Rather than just responding to the advances of modern liberalism, conservatives should consider how they would transform the United States. Over at Public Discourse, Samuel Gregg discusses President Obama’s final years in office and how conservatives should react.
A major challenge facing conservatives after Obama will be the breadth and depth of modern liberalism’s impact since 2008. This includes the relentless promotion of lifestyle liberalism at the level of social policy; the easy-money, top-down approach to the economy; and a foreign policy that’s alienating firm allies ranging from Israel to Australia, and which even many liberals have given up defending. This list doesn’t even include the cavalier approach to the rule of law that’s characterized the past six years.
Part of the conservative response will necessarily take the form of something many American conservatives love: policy. Given, however, the scale of modern liberalism’s advances, policy development just isn’t going to be enough. If conservatives are serious about up-ending some of the key assumptions driving American social, foreign, and economic policy since 2008, they need to go beyond framing legislation. Instead, they must seriously consider what a conservative fundamental transformation of America would look like.
Since 2008, some conservatives have responded to modern liberalism’s advances by trying to show that they’re more effective at realizing goals like social justice. This isn’t a problem in itself because, depending on how something like social justice is defined, such claims happen to be true.
The downside to seeking to outflank modern liberals on their own turf is that key liberal preoccupations will continue dominating public discussion at the expense of more distinctly conservative concerns. Moreover, no matter how much conservatives try, does anyone doubt that most Americans still equate social justice with government programs ranging from wealth redistribution to “diversity-enhancement” policies?
In short, conservatives determined to roll back America’s steady slouch toward a progressivist dystopia must be more than just adept at cutting deals, devising legislation, or using social media (as important as such activities are). Without the forceful elucidation of principles that conservatives hold dear, it will be all too easy for conservative responses to the “Obama effect” to become exercises in damage control rather than establishing a full-spectrum conservative agenda as the new normal.
The explication of such principles must also go beyond something like the 1994 Contract with America. Such documents help show how conservative principles translate into policy. Our present situation, however, is such that conservatives require something more: something with all the rhetorical force and normative weight of a text such as the Federalist Papers. This isn’t to claim the Federalist Papers as a conservative manifesto. My point is that it’s hard to dispute the role played by these writings in effecting another far-reaching and permanent change: the transformation of America from a loose confederation of quarrelsome states into a united federal republic.