- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Conservatism is dead. Anyway, that is how the media read the “good news” of the election results. As usual, the pundits have it exactly backward. The real good news is that if the Republicans had won the election, conservatism would be dead as a doornail.

If you were a political party that had used earmarks and special interest government spending to a degree unprecedented in recent history to shore up weak incumbents in a tough year under an unpopular president and you won the election anyway, what would you conclude? Elections can be bought with government spending? The New Deal slogan “spend, spend, elect, elect” would become the official anthem of the Grand Old Party, no?

Spending by the now lame-duck Republican Congress set new records. Nondefense, nonsecurity spending increased by more than under any Congress since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Even without any increase, entitlement unfunded liability will soon sink the whole government. Yet, the past Congress created a wholly new Medicare prescription drug entitlement that increased the red ink 11/2 times that of beleaguered Social Security’s, thereby bringing the day of entitlement reckoning to within a mere dozen years.

Where would spending be by 2008 if Republicans had won? Well, the Democrats will spend more. Want to bet? First of all, as a result of their humiliating loss and the necessity to revive their grass roots, the GOP will get religion and return to their limited government, restrained spending roots, limiting what the majority can do. Second, President Bush might find his veto pen, and the Democrats do not have the votes to override it. Most important, because of the previous two factors, the Democrats will not even try, knowing they will lose and ruin their chances for 2008. A good number of conservative Democrats have been elected to the House and their leaders will try to preserve their seats.

Sure, it will be tougher to win approval of Supreme Court and other federal judges, but it is only a few votes more difficult and even a well-framed loss might be politically helpful. The only way a real disaster could happen would be if President Bush nominated another Harriet Miers. Otherwise, domestic policy will not change much. Being freed from having to protect Republican Congresses might even be liberating for the president and foster more conservative administrative policies not requiring congressional approval.

Foreign policy will be a problem, but the president has most of the tools here anyway. Besides, the war in Iraq is already in great difficulty and control of Congress gives the Democrats not only power but responsibility. Congressional balances on the president may actually help shape a more favorable policy direction. A reasonable recommendation from the James A. Baker III and Lee Hamilton bipartisan Iraq commission just might have a better chance with the opposition party in control of Congress. What Democratic president in 2008 wants the Iraq war to dominate and cripple his (or her) administration?

Even yellow dog Republicans can find solace in the election results. If the Republicans had held on to Congress by a seat or two, they would have responsibility without much power to do anything worthwhile. Given the number of moderates in both chambers, there is not a conservative majority in either body anyway. With this stalemate and only the appearance of Republican control, there is no way voters would elect a Republican Party with a weakened president and a do-nothing Congress come 2008.

For conservatives and Republicans, the 2006 election could be a blessing in disguise. It is an opportunity. Conservatism was in sore need of revitalization anyway. As conservatives come to realize they no longer have power, they will be forced to recognize there is no alternative to creating a new movement and a new party that will earn the right to govern.

Sometimes it is necessary to take one step back before moving forward again.

Donald Devine, former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, heads the Federalist Leadership Center at Bellevue University and is the editor of Conservative Battleline Online.

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