable he is for it!
While the office of the presidency may be out of reach of real, limited-government conservatives any time soon, I expect that the 2012 presidential election may prompt us to reconsider how we generate our candidates more generally. (I say that expecting the pool of GOP candidates to choose from to be pretty disappointing.) The presidency itself may be out, but lower-level offices such as mayors and county administrators and school board members and state representatives are not.
If we started now, we could begin thrusting qualified, but unwilling, small-government conservatives into office throughout the nation. Our pool of reliable and proven conservatives would widen as a result. Moreover, we would be able to prove to the American people, from their own observations, that allowing people to govern themselves not only isn’t the end of the world but in fact is better for everyone – whenever and wherever it is actually tried.
A full-throated grass-roots effort as I propose would need to be hashed out more thoroughly, but even if it weren’t, I contend it would still probably be better than the status quo. Nonetheless, “better than bad” will not save this country. Superior values implemented intelligently, bravely and consistently will.
Anthony Horvath is the executive director of Athanatos Christian Ministries and in April of 2011 was elected to public office in his small Wisconsin community.