Conservatives are scrambling to mount a counter offensive to assaults being waged by socialists, progressives, and populists clamoring for on-going changes. People are claiming a true conservative could never vote for someone like Trump while also being stuck in the position of never being able to support a progressive candidate like Clinton who is vowing to continue the progress of the last eight years of bureaucratic supremacy.
When considering the fact progressives miss their targets it is much easier. Progressive targets are easy to isolate, clarity is found at the very beginning of the movement. A few missed targets are;
– Replacement of political parties and conventions with direct democracy determining local, state, and national elections thereby ending political corruption from government.
– End to the spoils system for government access through bureaucratic appointment.
– Protection and promotion of the poor from the rich through administrative programs designed to help special interest groups, run by experts void from the lure of power.
– End of inefficiency in governing through the replacement of separation of powers and constitutional law, instead promoting delegation of powers and strong administrative law.
Conservatives miss their targets as well but defining conservatism and its movement are very much like grabbing a handful of water from a bucket. Those claiming the progressive title today may have little understanding of the movement’s root aims but conservatives are as unsure of what it means to be conservative as it was for William Howard Taft when he was facing the overthrow of conservatism at the hands of progressivism in 1912.
Though Jefferson, Jackson, and Lincoln all are tied to the notion of conservatism the movement has no true roots in any of their administrations. Even Taft’s administration was not rooted in a conservative agenda but was implementing a progressive approach started under Theodore Roosevelt (one of the fathers of modern-day progressivism). Only due to being thrust into a confrontation with Roosevelt’s 1912 challenge for direct democracy and stronger executive authority did Taft begin a defense of constitutional law. But even then he defined himself as supporting ‘progressive conservatism’ over direct democracy, not protecting the Constitution.
While progressives claimed no intended harm to the U.S. Constitution they did promise to breathe new life into it through the people’s direct voice and administrative expertise. Conservatives, if opposite, would then be for representative federalism and citizen oversight or an originalist view of checks and balances combined with the separation of powers.
This came close to the stance of the 1960s conservative movement under the likes of Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley, a movement that eventually led to Reagan’s rise to power in 1981 with a promise for smaller government and renewed liberty. It also was close to the stance in the 1930s when the Conservative Coalition (made up of both conservative Republicans and Democrats) fought to stem the tide of New Deal progressivism.
“By and large the congressional conservatives by 1939 agreed in opposing the spread of federal power and bureaucracy, in denouncing deficit spending, in criticizing industrial labor unions, and in excoriating most welfare programs. They sought to “conserve” an America which they believed to have existed before 1933.” (Patterson, 1967)
Yet before 1933 the adulteration on the traditions of separation of powers and constitutional order were already legally altered by the progressive successes of Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson. Changes such as the 16th Amendment’s income taxation, the 17th Amendment’s popular vote for senators, the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, and the creation of the Federal Trade Commission in 1915. Further New Deal changes were being implemented by the time congressional conservatives rose to challenge the bureaucratic and executive power grab.
Modern conservatives find it hard to mount any claims of focus without conjuring up the Reagan Era despite it having inherent problems due to the growing administrative state and changes in representative democracy that were nearly 100 years old by the time of the Reagan revolution. 1994 saw Republicans mount a conservative movement with the main focus on a Contract with America promising much but eventually grinding to a halt and casting more doubt upon the notion of conservatism being an effective tool for use in governing modern society.
Even reaching back to the very framers of constitutional law conservatives become confused due to the fact America’s founders were not attempting to ‘conserve’ political order but progress past it by replacing monarchy’s efficiency with checks and balances aimed at derailing centralized authority and promoting self-government, the very government modern progressives aim to finally, completely replace. So it is conservatives that find themselves on an ever moving treadmill of changes in government they attempt to conserve by avoiding further changes in government.
Conservatives miss their targets simply due to never having a clear target they aim at. Rallying people to a word only goes so far, people want to know the targets they are aiming for. It is no wonder there are social conservatives, economic conservatives, and even progressive conservatives since it all becomes very confusing. It is also no wonder why this notion of being conservative has finally burst into chaos; a burst long in the making but no doubt forgotten by the time we hear another person clamoring for a conservative revolution to control government.