Thursday, October 30, 2008

In the aftermath of the Republican electoral wipeout, conservative intellectuals will no doubt continue to busily plug their thoughtful treatises on how to resuscitate the conservative movement. That's understandable--after all, if your stock in trade is formulating and marketing partisan ideas, then it's natural to believe that the cure for what ails your party is more and better ideas.

Unfortunately for these thought-peddlers, that's simply not the way politics works. Newt Gingrich, for example, will no doubt insist that it was the collection of policy ideas known as the "Contract for America" that led to his greatest political victory, the Republican congressional sweep of 1994. Anybody remember what was in the "Contract for America"? Which parts were actually enacted into law and which never made it? Which ones actually had their intended effect?

In fact, the 1994 Republican victory had nothing to do with the particular policy details of that year's Republican platform. Rather, after four decades in power, the Democrats' flaws and political missteps--corruption, arrogance, captivity to "special interests", and so on--were immediately conspicuous, whereas the party out of power had been away long enough for their roughly comparable flaws to be forgotten.

Needless to say, after twelve years of Congressional dominance and eight years in the presidency, the roles are at least somewhat reversed. Barack Obama and the Democrats aren't now ascending to power with an exciting agenda of new, innovative and popular ideas that the Republicans were somehow too hidebound or ideologically blindered to embrace. Rather, they have been elected to avoid repeating, and where possible to reverse, the political and policy blunders committed by their predecessors--and that is agenda enough for any party.

Of course, once they begin governing, they will accumulate their own set of missteps and unpopular actions. And astute Republicans will notice them, and add their reversal to the list of goals of the new Republican agenda. That--not the combined chin-tugging of a bunch of conservative policy wonks--is what will eventually rejuvenate the conservative movement.