This article is from our January symposium issue, in which 53 leading writers and thinkers answer the question: “What is the future of conservatism in the wake of the 2012 election?” Click here to read the entire symposium.
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON
First, some perspective is key. Romney’s “47 percent” remarks and Hurricane Sandy probably turned an Obama 1 percent win into the 3 percent margin that he attained–especially considering Republicans kept the House and are doing well with governorships.
The Romney loss was not comparable to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 blowout that nonetheless led, four years later, to a Republican victory in 1968. Nor was 2012 akin to the 1976 revulsion against Watergate and the Republicans that led to Jimmy Carter–and four years later to Ronald Reagan. Recall, too, that Bill Clinton’s new middle way, the supposedly permanent Democratic antidote to Paleolithic liberals such as Jimmy Carter and Michael Dukakis, lasted just two terms.
So Republican epitaphs are premature, and the natural pushback will come once Americans grasp the nature of an unleashed Obama & Co. The administration is at war against the middle and upper-middle classes (who lack the liberal panache of the hyper-wealthy and the empathy of the poor). Redistributionism and lead-from-behind foreign policy lead to stagflation at home and weakness abroad. The ongoing implosion of the EU and the erosion of blue states such as California and Illinois will offer steady reminders of policy failure.
Nor will the Democrats in 2016 be running a young charismatic half-African-American candidate with an exotic-sounding name, whose emotional appeal to minorities and affluent white liberals trumped that of any prior candidate since John F. Kennedy. It was not so much that Obama is half-black, or that he is chameleon-like in his ability to adopt personas and patois that tickle white liberals and reassure minorities of his street credibility, or that he is young and cool, or that his foreign name hits all the right multicultural buttons, but that he is all that and more in a way a young, white, liberal second JFK, or a younger Jesse Jackson, or a top-schooled crossover candidate such as Cory Booker or Deval Patrick simply could not be.
It certainly would be unwise to try to out-pander the Democrats. Latinos–to use that inexact rubric–will eventually follow the Italian-American model, but only if the borders are closed, legality is restored to immigration, and the natural forces of assimilation and upward mobility are allowed to operate. Ironically, the Washington conservative elite’s sudden obsession with amnesty will not win Latinos over (consider Reagan and the disastrous 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act). Instead, conservative pandering will ensure the continued cycle of open borders leading to large pools of often poorly educated, non-English-speaking, unlawful immigrants, most without high-school diplomas who perennially look to amnesty and entitlements–and thereby probably ensure that the American Southwest will become permanently blue in the manner of California.
Lost in all the post-election analysis was a much larger and more cynically brilliant Obama us-and-them campaign that created the image of a shrinking, geriatric white male plutocratic establishment forced to give way to the new age of the diverse “other.” Affluent Asians, blacks, Latinos, gays, women, etc., supposedly had beef with Republicans and were brilliantly united by Obama in vague resentment against “them.”
In this regard, Republicans have to focus on a more populist approach that ensures their message of smaller government, lower taxes, a strong defense, and more freedom appeals to those on the receiving end of government largesse. Free-market conservatives do best when they appear naturally as part of the working or small-business class and can’t be caricatured as elevator-owning grandees–and when they mix it up and take their licks in trying to appeal to those who probably won’t vote for them.
Nominating someone who naturally appeals to working-class white voters, and who attracts minorities, is important, but far more critical is focusing on policies that appeal to the middle class and small-business employers. Why protect the financial interests of a George Soros, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and the Hollywood elite, when there are ways to focus on estate taxes, income taxes, foundations, tax incentives, and agricultural subsidies that instead better protect the upper-middle-class and small-business person who are now the target of such demonization?
Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.