Is The Conservative Coalition Cracking?

Glenn Reynolds has an interesting piece on the political fallout of the Terri Schaivo case in which he argues it could split the libertarian conservatives from the social conservatives. As many commentatorshave noted, the reports of the death of the conservative movement have been greatly exaggerated.

There has always been a tension between social conservatives and libertarian conservatives. Just as there has always been a tension between environmentalists and autoworkers, gay rights activists and African-American preachers, etc. In a two-party system like that of the United States a sucessful party must have a big tent. The idea that the conservative movement is “cracking up” is hardly a new one. Any party with more than one constituency is going to have issues in which parties disagree. The liberatarian/traditionalist debate in the conservative movement is decades old, and it isn’t going to go away any time soon (nor should it as each side helps temper the passions of the other).

More specifically, I doubt the Schaivo case is going to have a lasting political impact. I’m in agreement with Charles Krauthammer here: it is morally reprehensible that Terri Schiavo is being slowly murdered. It is legally questionable — at best — for Congress to have intervened in the way they did.

At the same time, had Terri Schiavo written a living will, none of this would have happened. A case like this is exceedingly rare, and arguing that this one action will suddenly turn the entire federal system on its head is disingenous at best. It is equally hypocritical from an ideology that systematically gutted the 10th Amendment (declaring it a meaningless “truism” in Darby Lumber) and have been pushing for more federal control over everything for years. The Schiavo case doesn’t set a precedent, and once Terri Schaivo has been executed by the state, it will become a particularly dark historical footnote in US history.

Voters don’t vote on federalism. This issue has inflamed passions, but will be largely forgotten by 2006. It isn’t as though Congress is ordering the feeding tube replaced. They simply ordered that a federal judge review the case from the ground up. Of all the breaches of federalism that have occurred over the past few years, this one is one of the least likely to cause future harm.

However, that isn’t to say that the current Republican infatuation with big government isn’t problematic. It is troubling that the concept of small government is something that the GOP has forgotten. Part of this comes with being in power — it’s easy to rail against government when you’re not running it, but harder to resist using it when you are. The Bush Administration talks a good game about cutting the fat and reducing the size of government, but neither the Administration nor Congress seem to have any intention of doing so.

If the Democrats got smart and started talking tough on security and embraced real moderates rather than whimpy Northeastern liberals, they could peel off enough uncommitted voters to end the current Republican realignment. However, with Howard Dean as chairman and the radicalized anti-war left in control of much of the party’s money machine, the split between the liberal coalition is actually far more likely that a conservative/libertarian split. At the same time, the Republican Party dare not get cocky — while the risks of a split now are slim, there is some dissatisfaction out there, and the GOP has to learn that just because they’re in power they shouldn’t lose sight of what values they represent.

One thought on “Is The Conservative Coalition Cracking?

  1. I agree. I don’t think the Schiavo case is a deal-breaker by any means. It is a focal point for high passion, but I don’t see it creating any real and lasting breaks in the disparate groups who have voted for Bush’s policies.

    I think Bush’s policies on immigration could have that effect though.

    I am as amazed as any that we haven’t had a terrorist attack within America since 9/11, and have no problem crediting Bush with a lot of that by his taking the battle to them.

    If we do have another attack, and it is done by terrorists who have crossed our borders illegally, the backlash against the current Republican commitment to loose borders will be enough for them to lose control of the White House and Congress.

    All it will take is for Democrat challengers to make the case for strong defense abroad AND on our borders, incidentally, a position Hillary has been moving towards, and the Conservative resurgence will be broken.

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