Is Conservatism Dead? the Rise of the Neoconservatives within the GOP Has Not Only Discredited the Grand Old Party but Tarnished the Image of Conservatism

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The Republican party suffered an overwhelming electoral defeat this past November. The establishment media were all too quick to proclaim that conservatism is dead and we're now at the dawn of a liberal age. Peter Beinart, Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy for the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), wrote in Time magazine that we are facing the dawn of a "new liberal order."

In making this proclamation, Beinart overlooks the fact that the public was not voting for President-elect Obama, but rather against Republicans like John McCain and George W. Bush. But what was it that Bush and the Republican Party have come to symbolize? Bush and McCain both stood for an activist foreign policy of globally spreading democracy, never-ending commitments of nation building, open borders at home, record deficit spending, circumventing the Constitution, expanding domestic welfare programs, and nationalizing the financial sector.

Conservative South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford wrote in a CNN commentary that "Republicans have campaigned on the conservative themes of lower taxes, less government and more freedom--they just haven't governed that way. America didn't turn away from conservatism, they turned away from many who faked it."

Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin wrote, "For all intents and purposes, conservatism--as a national movement--is completely and thoroughly dead. Barack Obama did not destroy it, however. It was George W. Bush and John McCain who destroyed conservatism in America."

David Boaz of the libertarian CATO Institute explains that Bush "delivered massive overspending, the biggest expansion of entitlements in 40 years, centralization of education, a floundering war, an imperial presidency, civil liberties abuses, ... and finally a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street that just kept on growing in the last month of the campaign. Voters who believed in limited government had every reason to reject that record."

These modern Republican policies have nothing to do with traditional conservatism, but have much more in common with big-government liberalism. So how did politicians claiming to be conservatives end up acting like big-government liberals? The explanation lies in understanding the rise of neoconservatism, which has come to define modern conservatism and the GOP.

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Modern American Conservatism

The modern American conservative movement is considered to have begun in 1953 with the publishing of The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk. With this book, Kirk traced the evolution of the conservative ideology from the American founding to the early 20th century. Conservatism, Kirk proclaimed, was based on the core principles of "an enduring moral order, the Constitution of the United States, established American way of life, and a free economy." Conservatism, as Kirk and similar traditionalists of his day saw it, meant an adherence to the Constitution and a mind-our-own-business foreign policy. These conservatives were opposed to an activist foreign policy, weary of executive power, and hesitant to engage in war. Kirk praised the late Senator Robert A. Taft for his ability to recognize that "war was the enemy of Constitution, liberty, economic security, and the cake of custom."

Conservative ideology developed and morphed through the years. It had internal conflicts between Rockefeller Republicans, followers of Nelson Rockefeller who held liberal views, and Goldwater conservatives, supporters of Barry Goldwater who adhered to a strict interpretation of the Constitution. This struggle went back and forth, with the liberal wing electing Richard Nixon and the conservative wing electing Ronald Reagan. Over this period, the liberal wing began to gain more power within the establishment right centered inside our nation's capital beltway. It wasn't until the 1970s when the neoconservatives (neocons for short)joined the conservative movement with their own distinct radical beliefs involving a hyper-interventionist foreign policy. …