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KUHNER: Conservatism countdown

- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2008

COMMENTARY:

Conservatives are facing a watershed moment. An Obama victory on Nov. 4 will sound the death knell of the modern conservative movement.

A President Barack Obama combined with a Democratic supermajority in Congress will permanently overturn the Reagan revolution. For the past decades, conservatism has been built on three pillars: small government, moral traditionalism and a muscular foreign policy.

These will be smashed in an Obama presidency. The Democrats will control every branch of the federal government - including possibly a filibuster-proof Senate.

They will implement a sweeping liberal agenda. Taxes will soar; social spending will skyrocket; health care will be nationalized; the Supreme Court's liberal majority will be expanded; abortion and gay rights will become entrenched; the traditional family's decline will continue; national defense will be cut back; Guantanamo will be closed; terrorists will be treated as civilians in our domestic courts; and American foreign policy will be subordinated to the United Nations and our European allies.

In short, America will be transformed into a social democracy characterized by economic dirigisme, moral permissiveness and a toothless internationalism. Mr. Obama has made no secret of this. In his 2001 interview on Chicago public radio, he called for "redistributive change" in order to achieve "political and economic justice." The United States will become a North American version of Scandinavia.

An Obama victory will mean the end of the American moment. America will no longer be a serious military and economic superpower. The Democrats' tax-and-spend policies and hostility to liberalized trade will deepen the current recession. Moreover, it is a recipe for long-term European-style anemic growth, lackluster productivity and high unemployment. In foreign affairs, Europe's economic sclerosis and multilateralism has led to international impotence - a disastrous path America will replicate under Mr. Obama's leadership.

Many conservatives believe a Democratic victory may be a blessing in disguise: Confronted with ruin at home and disaster abroad, the electorate will sweep the Republicans back into power in the 2010 midterm elections. They cite the example of President Clinton. Upon winning in 1992, he overplayed his hand with Hillary Care and gays in the military. The result was the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress and Newt Gingrich's Contract with America.

They are wrong. The major difference is that, this time, the Democrats will not only have a supermajority in Congress, but an ideologically liberal one - the most liberal in generations. They will have the ability to pass almost every major Democratic piece of legislation over the next two years. This will lead to the third wave of progressive reform, culminating in the final triumph of modern liberalism. Conservatives are deluding themselves if they think those gains will be temporary. History shows otherwise.

The first wave of liberal reform was President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. During the 1930s, he erected a rudimentary welfare state, undermined capitalism and embraced the appeasement of Nazi Germany. His polices failed to engender an economic recovery or stop Adolf Hitler's march to war. Conservatives, however, were unable to roll back New Deal liberalism; it had become interwoven into the American fabric.

The second wave took place in the 1960s. President Lyndon Johnson imposed the Great Society and ineptly waged the Vietnam War. The results were massive entitlement programs, runaway inflation and eventual defeat in Southeast Asia. Voter backlash resulted in Republican electoral victories. Despite the Nixon and Reagan administrations, Big Government was not repealed, but consolidated. The GOP succeeded only in nibbling around the edges.

The lesson is clear: New Deal-Great Society liberalism has put America on the path to creeping socialism. The Democrats are now on the verge of completing it. A socialist America will be a poorer, weaker America. More importantly, it will spell the end of American exceptionalism - the experiment of a free people in constitutional self-government.

Once that happens, there will be no turning back. There will be a conservative movement after an Obama victory. However, it will be one fighting a desperate, rear-guard action. Like the conservatives in Canada or Western Europe, the question will no longer be how to stop the statist juggernaut but how to manage it.

Conservatives must turn out in record numbers to support Sen. John McCain. We must take our stand - and not go quietly into the good night.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times.