A common theme at this past weekend’s CPAC was the near inevitability of a Republican take-over of Congress in the November elections. There were several credible reasons given for this prediction. Central to all of the arguments was the recognition that over the past year, an unafraid and unabashed conservatism has begun to take hold in the Republican Party, a conservatism that “works every time it’s tried.”
The first argument, simply put, says that the American people want the government off their backs. As Newt Gingrich argued, there is a growing realization that centralized planning leads to dictatorship. The relationship between government power and individual liberty can properly be described as a zero-sum game, such that an increase in government power necessarily entails a decrease in individual liberty. On this point, John Ashcroft made an interesting distinction. He described proper security measures as only those measures that enhance individual liberty and allow an individual to exercise a maximum level of liberty. Properly understood, a government does not grant rights, it only acts as a guarantor of rights. What is unique about this concern regarding the size of government is that it has the ability to unite the various disparate factions within the conservative movement. Social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, the Ron Paul people, etc. all agree that the government needs to be smaller. If the Republican Party can provide small-government candidates (as it is in the process of doing), it can take advantage of this coalition.
Another common theme was concern over the massive levels of spending and the level of intrusion into the private sector by the federal government. Glenn Beck described this concern as part of his argument having the right to fail. The main thrust of his argument on this point was that individuals and businesses have a right to and ought to be allowed to fail. Failure creates an opportunity to learn from one’s mistakes, such that after “hitting bottom” you can pick yourself up and go forward a stronger and smarter person/business. The massive spending and intervention undertaken by the federal government to prop up failed businesses and people only undermines the soundness of the American economy, it also robs people of their right to fail and prevents them from learning from their mistakes. Good examples of this are the zombies that are GM and Chrysler. The bailout mentality of the federal government and its increasingly expensive and wasteful welfare programs is only serving to bankrupt and impoverish future generations of Americans while at the same time robbing them of the ability to improve their situation. A flurry of federal dollars has clogged the economic engine of the United States. The people understand that Washington needs new leadership to slash spending and bring the budget back into balance.
The final major theme of the conference was what several speakers referred to as American Exceptionalism, or the idea that in the face of a world history dominated by tyrants, monarchs, and dictators, the American idea of individual liberty and self-determination stands out as an exception to the historical norm. We are now faced with a situation where those liberties are under assault. We are also faced with the very real possibility that the standard of living and general welfare of the rising generation of Americans will be worse than the generation that preceded it. With every bill that comes out of Congress, the Obama/Pelosi/Reid triumvirate continues its assault on the liberty and prosperity of the American people. However, recent elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, as well as the emergence of the Tea Party Movement have demonstrated the people’s will to remain the exception to the rule and their will to fight the Democrats’ agenda.
The major themes at CPAC, concern over the size and scope of government coupled with a renewed desire to fight the Democrat agenda of poverty and misery, are also those themes that are best resounding with the American people. With its renewed strength in bearing the mantle of conservatism and renewed courage in fighting the Democrats’ agenda, the Republican Party has demonstrated that it is willing to listen to and heed these concerns. If they stay on the path they are on, the Republicans are poised to win big in the upcoming mid-term elections.