As you may have noticed, Republicans, and more specifically conservatives, control nearly every aspect of the federal and state government today. We’ve had a Republican president since 2000 - one of the most partisan and ideologically right-wing ever to hold the office; A Republican-controlled House since 1994; A Republican-controlled Senate since 2002; A Supreme Court with 7 of 9 justices appointed by Republicans and appellate courts which are being stuffed to the gills with hardline conservative ideologues. And here in Texas, of course, we have complete one-party dominance thanks in part to Tom DeLay and his corporate buddies.
And yet, what have conservatives really accomplished during this period of near total dominance of the political sphere?
Kevin Drum takes a look at some of the major legislative and executive actions of the Bush presidency and finds them to be somewhat sparse on actual conservative accomplishments:
1. No Child Left Behind
2. Some big tax cuts
3. Big spending increases, both in defense and nondefense spending
4. The stem cell straddle
5. Patriot Act
6. Invasion of Afghanistan
9. Department of Homeland Security
10. Invasion of Iraq
11. Medicare prescription bill
12. Some conservative judges
Of these, some are just plain liberal (3, 7, 8, 11), some were basically neutral or bipartisan (1, 5, 6, 9), and only a couple are clearly conservative (2, 12). Of the remaining two items, the stem cell straddle was....a straddle, and if the Iraq war is a conservative cause, it's only because George Bush is fighting it. Outside of PNAC circles, conservatives have not exactly been baying for more foreign wars over the past decade.
The fact is, conservatives haven't won much of anything in the last 10 years except a PR triumph. Their biggest successes have been on taxes — a Pyrrhic victory at best without corresponding spending cuts — and in the court system, which hasn't actually delivered much real world benefit. Plus they have a war in Iraq, for whatever that's worth. Public opinion simply hasn't allowed them anything more.
This lack of conservative “progress” has not gone unnoticed by conservative intellectuals who are beginning to complain.
Here Ross Douthat poses some pertinent questions for conservatives to ponder as they consider where the conservative movement has lead these past few years.
1) Conservatives have controlled both houses of Congress for the better part of the last decade. Since the 1996 Welfare Reform was passed, name a major legislative accomplishment other than the Bush tax cuts that made you proud to have a conservative majority in power.
2) Do you believe in small/limited government? If so, are you pleased with the growth in federal spending during the last six years of nearly-undivided Republican control?
3) Do you believe in effective government? If so, are you pleased with the federal response, four years after 9/11 supposedly "changed everything," to the challenge posed by Hurricane Katrina? Are you pleased with the ability of the federal government, four years after 9/11, to effectively patrol our southern border?
4) Which of the following represents a triumph for conservatives? Choose one: the Highway Bill; the Energy Bill; the Medicare Bill; the failure of Social Security reform.
5) Do you feel that having a conservative majority has fundamentally changed the culture of cronyism and influence-peddling in Washington D.C.? Please explain with reference to 1) Jack Abramoff, 2) Ralph Reed, or 3) Michael Brown.
6) Are you a social conservative? If so, do you feel that conservatives are "winning" on (choose one, or all): the cloning debate; the stem-cell debate; the gay-marriage debate? Do you feel that American popular culture has grown more or less coarse, puerile, and sex-obsessed during this era of conservative dominance?
The problem for the conservative intellectuals is that the current batch of GOP politicians in Washington aren’t as interested in pushing for change as they are in lining their pockets and those of their political cronies.