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At the crossroads in conservatism
on June 9, 2009
There is no mistaking that Conservatism in the United States is in turmoil right now. A few years after there was a sense of triumph and the idea of a permanent Republican majority in Washington, there was a sort of Gotterdammerung, and the structure came crashing down with the loss of both houses of Congress and the Presidency, in addition to a number of state and local positions, to the Democrats.
However, the death of the Republican party specifically, and Conservatism generally, has been exaggerated, much in the way the demise of the Democratic party was also overstated in the early 2000s. Joe Scarborough, who as a Congressman during the Gingrich as the Contract for America progressed, made a name for himself by being a solid conservative, offers an interesting perspective of the rise and fall of the ideology and practice over the past few decades. It is interesting that during the divided government of Republican Congress and Democratic Presidency, we had budget surpluses. When the Republicans gained complete control, that was not sustained.
Scarborough contends that the Republican party stopped being conservative, and that that was their primary problem. They spent too much, became too adventurous, and too confident of their own abilities to act alone in the country and in the world. As Scarborough said, one can't double the national debt and claim to be the fiscally responsible party. The party needs to be a big tent party again, according to Scarborough, which means it need to have a place for both Cheney and Powell.
Everyone quotes Ronald Reagan, he states, and that ideology is a good conservative one, but the specifics of Reagan's policies won't necessarily work today. It is more of an attitude, Scarborough says - Reagan was not someone who emphasized "hate" in the way that some conservative commentators do today. If the Republicans are to survive, Scarborough contends, then they must be more inclusive and become once again true to their conservative roots. This is an interesting feature - Scarborough admires Ronald Reagan, but he does not deify him. Reagan had many great qualities, but Scarborough refuses to engage the revisionist history that removes all flaws from Ronald Reagan. True conservatism much take Reagan warts and all, realizing that there was much success despite the flaws.
Scarborough is in some ways an outsider to the current conservative trend. His position on the liberal network MSNBC demonstrates this in some respects; his failure to always adhere to party or ideological talking points also demonstrates this. However, this also makes him a more effective critic, as he is far from being a liberal. In the book, Scarborough also addresses a few topics that also show this - he has criticism for the current Obama administration with their continuation of spending policies that are fiscally suspect (without denying the fiscal irresponsibility of their immediate predecessors, as some other conservative commentators often do). He also looks at the economic issues of the Wall Street banking collapse, including the collusion of both Democrats and Republicans over the past twenty years that contributed to an unsustainable housing bubble, whose collapse contributed greatly to this now-worldwide economic recession.
For those who enjoy watching Scarborough on the Morning Joe program on MSNBC, this will be a welcome book. For those who enjoying arguing with Scarborough, this will also be a welcome text. For liberals, conservatives and moderates, there is something here worth reading. We are at a crossroads in American conservatism, and Scarborough's text is an interesting addition to the ongoing debate.