Monday, September 08, 2008

Turning the Tide

Over the last week, pundits have claimed that it is odd that Senator John McCain would run as an outsider, given that the President for the last eight years has been a fellow Republican. Similarly, Democrats have tried to claim that electing Senator McCain would do nothing more than extend the Bush presidency by another four years.

Both of these groups seem to have short memories. Given that for much of the last eight years, going back to the 2000 Republican primary, Messrs. Bush and McCain have been bitter opponents, if not enemies, it is difficult credibly to characterize a McCain administration as doing nothing more than extending the Bush presidency.

Beyond that, the election of John McCain stands a chance of reversing the unfortunate outgrowth of a vice-presidential selection 28 years ago.

While arguably necessary for political reasons, the selection of George H.W. Bush as Ronald Reagan's running mate in 1980 opened the door to the re-emergence of moderate and liberal dominance in the Republican Party. The elder Bush, who hailed from Texas but spent most of us life in the northeastern United States, made use of Mr. Reagan's coattails to become the last -- arguably the only -- Rockefeller Republican to be elected President. During the 1980 campaign, Mr. Bush had dismissed Reaganism as "voodoo economics." Immediately upon his election in 1988, he promised a "kinder and gentler" administration than that which had preceded him. Being kinder and gentler necessitated breaking a promise not to raise taxes, resulting in his being pitched out of office by voters in 1992.

When the younger Bush came to the White House, he did not arrive as a Rockefeller Republican. However, he did come in as -- if the reader will pardon the oxymoronic phrase -- a big government conservative. The recent Bush presidency has been characterized by an overconfidence in the power of government to achieve conservative ends, both internationally and domestically. The result has been a bloating of the federal government even as liberals complain that too little continues to be spent.

Meanwhile, in Congress, the conservative legacy was taken up by the principled but flawed Newt Gingrich. Ultimately Speaker Gingrich was done in by a combination of his own hubris, Clintonian charisma, and Tom Delay's opportunism. Mr. Delay, who seemed to view conservatism as the view that power should be exercised to reward fellow conservatives with government largess, presided over the corruption and defeat of the Republican machine. Those Republicans left in power, who began to resemble Bob Michel in their contentment with the perks of serving in the minority, reverted to the loser mentality that prevailed in the Republican establishment in an earlier era. Conservatives, who became wed to the Republican Party in the aftermath of President Reagan, found themselves largely without a home -- and not much of a vehicle for reform.

Until now. Until the unlikely vehicle that has emerged named Sarah Palin.

The nomination of Ms. Palin -- and the recent emergence of other exciting young conservatives such as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal -- provides a significant opportunity for conservatives to promote a reform agenda that urges a return to principles of limited government as a way of eliminating its ever growing expansion and inefficiency. Someone commented that Sen. McCain's outsider posturing in effect throws Republicans already in Washington under the bus. That, frankly, is where many of them belong.

By potentially passing the torch to a new generation of leadership -- and bypassing some of the moribund leaders currently in place, Sen. McCain may be proving himself to be a maverick and an agent of change far beyond what he intended or his opponents imagine.

The Oracle is hoping it is so.

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