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Conservatism's Identity Crisis


Liberals have every reason to be pleased with the three remaining Democratic presidential candidates and what they portend for the vitality of political liberalism in the Democratic Party. The same cannot be said for conservatives concerning the Republican candidates and the vitality of conservatism.

There isn't a dime's worth of ideological difference between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. They just present their respective brands of statism in different ways. In the Democratic Party, big-government liberalism is alive, well, robust and vibrant.

Hillary might resume "Third Way" Clintonian politics if she wins the nomination, but for now, she's bragging that her health-care plan is more Marxist than Barack's.

But for Republicans, there's a fierce intramural debate not just over how conservative the party should be but also over the very definition of conservatism.

This debate wouldn't be as significant if it were limited to the candidates alone, but a growing number of conservative intellectuals have also surrendered to the oxymoronic notion that conservatism must adapt to survive as a powerful political force in this nation.

Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum is an example. In his new book, "Comeback, Conservatism That Can Win Again," he argues that Republicans need a new approach because they can no longer win elections on the conservative ideas that catapulted them to power in the 1980s.

Apart from Frum's book, which I've yet to read, conservatism faces serious challenges, owing to these (and other) factors:

• President George W. Bush, through his "compassionate conservatism" — including its faith based initiatives, its greater federal role in education, its immigration policy and its excessive spending — has diluted and muddled conservatism.

• Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee appears prepared to expand on Bush's compassionate conservatism to a degree even more objectionable to Reagan conservatives.

• There is a strong element of isolationism within the conservative tent, typified, variously, by Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul. A strain of protectionism, contrasted with Ronald Reagan's affinity for Milton Friedman-style free trade, is also present.

• There exists a purist neoconservative faction within the conservative movement. The difficulties this presents are compounded by antiwar liberals who portray this faction as much larger than it is.

• On one level, the War on Terror unites and strengthens conservatives and their cause. But the war is so important that many conservatives are willing to abandon social conservatism to ensure we have a strong enough commander in chief to lead us in the war.

This abandonment, if it occurs, could be the last straw for some evangelicals.

• Among the current slate of GOP presidential candidates, those closest to Reagan conservatism have recent liberal records and/or difficulty gaining electoral traction.

Before the explosion of Mike Huckabee's campaign, President Bush's "compassionate conservatism" seemed decidedly on the outs among conservatives. Indeed, many believe Republicans lost the 2006 congressional elections, not because of Iraq but because of Bush's betrayal of domestic conservative principles — other than his tax policy.

But Huckabee has resurrected compassionate conservatism, apparently reading the Gospel as mandating a greater, more intrusive and more "compassionate" role for the government. Huckabee objects to criticisms of his conservative bona fides, but his rhetoric and sometimes his record on health care, education, foreign policy, federal smoking bans, terrorists, criminals and economic producers gives this conservative pause. I hope I'm way off base, especially if he wins the nomination.

The Buchanan/Paul antiwar isolationism, I believe, is neither good for conservatism nor the national interest. That said, this strain gains some strength from arguable excesses of the foreign policy preferences of true neoconservatives.

The true neoconservative — as opposed to the loose definition of that term supplied by antiwar liberals — is a former Democrat who is a) not that uncomfortable withfavors a more energetic role for government in domestic policy and b) alsoa more proactive approach to foreign policy — . He possibly even havings an appetite for invading nations that don't represent a discernible threat to our national interest, because they he believes in the transformative, contagious power of democracy.

I couldn't have greater appreciation for the role of neoconservatives in the war, but I think the conservative movement would have more credibility and be less threatening to impressionable moderates if we clarified that we are not nation builders and would only attack (and thereafter help to rebuild) nations we believe represent threats to our national interest, like — yes — Iraq. And wWe do believe in republican government (and hope democracy spreads) but don't regard it as a panacea for all the world's problems.

Considering the extreme liberalism of all the Democratic candidates and the nation's still mostly conservative majority, Republicans would be well-positioned for the general 2008 elections, especially with the turnaround in Iraq. But unless conservatives work through their present identity crisis and regain a clearer sense of who they are, Democrats will have the advantage.

David Limbaugh is a writer, author and attorney. His book "Bankrupt: The Intellectual and Moral Bankruptcy of Today's Democratic Party" (Regnery) was recently released in paperback. To find out more about David Limbaugh, please visit his Web site at And to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



1 Comments | Post Comment
From a recent article in the Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City, Utah:
Better duck — if you're a Mormon
By Doug Robinson
Deseret Morning News
Published: Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2008 12:58 a.m. MST

I missed the memo that said it's A-OK to make disparaging and often erroneous statements about Mormons.

Apparently, they are fair game.

Sure, these are hypersensitive times, when name-calling or perceived bias against any group will get you the Don Imus treatment, but you get a free shot with Mormons. You can say what you want about them with impunity.

If you denigrate a racial group, you're racist.

If you denigrate women, you're sexist.

If you denigrate Mormons, you're hip.

No one would openly suggest that you shouldn't vote for Hillary Clinton because a woman can't lead the country, especially an ornery one.

Nobody would dare say that you shouldn't vote for Barack Hussein Obama because he's black, or of Muslim descent, or because he has a name that sounds like a terrorist. One Clinton worker even apologized for alluding to Obama's use of drugs as a youth, so apparently it's wrong to disparage former drug users, too.

But nobody is shy about saying you shouldn't vote for Romney simply because he's a Mormon. It doesn't even register on the PC-O-Meter.

Just like that, 6 million Americans have been virtually disqualified from running for president. They've been rendered second-class citizens. They're foreigners living in America. They face a glass ceiling.

It would be one thing if most of those who oppose Romney did so because they disagreed with his politics or character. But Romney is one of the few candidates who has no character issues, a "squeaky clean" man who has a distinguished record of accomplishments, success and service, with no divorces, no affairs, no scandal. The only thing opponents can say about him is that he belongs to a church they don't understand.

A Harvard law professor called Romney the most qualified of all the candidates and "the perfect candidate for this moment in time." But there is his Mormonism, he noted.

Even the self-styled PC chief of police, Al Sharpton, once jumped in on the action, saying, "As for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyways."

Mormons don't believe in God?

For his penance, all Sharpton had to do was endure a family home evening in Utah.

It's open season on Mormons. A few days ago, Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard stated on ESPN and in the newspaper that part of the reason fired coach Cam Cameron failed was because he got stuck with a Mormon quarterback — not a rookie quarterback (which he is) but a Mormon quarterback.

"And you'll have a hard time finding a leader anywhere in sports who was as unlucky this year as Cameron," Le Batard said, noting that because of injuries, Cameron was forced to play "a United Nations huddle of a Mormon quarterback, Mexican receiver, Samoan fullback and some guy named Lekekekkkkerkker."

Now Mormons are foreigners?

Ignorance makes no difference. You can say Mormons have four wives or that they aren't Christian, and no one cares.

Imagine the uproar if Le Batard had written that the Dolphins suffered because they had to play a black quarterback for part of the season? Or a Catholic?

The Salt Lake Tribune has had a field day for more than a week since learning that Mike Leavitt and some of his like-minded cohorts met early in the morning to discuss Mormon theology and governance while he was Utah's governor. What if it had been a Bible study?

Nobody seems to mind when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee says his religion "defines me." Or when Obama says his church guides "my own values and my own beliefs."

People worry that Romney will take his orders from his church leaders. They don't worry that Obama will take orders from his church, whose "10-point vision" includes two references to its "non-negotiable commitment to Africa," with no mention of America. Oh, and the church statement begins by noting on the Trinity United Church of Christ Web site, "We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black."

It's a different set of rules for some out there. You can print newspaper cartoons disparaging Mormons. You can harass their families as they walk to their biannual conference with all sorts of foul language. When someone commits a crime, you can note the criminal's religion, but only if he's Mormon. You can make them a one-liner on Leno. Good luck reconciling all this with the paranoid political correctness that's so in vogue.

Meanwhile, the most politically correct presidential election field ever assembled — a woman, a black, a Mormon, a Baptist, etc. — has gone politically incorrect, but only when it comes to you know who.

Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesdays. Please e-mail
Comment: #1
Posted by: Deanne Evans
Sat Jan 12, 2008 2:08 PM
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