Tuesday, November 13, 2012

If at First You Don't Secede - or Saving Conservatism

In the aftermath of President Obama's re-election, the reaction on the right has been one of anger, disbelief, and denial. Anger because the president's election allegedly shows that America is now a country in which there are "more takers than givers." Disbelief because of the barrage of predictions by pundits on the right that Romney was going to easily defeat the President. And denial, to the point that some so-called conservatives are now openly talking about secession.

I understand what it is like to be deeply disappointed by an election, and to be gravely worried about the country's future. My formative years were dominated by the Reagan presidency - I proudly served as the "Reagan" in my junior high mock debate and election in 1980, and again as a high school senior in 1984. When Bill Clinton won in 1992, I was stunned by the choice my country made and I was scared about the future.

But what I have seen on Facebook over the last week, and in the news this week, goes far beyond rational, reasonable disappointment. I have received several emails from friends declaring that we have come to the end of our Republic, that we are now the United States of Socialism, that the ideals of America are dead. This hysterical response to the President's re-election not only betrays a complete lack of historical perspective, it also reveals what is wrong with the conservative movement.

And hysterical is the only way to characterize what's happening. In the first place, based on this reaction you would think that President Obama won in an FDR-like landslide. The fact is that he eked out a narrow popular vote win of two percent, and a modest electoral college win. A shift of just a few thousand votes in a handful of key states would have given the election to Romney. And while the GOP lost a few seats on Congress, it retains firm control of the House and the power to block Democratic moves in the Senate (as a point of reference, when FDR won his first re-election in 1936, the Senate composition was 76-16 Democrat, and the House was 334-88 Democrat).

Further, the results of last Tuesday's election do no spell the end of the values of our Republic, or the Republican Party. It is true that 49% of Americans receive some sort of government benefit - but that hardly qualifies them as "takers." Most of those people (over half) are the elderly, who receive Social Security or Medicare after years of paying into the system. A fifth are the disabled, and another fifth are the working poor. 

And while it is probably the case that our country is shifting to the left on some social issues like gay marriage, it is also true that most Americans describe themselves as pro-life, and among the Democrats elected to the Senate this year were pro-life candidates in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Indiana.

I would suggest that instead of blaming the American people for their loss, the Republican Party and the conservative movement needs to take a hard look at who it is who is shaping the message of the movement. Conservatism has been hi-jacked by ideologues who prefer their own set of facts over reality. Nothing illustrates this more readily than the assured belief that all the polls were wrong, that Romney was going to win going away. 

It is this same mentality that has steered the movement into extreme positions that simply deny reality:

  • That the debt problem can be solved without raising taxes.
  • That comprehensive immigration is "amnesty."
  • That climate change is a hoax.
Over and over again I could list examples of ideas that were championed by conservatives a few years ago (like cap and trade, or the individual mandate for health insurance) that are now decried as socialism. It is a sad testimony to how far conservativism has drifted - not to the right, but away from reality.

It is time for secession on the part of conservatives. It is time for common-sense conservatives to secede from the ideologues on talk radio and Fox News and emphasize thoughtful, prudent, reality-based solutions to America's problems. 


  1. To be fair, many have been openly talking about secession for a very long time. We just got more attention for it recently.

  2. Excellent thoughts, and rationally presented.

  3. I could not agree with you more. While I strongly believe in fiscal conservatism, the course the conservative movement is on right now will only end in failure. Shifts in demographics and some social issues plays a strong role in this trend but it is also a product of a consistent narrative from the left that the Republican Party is full of radical, unreasonable racists. While nothing could be further from the truth, when people say things based on a blind dislike or even hatred of President Obama, it lends credence to that narrative. I think it is clear that the GOP must change. It has to appear more inclusive, less judgmental and it has to provide more clarity on issues like illegal immigration.

  4. Shane, very well presented and cogent thoughts. My only disagreement is, with today's concession that President Obama also won the State of Florida, is your assertion that the President's electoral win was only "modest." The count is 332 vs. 206, which is more than a modest difference. You could argue I suppose that it is 26 states for Obama and 24 for Romney, but then that really isn't how the electoral system works (any plenty of folks can argue about whether that is the best system for selecting our president.) I don't count myself as a Republican, nor as a liberal. I believe both parties would do well to match the mood of the majority of the population which I believe is in the middle. I think most Americans are tolerant to a degree on social issues, but many have personal limits. On issues like the deficit and taxes, they want a system that is fair that neither punishes the rich nor the poor. On immigration, they think the rule of law is important, but amnesty may be a reasonable and fair result as well. What I hope more Americans will do is reject politicians, pundits, newscasters, and anyone else who preach hate and anger. I disagreed with a lot of President Bush's policies, the W Bush that is, but I never hated the man. I just prayed for him. I am particularly surprised by pastors and people of faith who get caught up in this anger and hatred cycle. Seems they want God doing a whole lot of judging of people they don't think worthy. I didn't think any of us were worthy; that's why we need the gift of grace.