Wednesday, January 13, 2010

An Opportunity only Conservatives Can Miss

Only a year into the Obama presidency and Republicans are poised to make gains in 2010. This is heartening news for a party that was pronounced dead only a year ago.

With President Obama’s poll numbers slipping, 30-year Senator Chris Dodd choosing retirement over electoral humiliation and with the Tea Party Movement not going away, the Republicans smell enough blood in the water to already entertain dreams of regaining the majority. Maybe 2009 wasn’t so awful for the GOP after all.

For all of the rhetorical improvements Republicans have made in the wilderness, the party is proving that they can still take conservatives for another wild ride.

The Tea Parties, after Obama’s inauguration, were probably the biggest force in American politics last year.

Demonstrations on Tax Day were passionate, very well attended, and Tea Partiers made perpetual turn-coat Arlen Specter sweat through more than just the heat during the August recess. Talk of constitutional fidelity is up and tolerance for big government is down.

With such a force as the Tea Parties even outpolling the favorability of Republicans, limited government conservatives might finally have reason to hope for their cause. Since the Tea Parties could be such a force, maybe the Republicans can be trusted this time to responsibly administer the levers of power and actually cut spending, take their noses out of Americans’ private lives and balance the budget.

Then came the Christmas bomber.

All the hope for reducing spending and cutting government may still be lost.

While the vigor and passion exerted against Obama’s intrusive administration is laudable, the conservatives who make up the Tea Party Movement still have another hurdle to climb for theirs to be a serious limited government movement.

The deficit will not be reduced, the dollar will not be strengthened, and tax increases will not become an afterthought if ObamaCare is the only big government swindle that is eliminated. The limited government patriots of the Tea Parties will do only half their job if the issue of military spending is ignored. And that is why the Christmas bomber may be secretly celebrated by a Republican Party establishment that would not think twice about pulling another heist on their limited government conservatives.

If the Republican Party can continue justifying excessive military spending once they are back in power, the bait will be in for them to continue the domestic spending that made George W. Bush the LBJ of the Republicans.

That’s why this may be the perfect opportunity for conservatives to discover that fulfilling their mission of limiting government is incomplete unless military spending is addressed.

It’s been common among conservatives, during and since the Cold War, that any suggestion of reducing spending on the military is tantamount to surrender or appeasement of the enemy. But conservatives don’t believe this way about all the other types of government spending.

When a bleeding heart liberal pleas that there needs to be more money allocated for education, health care or poverty reduction, rank-and-file conservatives have usually responded that the more money that gets applied to those programs, the worse the problem gets. American children haven’t gotten smarter because money was given to them by the federal government and health care costs have simply increased as the government has involved itself. The same skepticism needs to apply to defense spending.

Even with President Obama allegedly “gutting our military,” the U.S. still spends as much on defense than the rest of the world combined. Should we ever ask ourselves how the rest of the world expects to be safe when they don’t spend nearly as much as we do? Is it possible for us to get by with less?

This also highlights the gravest contradiction in modern American conservatism. The mantra has always been to cut spending and cut taxes but there can be no contemplation of limiting the spending that could be given to the military.

This is a time to ask whether it’s in the national security interests of the U.S. to have troops in 130 countries of the world.

This is a time to ask whether the government, through both Republican and Democratic administrations, has exploited the patriotism of Americans by scaring them into acquiescing to their imperial ambitions.

This is a time to ask whether the maxim that more spending does not guarantee better results should also be applied to the military, a government institution.

This is a time to ask whether the network of terrorists responsible for 9/11, now down to perhaps 100, is worth hundreds of thousands of American troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and perhaps Pakistan or Yemen, or whether there might be a more fiscally prudent solution.

This is the challenge conservatives of the Tea Parties must overcome to retake their party.