The previous resurgence of conservatism in the United States can be traced to the year 1980 when Reagan (Republican) was elected President. After the re-election of Obama (Democrat) in 2012, the tide of conservatism seems to have retreated significantly. Will the pendulum swing back again? It may in view of the nature of US politics. However, it depends on how successful the conservatives manage to solve their present dilemma.
What do we mean by conservatism? Basically it means preserving old values and traditions. In this fast-changing world of mobile phones and social media, conservatives are facing a big challenge because by nature they cannot accept change as readily as their liberal opponents. This makes them seem regressive instead of progressive in the public eye. Besides their mentality, conservatives lack practical ideas relevant to solving the pressing problems of today. Let’s look at the conservative approach to some of the major issues:
Role of government: Conservatives oppose the overreach and overregulation of government like anybody else. However, their simplistic approach is just to reduce the size of government by cutting its revenues and expenditures. They don’t recognize the fact that a bigger and more sophisticated economy requires a higher degree of governance to safeguard and regulate. The best solution therefore is to make government more efficient and accountable. For the modern economy to grow, we need an efficient government that can do a bigger job, and reduce waste and expenses at the same time, rather than a small but corrupt government that serves only the rich.
Taxation: Nobody likes taxes, and everyone wants to have them reduced. However, conservatives offer a simplistic approach – cut taxes by the same percentage across all income groups. This seems fair on the surface, but in reality it benefits the rich much more, not to mention the tax loopholes favoring the rich that are already put in place. As a consequence, income inequality increased in America during the times when the conservative Republicans were in power, especially after the Bush years. Thus the Republican Party earns the reputation as a party for the rich minority.
Defense: It is obvious that the weapons industry exerts a powerful influence on US politics. Conservatives are the champions of the weapons industry (which they like to call defense industry). Domestically, they favor all kinds of guns for public sale free from government regulation. Overseas, they favor intervention and military adventures in the name of freedom. Instead of nailing down Bin Laden, they started two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, costing the US miserable casualties and trillions of dollars in debt, while the weapons industry prospered.
Equality and opportunity: America has a lot to offer and to attract foreign talents in this respect. Within the country, however, many groups experience unfair treatment, especially women, blacks, Hispanics, and lately young people, and the middle class. Conservatives are always loath to enhancing equality and fairness in society. They prefer to leave it to the free market, which is largely manipulated by their corporate friends. They resist comprehensive reforms of the dysfunctional system of health care and immigration. They do not recognize that such problems of unfairness exist. Even if they do, conservatives think that it is due to the laziness and dependency on the part of the victims. No wonder the Republican Party lost so many of the victims’ votes in the last November election.
Business and competition: The market only works when all business can thrive within a framework of fair competition. With the rise of the corporation, more government regulations are required to guard against corporate predatory practices so that small enterprises can compete on equal footing. Conservatives only pay lip service to small business by offering a simple tax cut for all while they continue to cater to the corporations by relaxing the rules overseeing corporate practices. The financial meltdown of 2008 is a consequence of the failure of oversight. Conservatives still haven’t learned the lesson. Instead of tackling Wall Street reform and oversight for the future, they continue to complain about government bailout of the big banks and the auto industry that happened years ago during the financial meltdown.
Climate change: Conservatives hate the theory and evidence of climate change because they are new and by no means simplistic. Moreover, climate change requires more government action both domestically and internationally. No wonder they put up all kinds of ridicule to discredit the climate and environmental sciences, despite an increasing number of people can see and understand the effects of environmental degradation. It remains a great puzzle why conservatives cannot accept climate change. After all, conservatism means preservation. In other words, it means the protection of clean air, fresh water, rain forests and wildlife. The main reason is attributed to the strong influence of the oil and coal industries, which consider environmentalism and alternative energy a threat to their business.
Demographic change: Conservatives in America consist mainly of white males of middle age or older. This is a shrinking group that is aging and dying. Their ideas will age and die with them, too. Despite this, conservatives seldom try to make a real effort to reach out to other groups, who increasingly find their ideas antiquated, and their mentality fortress-like.
Damaged reputation: Everyone agrees that reputation takes years to build and hours to lose. The Bush-Cheney administration has done great damage to the Republican brand by turning a federal surplus of half a trillion dollars in 2000 to a deficit of over one trillion dollars in 2008 through irresponsibly cutting taxes, making two foreign wars, and precipitating a financial meltdown. When they left office, the economy had collapsed into a great world recession, from which we are still recovering. The reputation of their Wall Street friends also went down with them. Note that Republican politicians now take pains to avoid mentioning the Bush name. They did not even invite their former president to speak at their National Convention last fall.
In summary, the conservative dilemma is how to make their ideas workable and appealing for solving the pressing problems of today. The road ahead is tough because of four big handicaps. First, their reputation and credibility need repair. Second, the natural demographic is working against them. Third, the wind of change is blowing against them. Fourth, if they try to make their ideas appealing to the majority folks, how can they reconcile with the powerful hold exerted by Wall Street, the weapons industry, the oil/coal industry, and the rich minority as a whole?