From Europe, hope for conservatism

The left in this country has made much of the big electoral victories that the Democrats won in 2006 and 2008 -- and for good reason.  Not since 1977, when Jimmy Carter swept to victory along with huge Democrat majorities in the House and Senate, has there been such lopsided partisan rule in this country. With Al Franken seemingly a lock to win the Minnesota Senate seat, the Democrats are on the verge of a 60 vote "supra majority" that is virtually filibuster proof. The immediate future seems to all be swinging the left's way, and all the things that come with it are now a foregone conclusion: major health care reform, tax increases, deficit spending and a spate of intensive, restrictive environmental regulation. But will it last? As we know, Jimmy Carter's 1977 victory gave way in just four years to the Reagan Revolution -- and though Barack Obama is much more politically sophisticated than was Carter, a former Georgia peanut farmer who was poorly schooled in the ways of Washington, there are many similarities thus far between the two presidencies. Carter took over after a period of eight years of Republican rule and in the wake of an unpopular war and scandal; his campaign was based on a promise to "change" Washington -- to clean up government and restore the nation's image in the world. The economy he inherited was suffering from high unemployment and high inflation -- and Carter's typical "tax and spend" policies made both worse. He oversaw the expansion of government with the creation of the Departments of Energy and Education, instituted price controls and rationing on energy, oversaw the bailout of a Detroit automaker (Chrysler) and pursued Middle East Peace by promoting the cause of the Arab states over those of Israel.

Sound familiar?

But it is not a lost cause, for as Carter gave way to Reagan, Obama's left-wing policies and programs may lead to a new conservative revolution.  In fact, there are now signs from Europe that the purported "death of conservatism" has been greatly exaggerated. As the BBC reports tonight, in European Parliament elections this weekend it appears that Center-right parties have made major gains: "Centre-right parties have done well in elections to the European Parliament at the expense of the left. Far-right and anti-immigrant parties also made gains, as turnout figures plunged to between 43 and 44%.

The UK Labour Party, Germany's Social Democrats and France's Socialist Party were heading for historic defeats.

  • French President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP trounced socialist opponents, while greens from the Europe-Ecologie party also made gains
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing centre-right grouping lost ground but finished ahead of its rivals. The Social Democrats, Ms Merkel's partners in the grand coalition, saw their worst election showing since World War II
  • In Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right coalition is ahead of the socialist opposition, with 36% of the vote
  • In the UK, the governing Labour Party is expecting a serious defeat, gaining its lower share of the vote for a century
  • Spain's governing Socialists were slightly behind the opposition Popular Party, according to partial results
  • Poland's governing centre-right Civic Platform has gained ground at the expense of the Eurosceptic Law and Justice Party
  • Early results show Portugal's ruling Socialists dropped a massive 18 percentage points, losing out mainly to Greens and far-left parties

It is no surprise, of course, that the UK Labour party under the inept leadership of Gordon Browne is in trouble, but the general performance of Center-right parties elsewhere shows that the leftward swing of Europe is now at a low-ebb. The victories in recent years of Sarkozy in France, Berlusconi in Italy and Merkel in Germany has put Center-right leadership in power in the three largest European states; should David Cameron of the Conservative party in the UK sweep to power in the next general election sometime in 2010, it will be a clean sweep. Granted, conservatism in Europe is of a different sort than that in the U.S., operating as it does within an extensive social democratic framework. But the fact remains that Europe is showing a fatigue with the kind of leftist socialism that has been in vogue there over the past decade.

Will the same thing happen here? Will America reject the big government policies of Obama, Pelosi and Reid in 2010 and 2012? Or will it take longer for the fatigue associated with big government, over-reguation and high taxation to set in?

My guess is that it will. Whatever Obama's personal popularity, the fact remains that America is essentially still a center-right country that generally dislikes both big government and high taxes. It won't be long until the honeymoon associated with the economic crisis of 2008-09 to run its course; Obama will soon own the deficit spending we are embarking on, and when Americans get a taste of Canada-style health care (and taxes), it won't be pretty.

It took Carter to give us Reagan. Obama will give us another historic opportunity to move the nation back toward individual liberty and economic freedom.