Thousands rallied across the nation yesterday in support of Second Amendment rights, and conservatives were reminded that Barack Obama’s second term presents a unique opportunity to rebuild. Our principles of individual liberty and constitutional government may be a minority creed, but they are still the best principles to have. Even liberals find them compelling--when they are not hypnotized by the Obama cult of personality.
The conservative movement should aim high. Its long-term political goal should be to achieve what Republicans never have done, and Democrats have enjoyed several times: a filibuster-proof majority. The only way to restore the nation's original constitutional vision, and to renew its rapid economic growth and global leadership, is to push those changes through. The left is not shy about coveting such power; neither should we be.
Pursuing that political goal means moving beyond the political realm, and laying the cultural foundations for a conservative revival. And doing so begins with listening--understanding the nation we are becoming, finding new sources of inspiration in our present as well as our past. Our task is to find the best ideas and best narratives, and amplify them using the best new media--in which we must invest, and innovate.
In the medium term, the task of conservatism is to resist the changes that Barack Obama and the Democrats seek to impose on our society. We must understand that Obama is not looking for compromise. He is seeking to change the boundaries of what is politically possible, even though much of what he wishes to do is only desired by a small minority of the American people. He must be stopped--and he can be stopped.
The key is unity. Obama’s strategy since losing the 2010 midterm elections has been to divide Republicans. And he has succeeded in doing so, several times, on fiscal issues. But when the party is united in opposition, the President cannot win. Republicans have often been maligned as the “party of no,” but it is precisely to say “no” that Republicans were elected. The key is finding the issues on which the party can say “no” in unison.
On some issues, “no” can be absolute. No to tax hikes, which were only passed under duress in the “fiscal cliff” fiasco. No to new stimulus spending, which Obama continues to demand. No to foreign aid to governments that treat the United States as an enemy.
On other issues, “no” should be combined with “unless”--clear conditions that articulate GOP priorities, and that highlight the deficiencies of the president and his party.
So, for example, no debt ceiling increase unless the Senate passes a budget--and no budget that does not aim at eventual balance, through cuts and entitlement reform. No immigration reform without border security and law enforcement. No new background checks for guns until Obama comes clean on his own gun-running in Fast and Furious. No steps on climate change--such as a carbon tax--without matching reductions in the payroll tax.
Republicans cannot govern from one house, nor is Obama interested in co-governing in the way the Framers intended. But Republicans can oppose from one house, and even both at times, effectively as well as constructively, if they choose to fight from positions on which conservatives and moderates are united. That is the key to holding the House through the end of Obama’s second term--and perhaps, winning the Senate in 2014.
One final element is missing, and that is leadership. The country lacks it, badly, and the conservative movement has failed to provide leadership that lasts. Too often, our discussion of leadership is reduced to handicapping presidential candidates, who are then targeted and tarnished by the media, one by one. Leadership is far bigger than that: it is a quality to be cultivated among activists at every level--not just those running for public office.
The most important thing to learn from Obama’s perpetual campaigns is the effort and energy they devote to training individual leaders, who function as a movement not only outside the election season but outside the Democratic Party.
The Tea Party revealed the potential for similar--and better--organizing among conservatives, and hinted at the immense creative potential that remains largely untapped. There is no time to waste.