- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Republican politicians have failed conservatives, the GOP itself and America. We’re heading down the tracks to socialism or worse, with the GOP as caboose.

Conservatives can share the blame, but not for reasons expressed by the liberal media aligned against us. Sadly, too many conservative leaders either blindly supported former President George W. Bush, Karl Rove and congressional Republicans or were silent as big-government politicians abandoned conservative principles and massively expanded government. Conservatism itself wasn’t the problem.

According to polling conducted by my friend Kellyanne Conway, the word “conservative” remains more popular than “liberal,” “Democrat,” or “Republican.” But if conservatives ever expect to come to political power in America again, it will only be because we, not GOP politicians, provide the primary opposition to President Obama and Pelosi Democrats.

Grass-roots conservatives provided the leadership ideas, work and money for the Reagan and Gingrich revolutions. In previous decades, we didn’t look to Republican politicians for leadership; we provided it.

By way of example, meeting at my home for eight years starting in the mid-1970s, most of the leaders of what the media called “the New Right” decided that those of us at my breakfast table and dozens of our colleagues around the country were the alternatives to the Democrats and Jimmy Carter’s four years in the White House.

It was not Jerry Ford, Bob Michel, Howard Baker or other congressional Republican leaders. It wasn’t Bill Brock, then the head of the Republican National Committee. No, it was a rear guard of mostly young conservatives and a handful of congressional backbenchers who led the opposition to the giveaway of the Panama Canal, SALT II (disarmament treaty), Mr. Carter’s agenda, including adding a new Cabinet position dealing with consumer affairs, four changes in the election laws and the union-cherished common-situs legislation.

The battles conservatives fought in the 1970s and early 1980s (whether won or lost) led directly to a massive increase in the size and strength of the conservative movement.

Vision and energy were power. The battles led by unelected and mostly unknown conservatives encouraged the launching of dozens of new organizations and publications, and led to hundreds of thousands of new activists and millions of donors. Thousands then ran for party or public office.

Conservatives then got complacent, and became an appendage of the Republican Party. The Washington establishment is still the problem, and the GOP establishment doesn’t understand the marketing strategy “differentiate or die” - that is, you don’t win elections merely by promising less government than what Democrats want.

The American people years ago made a decision that they did not like what the Republican Party had become under Mr. Bush, Mr. Rove, former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Rep. John A. Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell. Americans think Hurricane Katrina, Iraq, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and former Reps. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, Bob Ney and Mark Foley when they see or hear the word Republican.

Conservatives are like the biblical Jews who wandered through the desert for 40 years until that generation’s flawed leaders had passed from the scene. Conservatives are not going to get to the political promised land until we get new leaders. And until those Republican politicians who brought plagues onto Americans are gone, voters will refuse to buy whatever Republicans are trying to sell.

To paraphrase cartoonist Walt Kelly’s character, Pogo: We have met the enemy, and it is big-government Republicans.

Conservatives should be under no illusions about the massive challenge ahead of us. We face a very popular President Obama, with a radical left-wing agenda designed to punish and silence all opposition, and at taxpayer expense. Mr. Obama and the Democrats have available massive financial revenues, and Republican opponents are leaderless, dispirited, confused and without an agenda or principles.

Most of the establishment institutions of our country are arrayed against us: the mainstream media, entertainment industry, higher and lower education, the legal community, organized religion and big business, including Wall Street.

Conservatives, though, have been here before. Against these same forces, Republicans won three presidential elections in the 1980s by landslides and swept into control of Congress for 12 years starting in 1994. Republicans did it with conservatives paving the way for boat-rocking political leaders such as Ronald Reagan, who could say about the Soviets: They lose; we win.

Leadership starts with each of us. We should cease looking to Republican politicians for leadership.

We have a party and a country to save, and the Republican establishment is part of the problem, not the solution. Conservatives must not wait for orders from headquarters: Rush to the sound of the guns.

• Richard A. Viguerie, a founder of the modern conservative movement, is author of “Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause.”

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