… or at least conservatism as defined in the current American political landscape. Reporters, take note.
E.J. Dionne’s insightful column in Friday’s Washington Post is about the best review I’ve seen of the current state of politics and the potential for a very messy fall election followed by an even messier 2008 presidential election:
Conservatism was always a delicate balancing act between small-government economic libertarians and social traditionalists who revered family, faith and old values. The two wings were often held together by a common enemy, modern liberalism certainly, but even more so by communism until the early 1990s, and now by what some conservatives call “Islamofascism.”
President Bush, his defenders say, has pioneered a new philosophical approach, sometimes known as “big-government conservatism.” The most articulate defender of this position, the journalist Fred Barnes, argues that Bush’s view is “Hamiltonian” as in Alexander, Thomas Jefferson’s rival in the early republic. Bush’s strategy, Barnes says, “is to use government as a means to achieve conservative ends.”
Kudos to Barnes for trying bravely to make sense of what to so many others — including some in conservative ranks — seems an incoherent enterprise. But I would argue that this is the week in which conservatism, Hamiltonian or not, reached the point of collapse.
Note to Sam Brownback: this does not mean you’re a lost candidate in 2008. Same to any other “conservative” political candidate like Sen. George Allan, R-Va., or Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Journalists need to note the Dionne Development. Big-tent conservatism, originally construed by Barry Goldwater, furthered by Ronald Reagan and altered by George W. Bush, is suffering and could be dead, but individual candidates are free to create their own coalitions and mold the party as they see fit.
For instance, we know McCain is reaching out to values voters and we know Rudy Giuliani is making a decent effort. Will other “conservative” candidates believe it is necessary to reach out to values voters? Or have values voters been tossed out with Bush and the remains of conservatism? I have my doubts.