The United States faced the same choice that other democracies in crisis have faced: whether to continue down a path of bigger government and smaller liberties, in search of the elusive ideal of equality, or whether to trust individual freedom to restore broad prosperity to all.
Many conservatives believed that unlike France, or Greece, the U.S. would be different–that our “exceptional” nature would once again guide us through.
After yesterday’s defeat for the Republican Party, it seems we may not be exceptional after all. Like other nations, we have reacted to economic and fiscal crisis by demanding more government–and, when that government creates new crises, demanding more of it.
From debt-stricken California–which raised new taxes by referendum–to Wisconsin, once the torch of reform, we have collectively chosen the well-trodden road to serfdom.
Mitt Romney was criticized for stating, infamously, that 47 percent of the country may be too dependent on government to vote for less of it. That now appears to have been an underestimate. We have, as a nation, already passed the tipping point.
It is no longer possible to think of even intimate personal issues as beyond the reach of the state. The same Los Angeles voters who opposed a mythical Republican plan to seize birth control also voted to send health inspectors to enforce the use of condoms in pornography.
Several high-profile Tea Party candidates either lost their seats (Allen West) or failed in their bids (Richard Mourdock). So, too, did moderates like Sen. Scott Brown or Rep. Bob Dold (R-IL) of Illinois, who had walked the narrow fiscal conservative/social liberal line. Pro-choice or pro-life, for immigration reform or against it, all were punished. The election was not a verdict on the Tea Party but on the Republican Party as a whole.
Much will be said in the coming days about the nation’s changing demographics, and how Republicans can only save themselves by reaching out to Hispanic voters, to women, and so forth. If that means adopting statist policies, or abandoning the rule of law on immigration, the party is truly finished, as is meaningful opposition in America.
The real problem is not demographic, but cultural. Over the past two generations, the United States has abandoned the idea of individual self-reliance, cast aside the ethnic “melting pot,” and rejected the humanistic ideal of mastery over nature. We have been taught to despise the very principles that created our success. And the most successful among us are the most likely to hate those principles, to lead the charge against them.
The common faith in liberty that enabled the election of a Ronald Reagan thirty years ago is now a minority creed, one perspective among many. Our new rulers have been taught to consider America exceptional only in the material wealth it has built up over centuries, which they see as a moral burden and take for granted at the same time. Republicans cannot reverse that dangerous cultural current in one election, or several.
The mission for conservatives is not to abandon our principles, but re-affirm them, in the understanding that we must not just defend them but evangelize for them. If liberty had never existed in the United States or in our founding documents, we would still want it, just as we have wanted it for humanity writ large.
An exceptional nation requires an exceptional opposition. Now, more than ever, before all is lost beyond hope of repair.