Cast of Characters

In Eliot’s last post, he names some of the rising stars of the GOP. Notably absent from the list of his future GOP leaders are Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, along with Mitt Romney, and Mayor Guiliani. (I won’t include Fred Thompson since he appears to be returning to acting.)

So, I’m wondering what people think is the role of those characters involved in the race of the last two years? My thoughts are below.

I think Huckabee is done. He should stay on Fox because his gift is that he is a good communicator. He can engage his guests and the general public on topics that speak to a large proportion of the base. His discussion of faith and culture is particularly important, I think, and he will help to make value-voter issues more a part of the mainstream discussion. The value voter seemed to be somewhat of a nonentity this year. After all, Obama’s record was the most pro-abortion of any candidate ever and purportedly religious folks overwhelmingly voted for him. (As the token Catholic on board, I’ll post soon about the future of the “Catholic vote” and what that could mean for the GOP.) Huckabee can communicate about these issues well, and now he has a forum to do it.

Palin’s role in the GOP seems even more tenuous. I do not think being from Alaska poses a particularly difficult problem, given the important role the state may play in energy independence. Palin was, to say the least, a bit of a disappointment in her many interviews. I think Palin’s future is limited because (1) being Alaska’s governor seems a bit sui generis, and being so removed, an Alaska governor might not be able to deal with a wider range of issues on a national level; and (2) Palin is like the GOP cheerleader. She has a keen ability to rally the base and appeal to women, but hearing her speak on the issues was sometimes hard on the ears. With the host of other governors Eliot mentioned, I cannot see the former vice-presidential candidate garnering much support for a leadership post.

As an aside, I think the dearth of women ready and able to take on leadership roles within the GOP is appalling. There are talented women out there, and the GOP would do well to cultivate them in the future.

Mitt Romney: would the election have been different if he was the nominee? Being so conversant with the economy and having rescued businesses in the past, he would have been compelling on what we need to do to turn the ship around (in stark contrast with McCain). I think the social conservatives would have rallied around him despite their hesitations on his past positions if only to avoid an Obama administration. Having run the most national of the primary campaigns, he may be able to hit “Restart” and have the organization in place to make a run at the nomination again.

In the end, I think the best candidates for the GOP will come from the same place they’ve come before–governorships. Jindal is my favorite as he combines the ability to communicate the conservative message, the appeal to social conservatives, and the youth and vitality that was utterly absent in this campaign. Sanford is also a great choice. He has proven a dedication to governing according to conservative principles and has had success in doing so.

What we cannot do is, as one person put it, choose a GOP candidate as the recipient of a “lifetime achievement award.” Recent picks–Dole, McCain, etc.–have received the nomination because “it was their time,” or “for their years of service,” and not necessarily because they were the best person for the job. Remember, Obama was a state senator not too long ago. We need to look far and wide and find the candidate who will best present the conservative platform.

Center-Right Nationhood

Since Election Day, we have heard from pundits across America — true conservatives, “reformist” conservatives, and even liberals — on what caused our recent unpleasantness or on how the Republican Party can regain power. Responses vary from “expel social conservatives” to “embrace big government” to “America is still a center-right nation.”

The last response, offered by sincere Republicans such as Bill Kristol, John Boehner, and Karl Rove, is particularly intriguing. What does it mean, and if it is true, what can we do about it? The phrase may be interpreted in one of two ways. 1) America is still a center-right nation, so the unique circumstances of 2008 led to Republican defeat, or 2) America is still a center-right nation, so a center-right Republican Party can quickly regain influence.

To this 1st contention, I call bunk. Two years ago, Republicans lost control of Congress for the first time in my intellectually cognitive life. Why? Well, the 2006 Republican Party is vastly different from the one elected in 1994. The Revolution Republicans of the mid-late 1990s represented a bastion of conservative public policy proposals, many of them successfully implemented. The current crop of Republicans have greatly increased non-defense spending, allowed greater government intervention into the private sector, and (most recently) supported $7 billion in taxpayer handouts this year.

The national Republican Party, at least as it is perceived by many Americans, is no longer a center-right party. Instead, it is the party of corruption and corporate welfare (again, perception). It almost seems as if some of the Republican leaders in Washington use “we are still a center-right nation” to excuse their poor performance and lack of fealty to proven conservative principles. The election of 2008 was likely a continuance of the repudiation of the Republicans leftover from 2006, but it certainly doesn’t appear that much changed during those two years. Republicans can’t continue to deceive themselves into thinking the perfect storm of 2008 caused their overwhelming defeat—lack of a coherent conservative message did.

Fortunately, the second response offers some hope. Take a look at the findings of my former boss, Mike Franc at the Heritage Foundation. His evidence shows that more Americans self-identify as conservatives than liberals, and these voters outnumber liberals in almost every state. What that means is that there are large numbers of conservatives out there who didn’t vote for Republicans this year — and those conservatives may be won over once again.

As another former boss, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, said recently, “Republicans have campaigned on the conservative themes of lower taxes, less government, and more freedom. They just haven’t governed that way. America didn’t turn away from conservatism, they turned away from many who faked it.”

And restoration is going to take some housecleaning. Conservatives are going to have to aggressively push their influence within the Republican Party and help the party develop a coherent conservative message that can appeal to a broad swath of Americans. Fortunately, we have a solid foundation. In the House, Reps. Eric Cantor, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, John Shadegg, Jeb Hensarling, Michele Bachman, Jeff Flake, and others are aggressively pursuing principled reforms, while the conservative bloc in the Senate is led by Sens. Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn, and John Cornyn. But our deepest bench lies in the state capitols, which are innovation labs for ground-breaking ideas and experimentation. Several state leaders are poised to take their ideas national, including Govs. Mark Sanford, Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Perry, and Mitch Daniels. These leaders are supported by a wide network of think tanks, each creating new ideas and adapting time-honored conservative principles for modern problems.

2008 was disappointing. Yet, if the United States truly remains a center-right nation, our leaders-in-waiting are poised to prove it.

Three Cheers for Idealism

If you have not seen Justice Thomas’ recent speech at the Manhattan Institute, it is worth the hour or so it takes to watch it (video) (Real Player required).

Justice Thomas speaks eloquently about being raised to cherish freedom, liberty, and independence and how those principles influence his judicial decision-making. Thomas says that the answ
er to our modern debates about the role of government in our lives was already answered over two centuries ago in the text of the Constitution. The founders established a form of government that would best preserve liberty and also allow people to prosper. While there were major flaws–slavery, for one–and while the Constitution has been amended, the structure and core meaning of the document have not changed.
That core meaning, for Thomas, is informed by the idealistic language of the Declaration. Government is meant to protect rights given by our Creator, and does so through the various structures of the Constitution: federalism, accountability to the people, etc. The Constitution allows people to act freely within a government that is strong enough to protect them, but weak enough not to tyrannize them. These structural safeguards allow people’s idealism to take shape in the exercise of their rights and their pursuit of happiness.
Thomas thinks that many people have lost this idealism and speaks of two instances where we can see a failed idealism. First is in modern society’s general sense of entitlement. Second is in the area of constitutional interpretation.
Thomas notes that “[t]hese days there appears to be little focus on responsibility, sacrifice, and self-denial.” No longer do children hear from their parents the wisdom of generations past: “Learn to do without.” “Prepare for a rainy day.” “No one owes you a living.” Today, we are so used to prosperity (defined by wealth or fame) that we forget the idealism of times gone by. When JFK famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you,” we had “ears conditioned to receive this message and hearts that did not resist it,” Justice Thomas said. That generation’s ears and hearts were trained through an appr
eciation of freedom. A generation after World War II, the sign of prosperity was living in a free country.
Now, Thomas says, we have a far-different environment: the “self-indulgent, ‘me’ generation.” This generation does not even hear the message that there is something larger and more important than itself. Indeed, I’m not sure anyone is preaching this message. And as Thomas says, JFK’s words have now turned into “Ask not what you can do for yourselves or your country, ask what your country MUST do for you.” A loss of idealism has left many dependent on the State and has stifled our ingenuity and enthusiasm. Many people are content to live off the largesse of the government and not take an active role in their own pursuit of happiness. (Or the happiness that liberty brings has become so passe that people no longer fight for it.)
The second area harmed by a loss of idealism is constitutional interpretation. When judges lose sight of the idealism in the very language of the Constitution, undergirded by the Declaration, they more easily fall into deciding cases along the lines of their own personal feelings. As Thomas says, there are two ways to interpret the Constitution: “Try to discern as best we can what the framers intended, or make it up.”
“Unless decisions are based in what the framers thought, they are only as relevant as the latest football scores.” Originalism, as a form of interpretation, recalls the idealism of the founders and looks at the original meaning of those words. Originalism is “legitimate and impartial” Thomas says. It is founded on the text of the Constitution and gives the judge a framework in which he can make an impartial decision.

Thomas noted that at the end of each term, he takes his law clerks to Gettysburg. He wants them to remember that no matter how difficult a term it was, they are only playing a bit part in a much larger undertaking–the preservation of liberty. Thomas hopes that the trip makes them more optimistic and idealistic about the liberties in the Constitution and in our country.
Perhaps conservatives today need to recall these fundamental and timeless–indeed, self-evident–truths. The youth in America want something to believe in, something beyond themselves. And when someone offers it–even through platitudes about “Change”–they will grasp on. We need to offer the original vision of America, repackaged for today’s generation. Obama’s packaging looked great, but there was no content inside. Our content was better, but no one wanted to pick the drab package off the shelf. If we are going to succeed in communicating conservative ideals to a new generation, we need to reform our presentation more than our ideas. Looking back to the idealism of the founders seems like a great start.

Yes We Can?

I wonder whether any campaign ever has had a more ubiquitous catchphrase than, “Yes We Can.” Whether “New Frontier” rolled off Kennedy voters’ tongues in 1960, whether “Morning in America” had such popular resonance in 1984. Whether Kennedy or Reagan voters could identify themselves by two or three simple words as Obama voters did this year. I doubt it

The New Conservatism: Big Tent or Yurt?

In this inaugural post, I wanted to call attention to the Washington Post’s Chriz Cillizza who lists ‘Ten Republicans to Watchin a post featured on the Washington Post blog The Fix.

Certainly, his post starts out with a sense of foreboding (“The great thing about elections is that as soon as the last one ends a new one begins.”), but it goes on to profile ten inexplicable Republican politicians who are somehow forecasted to shape the future of the GOP.


Before beginning the list, Cillizza is quick to dispense with both former AR Gov. Mike Huckabee and AK Gov. Sarah Palin as figures to watch. He bellows that Gov. Palin is “VERY lightly regarded by many of the opinion leaders and establishment types within the GOP,” and calls Gov. Huckabee’s politics a “fresh-faced appeal and shtick”.

Among those making Cillizza’s cut are Mitt Romney, John Thune, Steve Poizner (just to save you some Wikipedia time, Poizner is the Insurance Commissioner of California), and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

In evaluating the conservative movement’s way forward, the wisdom of Cillizza’s assessment is suspect. Axing Governor’s Palin and Huckabee effectively isolates the most prominent, social conservative voices in Republican politics today. To use Gov. Romney’s ‘stool analogy‘ it takes a pro-defense, pro-prosperity, and pro-family values coalition to buttress a healthy Republican Party. Were the GOP to purge social conservatives, this would have the effect of transforming the party from a big tent operation to a yurt.

The problem, of course, is that ‘stool’ can also refer to feces. Although crass, this roughly sums up conservatism’s fortunes in the past two elections. While I question whether any Republican, opinion figures are seriously dismissing the views of social conservatives, even if they were, this should matter little. The Washington establishment has led Republicans to successive defeats, and talking heads offer little in the way of new ideas for solving America’s problems. Surely fracturing the conservative coalition is not a healthy way to proceed.

Hence, this blog.

Just to echo the comments of my friends and fellows, I too am glad to contribute my thoughts on these very serious issues facing the conservative movement, and the country I love. My basic view is that conservatism’s ailments lie in how we communicate our ideas, and in how we inadvertently exclude others from the party. Success follows when we correct both, while concurrently making our pro-defense, pro-prosperity, and pro-values principles relevant to the majority of all Americans.


Ex deserto. The phrase literally means, “out of the wilderness,” from vox clamantis in deserto; a voice crying in the wilderness. Over the next several months — and I pray not years — we will hear a myriad of ideas from thinkers throughout the Republican Party and within the conservative movement on how to emerge victoriously from the wilderness. Our contention: conservatism, a movement that emphasizes limited government, free markets, personal responsibility, individual freedom and traditional American values, is already perfectly able offer solutions to our most pressing issues.

The conservative movement is founded upon the premise that the American people as a whole are better positioned and better able to produce their own solutions, with minimal government interference. Indeed, by crafting a Constitution of limited government and specifically enumerated powers, our Founders recognized that non-government institutions, the churches, the charitable societies, the private businesses — the American people themselves — are better problem solvers, better wealth creators, better equality producers, and better rights protectors than the all-powerful government. A limited government, which is charged with laying the proper soil conditions in which these private institutions are able to thrive, is the forum through which individual liberty and economic prosperity reach their zenith.

By fealty to these basic first principles, we are provided a rubric under which we may propose cutting edge policy innovations that can not only appeal to a vast majority of American voters, but will actually provide real relief to the most pressing public policy questions of the day. Health care. Social Security. Education. Tax policy. Government spending. Economic development. Transportation infrastructure.

Here at Ex Deserto, we will strongly confront these public policy issues through intellectual creativity and thoughtful dialogue, with the goals of breathing new life into a broad, conservative governing coalition — and emerging out of the wilderness.

Feeding the White Elephant: Funding Embryonic Stem Cell Research

With the onset of the new president-elect Barack Obama accelerating toward the driver’s seat of democratically controlled Congress, conservatives cannot help but brace themselves for the sweeping reversal of many of Bush’s policies – particularly in regard to stem cell research. Parties on both sides of the aisle expect Obama to issue an executive order ending the government federal funding ban on embryonic stem cell (ESC) research.

With as much progress stem cell research has achieved, applying the brakes to this Bush policy will detrimentally alter forthcoming advancements. Moral issues aside, ESC research has been spinning in a rut since its inception. Fueling its “development” with federal funding will merely exacerbate the problem.

After nearly a decade, human ESC research is much like the wizard in Dorothy’s Oz: facially powerful, substantively empty. With the promise being a virtual panacea, consider the results: there have been zero treatments and zero clinical trials. Total cost: billions. The continuous mantra chanted by its advocates still sounds, “more time.” California committed $3 billion in tax-payer monies over 10 years with the goal of developing a single treatment. Connecticut and Maryland have invested millions as well. They still have virtually nothing to show.

Consider the alternative: adult stem cells have treated over 80 diseases with over 1,300 clinical trials. Advancements in cord blood banking, and induced pluripotent stem cells are leading the way in medical breakthroughs. Recently, European physicians completed the first successful transplant of a human windpipe using (you guessed it) adult stem cells. Plenty more could be said of treatments for leukemia, diabetes, sickle-cell anemia and heart disease.

The government should support what works; it makes common financial sense: invest in known, proven, un-problematic means to advance medicine for a guaranteed rate of return. But channeling that money into decade-long speculation without proven results serves to limit development in medical pioneering. It is essentially pork barrel spending.

ESC research is by no means limited as a “moral” issue. An executive order subsidizing this research merely feeds the white elephant.


When Aristotle spoke of the polis, the state or political community, he said that it is that “which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good.” (Politics, 59) Today’s political climate, in stark contrast, seems to aim at many things all at once, or perhaps more often, nothing at all. Aristotle’s aspirational view of politics is subordinated today to what is politically expedient for individuals. No longer is politics about the good of society. It is about personal gain, prestige, or the cult of personality. Somewhere along the way, something went wrong.

Of course, things went wrong many times over and for many different reasons since Aristotle’s day. And each time, individuals have taken a stand and come together to bring about a renewal in society. Such groups gradually gain momentum and eventually, have the power to effect real and lasting change in society. That was the vision our Founders had in building this great nation. These men sought a nation that respected the fundamentals of a just society–life, liberty, property–and fought for a common goal, a just and democratic society.
In our own day, society is fragmented among many diverse viewpoints, far more than the Framers could have imagined. Within the larger labels of “conservative,” “liberal,” and “libertarian,” there are myriad differences in the vision each has of America and what it should become.
This blog, in part, is meant to flesh out some of these differences within the conservative movement and to help bring about a renewal of conservatism in America. While all of us belong to the Republican party, many of us feel that it has not served us or conservatism well as of late. We neither long for the Reagan era (since only two of us were alive when he was elected), nor do we put our faith in one particular rising party star. Rather, we seek to discuss conservative policy issues, to plan out a roadmap for conservatives in America, and many of us intend to be the candidates of the future.
We welcome your opinions and we hope you will join in our discussion. We hope too that if you disagree, you do so with a sense of civility and purpose. Indeed, all the authors do not agree about each issue, and you will see the many viewpoints in the conservative movement displayed. Enjoy the blog, join the discussion, get involved, and become the “political animal” that you are by nature.