Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series
When the old Soviet Union folded its cards in the late 1980s, conceding
the cold war to Ronald Reagan, many of conservatism's critics warned that
-- without an enemy -- America would soon lose its way in the world.
Viewed in retrospect, eight years of Bill Clinton's administration tends
to support that prognosis. We routinely billed ourselves as the "last
remaining superpower" -- a leftover Cold War designation -- as we
prepared to drop yet another load of bombs on some newly discovered world
hotspot. (Usually, one that had been festering for years.) We followed up
with soldiers and Harvard MBAs, to restore order and begin
nation-building, a favorite pastime of the left. Meanwhile, we failed to
notice that our own culture had degenerated into the lower reaches of
Darwinistic-materialism, a pseudo-philosophy that justifies the ugliest
behavior toward human beings -- provided it turns a few greenbacks so we
can buy beautiful things for ourselves.
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American conservatism, however, did develop one new enemy: Bill Clinton.
He helped us define what we were, by weaving such a rich tapestry of what
we were not. We were not perpetual liars, even when we didn't have to be.
We were not selling defense secrets to the Chinese in return for campaign
contributions. We were not diddling our campaign contributors' daughters
in the White House. We were not selling our children out to the
homosexual lobby or the teachers' unions. And we were not partaking of
Hollywood's fountain of youth by dipping in the waters of its
entertainment cesspool. We knew who we were, and what we were about. And
when given the choice on election evening, we voted by the narrowest of
margins not to elect Bill Clinton's lieutenant in his stead.
It's hard for those of us who have lived for a while to comprehend, but
there are millions of young men and women for whom Bill Clinton is their
only presidential memory. Indeed, if we were completely honest about it,
many of us do not remember Eisenhower, and would not remember Jack
Kennedy had he not been assassinated, his death forever imprinted in our
young minds. We were simply too young; such things as Congress and the
presidency did not matter. They were our parents' concerns. Yet against
all odds, millions of these young adults who had now left school and
joined the workforce and begun families pulled the lever for George W.
Bush -- knowing only what he was not: Al Gore or Bill Clinton.
Democrats, unlike Republicans, have always had a clear agenda for
government to pursue. Mirrored against Republicans, their defining fears
seem to be free markets and individual initiative. Whatever the problem
-- the answer for the Democrats is always more power and control for
government (and its practitioners) -- and less autonomy for you and me.
The problem, indeed, is almost irrelevant. Need higher academic test
scores? Get the government to spend more on schools. Need kinder and
gentler streets? Get the government to relieve people of their weapons.
Need a cure for AIDS? Get the government to fund more research. Need
acceptance of your pet perversion by the population? Get government to
pass a law protecting it. The list goes on. "Praise government from whom
all blessings flow."
Republicans, on the other hand, who have been during our lifetimes
accustomed to defining themselves in opposition to their international
and domestic enemies, repeatedly allowed themselves to be depicted as
opposing such "mom and apple pie" goals as better education, improved
health care, reduced gun violence, and equal rights for the left's latest
pet perversion. The Republican response -- if we dared to suggest that
more and more government was not the answer to each and every problem
that society ever has or will face -- was a series of vague, muffled
noises about the "private sector" -- after which we disappeared into the
woodwork. "And there you have the Republican plan," announced the
television reporter -- the one whose only presidential memory is Bill
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All of which is the long way around toward explaining why "compassionate
conservatism" has the potential to be the worst thing to happen to a
political party since the New Deal. Want to know why? I'll see you back
here next week.