Dr. Lee Edwards, a Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought, gave a lecture at the Heritage Foundation that asked the question: Is Conservatism dead? One could make a strong case that it is. Conservatives suffered a crushing defeat in the 2006 elections and, more recently, the 2008 elections. However, things have been worse. Much worse.
The 1964 election of Lyndon Johnson by a landslide caused critics to ring out that Conservatism was dead. Liberals had a 2-1 margin in the House and Senate. A greater margin than even today. Yet, the principles of Barry Goldwater endured. He easily won his Senate seat back in 1968 and Lyndon Johnson had become so unpopular that he did not even seek reelection and rejected the automatic nomination of his party. The 1968 election went to Richard Nixon running as a conservative. Mired in controversy liberals were able to take control of the White House in 1976. After four years of economic collapse, a true conservative was elected to the White House in 1980.
After the failed “borrow and spend” policies of the last eight years, the people spoke out and ushered in Democratic leadership to the House and Senate in 2006 and increased the margin in 2008. However, Republicans, as Dr. Edwards pointed out, lost, not because of conservative principles, but because they ran away from conservative principles. The biggest difference is that for the first time in 60 years, there is no leader in the conservative movement. From Rep. Robert Taft to Newt Gingrich, we have had someone moving our ideas forward. There are current Members of Congress that can emerge, but for right now, there is no clear leader.
To those who think the conservatives cannot govern, Dr. Edwards pointed out our successes. Taxes were cut and spending was reduced in 1948, in 1983, the Economic Recovery Tax Act lead to unprecedented recovery and growth. In 1996, the Welfare Reform Act was passed significantly changing the welfare system and dramtically reduced the number of people on welfare. In 2001, President Bush signed the biggest tax cut in history that kept the economy running in the wake of 9/11.
Of all the changes we have seen in the last 60 years, one thing has remained constant – our message and our principles. Our principles do not need to be changed because there is new technology, just how we deliver the message.