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Conservatism's legacy of failure

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By Rick Howell

Now that Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for president, our party will begin to heal itself and get ready to win the fall election against Republican John McCain.

Everyone knows that by all barometers of how presidential campaigns are judged - or in this case, anticipated - this is definitely a year that the Democratic nominee should win. The current Republican administration is widely loathed, and the great majority of Americans are not just sick of the war in Iraq, they’ve figured out, too, that the whole thing, built on lies, was unnecessary.

On top of that, we now have the much-discussed, heavily apparent burdens of rising food and gas prices. In an atmosphere like this, the current party in power has much to fear. Death, in the electoral sense, looms.

But it may not be just the fate of the Republican party that’s at stake, but the future viability of American conservatism itself. Since the Republican party has been the host body for the virus of conservatism (my phrase) for a long time, the two are irrevocably connected.

So when we as Democrats (especially we as liberals) beat the Republicans, we are defeating the conservative beast also, and that’s what motivates me. I happen to think that the advance of conservatism has done much damage to the country, both at home and abroad.

In the early 1960s, there was still a “liberal consensus” between the two parties. Both Democrats and Republicans believed that the national government had to play a prominent role in democratic society by offering guidance and specific legislative programs where necessary.

There were people who called themselves “conservatives,” yes, but they were believed to be a few intellectuals, writers, and oddball college professors. Barry Goldwater changed all that, for a time. Once he actually ran a national campaign for president, his views seemed bellicose and extreme (“In your guts, you know he’s nuts,” is how Democrats put it.)

Almost two decades later, Ronald Reagan would lead conservatives to the Promised Land, known as the White House. His two terms, and Newt Gingrich’s brief ascendancy in 1994-95 marked the high water for American conservatives. Many voters listened to what they said and bought what they were selling.

So what do we have as a result? We listened to conservatives about the alleged horrors of taxes and we got tax cuts for the rich. We listened to them about military and foreign policy and we got bloated defense budgets and now, under Bush and Cheney, an endless war in Iraq that has killed hundreds of thousands and wasted trillions of dollars.

We’ve heard their fanatic endorsements of unbridled capitalism, and have watched insurance companies run health care, deciding who gets “coverage” and who doesn’t. You and I may suffer pain at the gas pumps, but the oil companies are reaping historic profits. CEOs make several hundred times what their average workers make, and this doesn’t seem to bother the right.

Then, of course, there are the religious conservatives. They attempted to marry right-wing politics with the God of the Universe, insisting that He is a Republican. It would be laughable if it wasn’t such a serious threat to the Constitutional requirement of separation of church and state.

As Americans contemplate the condition of our country prior to voting, they should ask themselves: Has conservatism made us better? The answer is clearly “no.” Yes, we need to elect Barack Obama president, and barring a tragedy or a political miracle, that will happen.

But the true villain is conservatism itself. From Goldwater to George W. Bush, it’s been nothing but a road to tragedy and ruin. It’s time to put it aside once and for all.

Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.