The next election loomed ominously upon the political horizon in November 1979. A decade of failed foreign policy, Soviet expansion, stagflation, gas and oil shortages, historically severe winters, soaring crime rates, marauding youth, sexual perversion, and unstable standards left the American people wondering, "What next?" Next, of course, was the Iranian hostage crisis, which might well be called "the last straw." Jimmy Carter and his Democrat party took the blame. The once proud term "liberalism" became profane. The writing was on the wall, if anyone in America still cared enough to vote.
In the National Review cover story, "The Coming Cataclysm: Why The GOP Faces One and How to Avoid It," we who cut our political teeth in the waning days of the "me" era recognize a party out of idea. Only this time it's ours.
Ramesh Ponnuru and Richard Lowry's story chronicles an unordered list of Republican vacuity spanning a decade. All of their charges are correct, though none of the Republican failures has done 1/20th the damage wrought from my list of grievances against the Dems in paragraph one. In fact, the NR list indicates political tone-deafness, not incompetence or callousness.
Still, the public's memory is shorter than my . . . nick name (Bill). The fact that New York City was more dangerous in 1978 than Baghdad was in 2005 means nothing to a 21-year-old voter born the year Oliver North humiliated Senate Democrats at the Iran-Contra hearings. (Look it up, kids.) They believe what they hear on MTV, not what I write here. Likewise, my suburban neighbors living in half-million dollar houses and driving fleets of SUVs bigger than cement trucks consider themselves poor and in need of government health care hand outs. That's not good news for Republicans.
While Lowry and Ponnuru offer some advice, their pessimism is unmistakable and the title's promise of a way to avoid political cataclysm is never fulfilled. In fact, in and editorial failure uncharacteristic of the greatest political magazine ever launched, the pair doesn't even mount a serious effort arguing for a GOP victory in any house of national government. The reader must conclude that NR has written off, not only 2008, but the next quarter century.
I understand. I have been writing a book for 2 years, yet I lack the enthusiasm that inspired my first book in 1993. I want to present an optimistic road map that solves current challenges with conservative cures. But I fail, not for lack of ideas, but for lack of energy. Between Bush 41's ideological wanderings, Bob Dole's "it's my turn, dammit" 1996 implosion, W's semi-retirement after the 2004 election, and the American people's persistent vegetative grin while Bill Clinton sickened the decent and lied to everything with ears, I have a difficult time cheering for anything that isn't in uniform.
While I agree with Ponnuru and Lowry that conservatism MUST address present challenges with conservative solutions, I throw the gauntlet back at them: do something about it. For my part, I'll continue to force out the words and ideas that sit contentedly in my mind but seem so resistant to the light of day. And I worry: if 9/11 didn't shake us out of our coma, what will?