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Jewish World Review June 1, 2001 / 10 Sivan, 5761

Laura Ingraham

Laura Ingraham
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Burying conservatism -- WITH Sen. Jim Jeffords' defection from the GOP, Democrats think they can finally offer voters definitive proof that the Republican agenda is bad for America. Jeffords' jump to become an independent is being described by Democrats and a few "moderate" (read: liberal) Republicans as a watershed event in American politics: not just one man changing party affiliation, but the end of conservatism.

And good riddance, too: Columnist Bob Herbert, a bellwether of liberal thought, claimed the Vermont senator didn't voluntarily leave the GOP; he was "chased away by the close-minded, mean-spirited figures who control the party and are damaging it badly." Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., never one to miss a news cycle, warned the Republican Party to "grow up."

To be sure, Jeffords' switch wasn't a good thing for President Bush and the Republicans, who lose Senate control. But breathless declarations that this is a "wake-up call" for the GOP to abandon its conservative principles are laughable.

Reality check: Jeffords has always been more at home with liberal Democrats than conservative Republicans; Bush, campaigning on a conservative platform, won the White House; Republicans still control the House; Bush already has achieved the key component of his conservative agenda, passage of a major tax cut; and most Americans think he's doing a good job.

Bill Clinton, the smartest Democratic president in modern times, learned quickly that his success could not be found through 1980s-style liberalism. With his "the era of big government is over" State of the Union proclamation, he verbalized what had been apparent for almost two decades: Liberalism is on life support. Take away the abortion issue, and Clinton largely ignored the basic tenets of liberalism.

Democrats are willing themselves to forget the past eight years and Clinton's prudent penchant for moderation, at least in his political agenda. Jeffords exits stage left, and suddenly they act as if they have a national mandate for a liberal agenda: Raise the minimum wage! Price controls for oil! No energy exploration in Alaska! Prescription drug benefits for all seniors!

Grasping to derail the political momentum of conservative ideas, liberal media types like to mock the Bush administration for staffing itself with so many figures of the Republican past. I suppose paleo-libs Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden and Pat Leahy, all new Senate committee chairmen, are figures from the Democrats' bright shining future? Like Freddy Krueger, they're back as are their long-dead ideas for big-government social spending.

American conservatism continues to be one of the most influential political movements in the world. Yet with each Republican victory over the Carter years' malaise, over the welfare state or over Soviet communism Democrats and Rockefeller Republicans try to convince America that the conservative ideology at the GOP's core is too harsh, too mean-spirited, too intolerant of dissent.

Reagan called the Soviet Union an evil empire, and Democrats went ballistic. During the Clinton impeachment trial, the Republican House managers were tarred as ruthless ideologues out of tune with a country that had matured beyond judging politicians on their moral blunders.

But history proves liberals wrong. Reagan was right about the Soviet Union. Most of the House managers won re-election. And Al Gore, eyeing Clinton's moral blunders, barred him from the 2000 campaign trail.

Republican leaders have made their share of miscalculations (Newt Gingrich's oversell of the "revolution" rhetoric, Reagan's Iran-Contra mess, the Robert Bork confirmation fight), but maintaining their conservative foundation was the main thing they've done right. Without this philosophical dedication, the new tax cut would never have happened, the Soviet Union would never have been brought to its knees, welfare reform would have remained a pipe dream, and the issue of school choice would not even be on the table.

Jeffords' calling it quits says a lot about Jeffords. It says nothing about conservatism, which continues to survive liberal predictions of its impending demise.

05/17/01: Ashcroft's abuse of power

JWR contributor Laura Ingraham is the host of a radio show syndicated nationally by Westwood One Radio Network. Comment by clicking here.

© 2001, Laura Ingraham