At Last, the Conservatives Stand Up to Be Counted ; Conservatism, the Arched Eyebrow in a Room Full of Ideas, Questions Power

Article excerpt

It's taken awhile, a little more than five years to be precise, but we may be witnessing the return of a respected and important political ideology in this town: conservatism. And its apparent ride back onto the political scene comes not a moment too soon.

Last week, when the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Democrats asked a lot of combative questions, as one might expect. But the real news was that some of the senators on the right side of the dais wondered aloud about whether the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program went too far in the way of expanding executive power.

Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina called some of the legal justifications the Bush administration used for the program (like its assertion that it didn't need Congress's or the judiciary's OK) "dangerous." Over in the House, Heather Wilson, a Republican from New Mexico, is calling for an investigation.

Why was this significant? Because conservatism, real conservatism with its distrust of government and radical change, has been in short supply in our nation's capital since 2001. Oh, there are Republicans, and they have controlled the political landscape here since then. But there is a difference between Republicanism and conservatism.

Republicans are a party, concerned ultimately, as all parties are, with maintaining and growing power. And the GOP in particular is disciplined about doing whatever it takes to help their president. Conservatism is a political outlook, one that questions what the state is doing and is skeptical of power. It owes nothing to no one - not the president, nor the Congress. And it is crucial as a counterbalance to liberalism in the proper functioning of the government. It is the arched eyebrow in a room full of ideas.

Other than its belief in tax cuts (a cornerstone of the conservative philosophy), the current administration has hardly been conservative. On everything from fiscal responsibility to rebuilding Iraq, the administration is sure of itself despite what the data say. It is skeptical of others, but never of itself or its own policies. Counter facts and contrary opinions are ignored or dismissed. And the administration's wiretapping without seeking warrants is based on the idea that other branches of government can't really challenge the executive branch during a time of war. If that's not a bald political power grab, what is?

Yet many conservatives in Congress and elsewhere have not only looked the other way, they've urged the president on. …

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