Many people are beginning to ask me what I think will happen at the polls in November, what with public opinion of the president and the Republican-controlled Congress at near-historic lows. Essentially, I think they’re going to get what they deserve — defeat — simply because they forgot what got them there in the first place.
America is full of Schumpeterian stories, tales that follow the path predicted by Austrian-born economist Joseph Schumpeter. He was the guy who came up with the theory of the entrepreneurial business cycle, in which success sows the seeds of its own destruction and booms create the busts that inevitably follow.
This is as true in business as it apparently is in politics. In the world of commerce, Schumpeter’s cycle follows a predictable path of, first, a garage-based invention; second, monopoly-like, windfall profits for the inventor; and third, diminishing returns as competition is drawn into the business.
For the Republicans in power, including the president, it seems that the Schumpeterian path is first developing a set of core principles hardened by years in the political wilderness. Second is running on those principals, even at the cost of early political defeat. Third, never give up. Fourth, triumph through a combination of intellectual rigor on your behalf and intellectual dishonesty by your political opponents. Fifth, achieve victory. Sixth and finally, squander it in a scramble to maintain incumbency.
To true conservatives — not to be confused with elected Republicans — this isn’t much of a surprise. One of the most frustrating aspects of watching “our team” screw up in Washington and Sacramento is that, regardless of how Republican politicians actually vote, they are consistently called “conservative” when there’s nothing conservative about them. One of the reasons we are not hearing the Democrats denounce heartless Republican cuts to the budget is that there haven’t been any.
Indeed, one of the agencies most hated by conservatives, the Department of Education, received substantially more money (and, through the No Child Left Behind Act, a lot more power) under “W” than under any president. By creating a prescription drug program in the middle of a war, he also triangulated against the Democrats at the cost of conservative principles of budget control. Despite these very liberal actions, political opponents of incumbent Republicans can and do use the term “conservative” as a universal pejorative that is repeated without question.
What happened to the conservative movement? Did it die in Iraq? Was it killed by 9/11? Or was it an “inside” job? Though the mainstream media would like you to think it is everything except politics as usual, the sad fact of the matter is that politicians who could pose as conservatives when the GOP was out of power have shown us their true colors now that they’ve been in power for a decade. Today, the so-called “conservative” Republican Congress is far more interested in maintaining incumbency than advancing a certain, intellectually consistent conservative agenda.
Only on one thing does this current crop of Republican “leaders” have it right: the war on terrorism. Though many elected Republicans have their doubts about continuing on, thus far they have not cut and run. But with the war’s (and the president’s) popularity so low, they won’t use this strength as a point of unity. Democrats like Hillary Clinton understand this as well, which is why she and her party will focus on the domestic incoherence of the Republican agenda in the months and weeks leading up to this year’s midterm elections.
The only chance the “conservatives” in Congress really have at this point is to convince their conservative base that they’ve changed, and that electing the Democrats would be a catastrophe. Instead of standing on their record, which is horrible from a conservative standpoint, incumbent Republicans are telling their base to “show up, or else.” Like Democrats before them, they’re trying to scare their base into voting this November.
Based on what I’ve seen so far, that approach doesn’t seem to be working.