Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Out of the Wilderness

Did the 2008 elections show that America has become a center left country? The winners seem determined to govern Americans as if it had, as if we were Europeans. Meanwhile Republican leaders remain preoccupied with their red and blue maps, and with refining the tactics that so richly earned them being chased into the wilderness yet once more. The American people however have no desire to be remade in the image of Europe or according to the imagination of our haughty, self-serving, incompetent ruling class. If and when conservative leaders worthy of the name arise, they will not lack followers.

What would it take to lead the American people out of the dark woods, to take power from those who now prepare to dictate our lifestyles as no American government ever imagined it had a right to do? Whoever would lead us out of this mess had better be very sure of how we got in it. Wise hunters use landmarks to find their way out of the wilderness and wisdom in general comes from retracing, backward, the paths that led to error.

Our landmarks, our warning signs are written in victories that paved the way for defeats. In our greatest victory, 28 years ago, Ronald Reagan overcame the me-too crowd within his Party, took center stage and made the love of political, economic, and religious liberty popular again; he spoke American to Americans. Landslide elections followed. Unfortunately, Reagan handed over the seemingly mundane task of governance to the best connected in his Party—a group whose hearts were warmed by the fact that his popularity increased their access to power, prestige, and wealth. And so Bush I so squandered the Reagan legacy with tax increases and granting of the Left’s premises – to him we owe environmentalism’s chokehold on us – that he got only 38% of the vote in 1992 and gave us eight years of Clinton.

Then in 1994 Americans signed up for another American revolution. Republicans offered a Contract With America and again spoke American to Americans. But they turned out to be more concerned with who got the credit, got on meet the press, and got on Air Force One.

And if one ever doubted how American Americans are, note their patience with George Bush II, a leader who spoke American to Americans without understanding what he was saying. While attempting to celebrate America’s virtues, he misunderstood them and handed America’s business to the most incompetent administration in recent American history.

To lead is to gain the trust of those whom you would lead. Good credit in politics is built just like good credit in any other field. It requires understanding what is the right thing to do and then making sure that it is done. At a minimum it means doing what you say you’re going to do. If you say you’re going to cut taxes, regulation, and spending, cut taxes, regulation and spending. If you say you’re going to leave Washington in 6 years, leave Washington in 6 years. Even the most earnest and understanding American stops doing business after the second, third, or fourth bad check. This is pretty elementary.

Keeping hold of this elementary morality is difficult because, as the greatest wilderness survival story of all time teaches us, it is all too human to fall for the temptation to get something for nothing - to turn stones into bread. And for earthly princes, it is even more tempting to pretend to God-like power, and to want power to satisfy their limitless thirst for primacy.

Our first settlers rightly understood that the best way to turn a desolate wilderness into a promised land is to be mindful of these temptations. Our Founders rightly understood that the best way to turn a promised land into a Republic of Virtue was to do the same. And ever since, America has been at its best when its people reject these temptations and demand its leaders do the same.

Conservatives have recently made the mistake of confusing support for Republican leaders who have given themselves over to such temptation with what is right, and good for America. Today's Republican establishment is rotten. The way out of the wilderness requires that we leave it to rot with it’s red, blue, and purple election maps, and recognize that America is still made up of Americans yearning to be spoken to and led in their mother tongue.

-- David Corbin writes as a guest today on Principalities and Powers. He is assistant professor of politics at The King's College in New York City.

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