There’s a division of sentiment among conservatives, the day after a big electoral victory for Republicans.
There are plenty of conservatives who were glad to be able to vote for candidates they admire and believe in. That distinguishes them from other conservatives who had to either withhold their votes in certain races, or vote for GOP candidates they didn’t particularly like.
But even many conservatives who had attractive candidates to vote for share something important with less fortunate conservative voters. They share a sense that America has already experienced a break with the political consensus of the past that can’t be repaired with this election.
This isn’t only because Congress will remain divided from the president across policy lines for the next two years. That is important – and not mainly because it will theoretically result in gridlock. (Some gridlock would actually be pretty darn healthy at this point.) It’s important because the president has executive power, and Congress doesn’t.
Realistically, we can expect Congress to be slow and timid in any attempts to block executive unilateralism by the Obama administration. The American people, the targets of weaponized government, won’t get any meaningful relief.
But it’s even more than that. Something bigger than American partisan politics is going on in the world, and what the voters accomplished on Tuesday will do little to position America better to face it. That’s the sense of settled foreboding I see in many conservatives.
It won’t all be up to the United States government, in any case. The world is going to hand us problems created by others – diseases, foreign despots who churn out refugees; Islamists, Russia, China, Iran, some damn fool thing in the hot-spot of your choice – that could very well impinge as much on the daily lives of Americans as anything Obama does before 2017. They could impinge more, whether they involve geopolitical disruption or economic shocks.
Too much is unsettled now. Getting from where we are to where we need to be will require stopping at a waypoint we haven’t reached yet. The election on Tuesday is not that waypoint.
Indeed, to revive the American spirit of liberty, the waypoint will almost certainly have to have the same weight and import as our constitutional convention of 1787-89. It’s not clear yet what combination of circumstances might make it possible to identify such a waypoint, and take advantage of it.
For the time being, those with a coherent idea of liberty and limited government expect little gratification from today’s partisan politics. They see what those who voted for Republicans as a status-quo alternative to Democrats don’t: that the status quo itself can’t continue. Creeping bureaucratic despotism – what we live under now – is unsustainable. It’s not the future. It’s not the strong horse. People have nothing to live for under its lash; ultimately, as limitations and pessimism drive out opportunity and hope, it must destroy itself.
But what the outlines of the future will look like, and what factors might give events a push, no one can foresee from here. With due respect to those who think they can, the truth is that deadlines keep passing, for everyone who predicts one certain doom or another. America has not been loaded into a garbage truck from which the only exit is in the landfill. This country still has a lot of living to do.
Liberty has always been an idea, and as an idea, it can’t be killed. It stills burns in the hearts of millions of Americans. Only some of them know what liberty really is, but there are still millions of those people. And here’s what I perceive about them. Although they remain committed to the political process – they think it’s important not to give up on it – their investment in it is on the wane right now.
The reason? The political process is not making the difference between liberty and overweening government anymore. Electing Republicans doesn’t bring relief from overregulation, collectivist statism, and the growth of public bureaucracies that are easily taken over by fanatical ideologues.
This is why the 2014 midterm election isn’t an end-state, nor – pace Karl Rove – should it serve as a model for the future. It isn’t good enough to elect Republicans to take over the same business the U.S. federal government has been doing for 100 years now. It’s the business that has to change.
Seeing this clearly is going to keep liberty-minded conservatives in tension with old-consensus Republicans between now and 2016. But having a vision for something better always does that. It’s how life works – and patience and goodwill can bridge a lot.
It’s actually exciting, and a source of optimism, to realize that our future doesn’t have to be charted within the confines of the patterns of the past. Yes, the GOP leadership in Congress is still an old-consensus leadership. But it’s not discouraging to recognize that the Republicans we’ve just handed a congressional majority aren’t going to change much for us. It’s liberating to stop expecting them to.
The task now is for the sons and daughters of liberty to educate themselves on liberty itself, and man the ramparts as watchmen on the walls. Having a Ph.D. in liberty is a task for a committed minority, but without that minority, no one ever has liberty. The watchmen on the walls have to be on the lookout for opportunity: knowledgeable about how liberty has been established in the past, and ready to interpret circumstances and openings when they arise.
I think those circumstances and openings are going to arise, although I can’t tell you today what they will be. I do know that the day has come when it is more important to fan the flames of liberty than to damp them down, through the political process, in search of consensus. Putting too much into consensus only teaches us to believe lies about freedom, and we’ve been doing that for too long.
I will be invoking 2 Chronicles 7:14 as I look to the future. Join me if you can. History gives us every reason to be optimistic about a future with liberty, because liberty is healing. Liberty is the empire of hope. So get up on those walls, troops. We’ve got some watching to do.