Promoted: Ed Feulner is the President of the Heritage Foundation. -Matt Moon
[Listen to Feulner and ask him questions today at 12:05 p.m. ET during the Conservative Bloggers' Briefing on BlogTalkRadio.]
Conservatives today need to get their mind right. And the first order of business is to stop equating the Republican Party with the conservative movement.
Our opponents on the left are happy to draw this false parallel. Before the 2006 elections, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne argued, “The decline of conservatism leaves a vacuum in American politics.” According to Dionne, the failures of the Republican Party were a failure of the conservative movement.
A couple of months ago, the left-wing American Prospect ran an article, "The Coming Conservative Crack-up." After describing what he saw as fatal Republican mistakes in the presidential campaign, author Paul Waldman concluded: "In other words, all the pillars that have held up conservatism for so long are crumbling." There it is again: If the GOP fails, conservatism must be crumbling.
Last spring the New Yorker ran a widely discussed article by George Packer, "The Fall of Conservatism: Have the Republicans Run Out of Ideas?" That title commits the same error: Republican failures are interpreted as the fall of conservatism.
I expect this from our opponents on the left. They will seize upon any pretext to announce the death of conservatism. They've been doing it for decades. But too many conservatives today are buying into that fallacy. That is a dangerous mistake, because it will sap your will to fight. If you believe the current sorry state of the GOP is a measure of the health of conservatism, you're bound to conclude that the conservative movement is done for.
If you want to see when conservatives were in trouble, go back 35 years to 1973, the year The Heritage Foundation set up shop. We were just a handful of people in a few rented rooms. At that time there were no cable outlets like Fox News. There was no conservative talk radio, because the Fairness Doctrine was still in effect. Al Gore hadn't invented the Internet, so there were no conservative bloggers exposing the biases of the mainstream media and delivering conservative commentary to millions of readers.
In those days, the conservative movement was in trouble. In fact, it barely existed. Today the Republican Party is in trouble -- serious trouble of its own making. But the conservative movement is not in decline. In addition to Fox News, hundreds of talk radio programs and scores of national magazines, conservatives have achieved a staggering presence on the Internet. Blogs like The Next Right have inspired the next generation of conservative leaders to plot the future.
Given the results of the election, it's obvious that Congress and the White House won't be receptive to many conservative ideas. So we'll be playing a great deal more defense. And there will be plenty of defense to play as liberals try to redistribute wealth, abolish the right of workers to cast secret ballots on union elections, nationalize health care, bankrupt energy companies that use coal -- the list just goes on and on. It will truly be a “target-rich environment.”
But there's good news here, too. Conservative are better equipped than ever before to play defense. We have analytical resources like Heritage’s Center for Data Analysis; we have a vibrant network of allied organizations that can be mobilized very quickly when policy issues come to a head; we have a virtual army of bloggers who can alert tens of millions of Americans literally within hours. And we have some of the best educated and most experienced policy experts in the world.
And while we are playing defense, we must also be educating the American public – both on first principles and on specific strategies to build an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society can flourish.
This isn't a time for despondency. It is a time for optimism.
This isn't a time to look backward with regret. We need to look forward with hope and purpose and commitment.
Now isn't the time to let political setbacks drain our resolve. It is the time to remember that progress doesn't follow a straight line. Setbacks are a natural part of gaining ground.