At the opening of the Obama Administration, many observers — some of them in TIME magazine — were willing to give the last rites to conservatism. The patient has made a speedy recovery. It is entirely possible that within a year, control of the White House, Senate and House will belong to people who call themselves conservative and were elected by conservatives.
Republicans have not had to move left to return to health. Over the past two years, all of the Republican presidential candidates and almost all of the party’s members of the House and Senate have gone on record in favor of slowing the growth of entitlements. Like the public at large, Republicans have moved rightward on abortion; organized opposition to the pro-life movement inside the party is now practically nonexistent. If the presidential primary is nastily personal, it is mostly because the major candidates disagree on so little of substance.
At the same time conservatism has been enjoying some political success, it has been reconnecting to its roots. What American conservatives, at our best, aim to conserve is our political inheritance from the Founders. The past few years have seen a heartening revival of popular interest in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence as documents that should guide our political life generally and not just the deliberations of judges.
But the conservative defense of the country’s founding principles is incomplete so long as it fails to apply them to the pressing challenges of our day: to show, rather than just say, that those principles amount to timeless wisdom. Conservatives have barely begun to outline a plausible alternative to Obamacare. Our economic ideas too often seem like well-developed answers to the problems of 1981. We have failed, and in some ways have hardly tried, to persuade black, Hispanic and Asian citizens that our philosophy promotes the interests of the whole nation. And none of us is quite sure what to do about the intolerable fact that in our society, familial stability seems increasingly to be becoming a luxury good.
Conservatives may be able to defeat Obama without meeting these challenges, but we will not be able to achieve the more profound objectives to which that defeat is only a means.
Ponnuru is a senior editor at National Review and a columnist for Bloomberg View. The views expressed are solely his own.
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