A Flight of Fantasy II: A Manifesto for Conservatives When They Regain Power

Prospects for Republicans to regain political power—in both the Congress and the Presidency—continue to improve. But as we learned sadly under the administration of George W Bush, Republican power does not necessarily result in conservative governance. In a recent post in this blog, I speculated about what conservatives might do if they do indeed receive a mandate from the American people. Moreover, I pointed out that such a mandate would come in one of two forms: either clear but limited (as it was for Reagan in the 80’s and Gingrich in the 90’s) or overwhelming and comprehensive (as it has not been since Coolidge, and perhaps longer ago).

In the last post I outlined three priorities that should determine the agenda in the case of a limited mandate. Those priorities were:

  1. Role of Government. Shrink the New Deal/Great Society/Obamania-inspired gargantuan government that is choking freedom out of American life.
  2. Defeat Islamic Fundamentalism. Reduce, and hopefully remove the scourge of Islamic fundamentalism as a threat to the US, to the West, indeed to the World.
  3. Recapture the culture. Initiate a multi-faceted approach toward rescuing the culture of the US. The basic goal is to restore (a reasonable facsimile) of the traditional culture that permeated American life from the 18th to the 20th century. Start on the long path toward delegitimizing the pornographic, anti-family, anti-religious, egalitarian, multicultural, environmentally wacky, anti-achievement, socialistic cesspool that passes for culture in America today.

Ideas and suggestions for action on each priority were presented in that post. In addition, I also promised that in a forthcoming post, I would outline a program to govern the actions of conservatives if and when the American people come to their senses and install a truly conservative government—with a strong and sustained mandate. Perhaps surprisingly, the same three principles serve as a linchpin for that agenda. Except that, with a strong and sustained mandate, the agenda could be pursued in a much more vigorous manner. It is my purpose to describe, as succinctly as possible, that ‘grand program’ here.

Before I launch into the precise program, let us briefly recall the fundamental idea that fuels progressivism—an idea whose pursuit has led to disastrous changes in our country. I will also explain why, after a century of experimentation, the idea is bankrupt and we must return to the conservative principles that made our country a bastion of freedom and a model for the world.

The fundamental idea that drives progressivism is that the traditional American culture, highlighted by individual liberty, free markets, rugged individualism, limited government, sanctity of private property and a ‘don’t tread on me’ mentality, inevitably leads to inequity, unfairness, injustice and oppression. These horrible consequences of the traditional culture are a blatant violation of how human beings should live on our planet. They can only be corrected by replacing the traditional culture with one that emphasizes redistribution of wealth, multiculturalism, a powerful central government acting as the ultimate arbiter of social and economic disparities, group rights and a hypocritical reliance solely on negotiation rather than force to reconcile differences. I say hypocritical because the principle only applies to international affairs, but not to domestic policies.

I believe history has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that striving for equality of outcome—aside from whether it is a proper goal for mankind—inevitably leads to tyranny. For proof, see the Soviet Union, East Germany, Cuba, China, Vietnam, Zimbabwe and even the European Union. The forcible taking from one to give to another—however justified it might appear in the abstract—deprives the former of liberty, property and, occasionally, of life. The coercive redistribution of wealth surely is one of the worst ideas that mankind has ever concocted—even if motivated by good intentions. Instead, the fundamental animating principle that should govern human behavior is equality of opportunity—that is, the same rules apply to everyone. After the games begin, some will outperform and out achieve others. If the society is just and the people morally sound, then those who excel will establish structures to aid those who do not. If, on the other hand, society (in the form of government) compels compulsory generosity, compulsory kindness or compulsory charity, then what it gets is not generosity, kindness or charity, but bitterness on the part of those deprived and resentment and irresponsibility from the benefiters. Charity and kindness can only result from an act performed with free will. Therefore, it is imperative that we reorient our country’s underlying philosophy from redistribution to equality of opportunity.

In the previous post I outlined for each of the above three priorities, concrete steps that conservatives could take, which the American people would support—even if they had granted conservatives only a limited mandate. If the mandate is broader, much more could be done. The two prime goals would be: first, a complete undermining of the liberal hegemony that has increasingly ruled the US over the last century; and second, a rekindling of the Constitutional republic that characterized US society in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Of course I am not proposing that we toss out the internet, abandon CAT scans and shun nuclear energy. Progress in technological matters and improvements in the quality of life should be embraced. But the underlying principles of our political and economic systems and, most importantly, of our culture, should be restored to the tried and true conservative paradigms that we benefitted from so greatly and for so long.

With that in mind, I will list, for each of the three priorities, some bold steps that I believe a strongly empowered conservative government should pursue. Each step merits a full essay. I and others will write those essays when the day of reckoning draws nearer. For now, let’s just settle on the broad strokes of the program—more of a conservative manifesto than a conservative playbook.

1. Shrink the government. Reagan failed to do it. So did Gingrich. This must be Job One of a new, powerful conservative government. Here’s how to do it:

·       A renewed emphasis on the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution must be implemented. These amendments make clear that the people are sovereign and that, aside from the limited and defined powers granted to the Federal Government by the Constitution, all remaining powers are reserved to the States and to the people. The willful ignoring of these Amendments by the Federal Government—and the people’s acquiescence in that usurpation—are at the root of the unchecked growth in the power of the Federal Government.

·       The Federal Government’s budget must be restricted to a percentage of GDP more in line with historic figures. Before WWI, it was less than 10%; since WWII, it has ranged between 25 and 35%; and in the age of Obama it is over 40%.We should reduce it to no more than 20%.

·       Federal entitlement programs are out of control and by themselves threaten to bankrupt the country. They all should be severely curtailed and ultimately privatized. This is a huge challenge and unfortunately has to be done somewhat gradually as an overnight implementation would wreak chaos.

·       Every federal agency’s budget should be cut by at least 25%, and at least 25% of the agencies should be phased out. Several cabinet level departments should be axed. More draconian cuts would be a worthy goal.

·       All federal taxes (income, payroll, capital gains, estate, etc.) should be cut by at least 25% and preferably more.

·       The number of federal regulations should be cut by at least 50%.

·       The deficit and national debt must be addressed. If all the previous steps were taken, they would go a long way toward substantially reducing the deficit. In addition, there should be statutory or constitutional limits set on the permissible size of the deficit as a percentage of GDP—never more than 5% as it has been historically (except during the two world wars); now it exceeds 10% and is increasing. But even better would be a Constitutional mandate for a balanced budget (as is the case in virtually all the States), which could only be violated in times of national emergency and only upon a three quarters vote of Congress. These steps and a growing economy will enable us to start paying off the debt.

·       The Federal Government should sell off large portions of its tangible assets including buildings, land and equipment. The proceeds should go toward reducing the national debt.

·       Judicial power must be reined in. Appointments for life should be terminated. Justices should serve fixed terms (e.g., 10, perhaps 15 years), renewable by the consent of the Senate at most once.

·       The Federal Reserve should be reexamined. Its power and related controversial issues—such as whether a return to the gold standard is wise—should be open for serious discussion.

2. Defeat Islamic Fundamentalism. Above all, we must recognize and appropriately name the danger we face: A resurgent, worldwide and radical Muslim movement that intends to destroy the United States, Israel and Western Civilization. Like the previous totalitarian movements we defeated, Nazism and Communism, radical Islam is bent on world domination. Unlike the previous two, radical Islam is not led from a single nation state. But that does not make the threat to us any less dangerous. Thus far, we have been reluctant to name our enemy and we have refused to acknowledge that we are in an existential battle. The sooner we do so, the better able we will be to deal with and win that battle. Here, in brief, are some of the steps we must take:

·       Although there is not a single source, there are identifiable sites of greatest strength—for example, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. We must impose severe sanctions on the first and punitive measures on the latter two to induce modified behavior. Military action must never be ruled out.

·       We must make clear that, should circumstances warrant, Teheran is a potential military target—but so are Medina and Mecca. That will focus their attention on the price they might pay for pursuing their mad quest.

·       The US must beef up its military. That means a larger force and the most advanced weapons—conventional, nuclear and those designed for asymmetric warfare. We must restore the capabilities of our intelligence services.

·       We should recognize that Israel is our most reliable ally in this struggle and cease our fixation on the so-called ‘Palestinian problem.’ Were Israel to disappear and Fatah/Hamas/Hizbollah to rule the Holy Land, it would not change by one iota the fundamental goal of the Islamic radicals to obliterate the West.

·       We must find a way to reenergize our NATO allies: they should cease their appeasement of our common Muslim enemies (which are increasingly found inside their borders); beef up their military capabilities; and seriously engage in this global struggle that threatens their existence even more than ours.

·       We should stop apologizing for ‘past American sins,’ reaffirm our role as the world’s chief bastion and model of freedom and go on the offensive against the enemy that endangers us. We need to engage the Jihadists in the court of world opinion as well as on the batttlefield.

3. Culture. As I have argued forcefully in the previous post and elsewhere, this is the greatest challenge facing conservatives—that is, recapturing the culture from the left that has almost completely usurped it over the last century. Here are the key philosophical principles that should guide us. (Some concrete action steps were described in the last post.)

·       A reverence for, allegiance to and study of the US Constitution must be a characteristic of all Americans, both young and old.

·       Similarly, the study of and pride in US history must be ubiquitous among the people.

·       Individual liberty must be restored as our highest goal. This does not mean an entitlement mentality that sees all of us with equal outcomes at the end of the day, but rather equal opportunity for all of us to achieve at the highest levels we can attain.

·       A belief in free markets, entrepreneurship, democratic capitalism and a rejection of the idea that the government can run our economy more effectively than the entrepreneurs, investors, shopkeepers and laborers who create and populate our job market.

·       Clean up the filth and degeneracy, propagated by the media, academia and the legal profession, which poses for culture in liberal America. This will not be an easy task. It requires higher moral standards among the people. Religion needs to play a role.

·       Restore pride in myriad aspects of the traditional culture that have been marginalized: Calvinist work ethic, humility, restraint, thrift, nuclear family.

·       Cease and desist all multicultural crap like: bilingual education, diversity programs, group rights, gay marriage and coddling of illegal immigrants.

·       Look to religious, civic, neighborhood and private philanthropic organizations to provide charity to the less fortunate—NOT the government.

Here’s the icing on the cake—two bold steps that would truly herald a refounding of America as a Constitutional republic. First, some of the above-mentioned steps might require a modification of the Constitution. The standard Amendment process is long and difficult. How about a Constitutional Convention? The Constitution provides for it. Just because we have not done it since 1787 does not mean that it is not a good idea. Second, it is not only Supreme Court justices who pledge to protect and defend the Constitution. Members of Congress and the President do the same. Perhaps it is time for them, like the members of the Court, to deem themselves responsible for deciding constitutionality of laws. I acknowledge this is a tricky matter, but I believe the founders foresaw that all the members of the government at the highest level would be equally responsible for safeguarding the Constitution.

Is America ready to embark on such a journey? I wish I could say that I was optimistic about the possibility. But the US has exhibited remarkable rejuvenative powers in response to numerous existential crises in the past. This one poses a greater problem in that the crisis has been festering for a century and its true nature is hidden from much of the population. Yet, unlike our President, I believe in American exceptionalism. It might ride to the rescue after all.