Breakpoint Charles Colson November 9, 2006
Why Conservatives Lost
Election Day is over, the votes have been counted, and it’s clear that conservatives took a beating. I have always maintained that Christian leaders should not make partisan endorsements—and I never have. But I am unashamed to say that I am a conservative.
In one sense, I think, all Bible-believers are conservative, because we believe in governing our lives by revealed truth rather than by man-made, utopian ideologies. Modern liberalism wants to remove all restraints on people’s behavior. Conservatives believe in the moral law. So Bible-believers might be liberal on a lot of issues, at least in the common sense of that word, like helping the poor, but they would be fundamentally conservative in their disposition toward life.
So, what happened in Tuesday’s election? The economy is strong. And it’s true we’re in an unpopular war, but people vote their pocketbooks most often. Yet the conservative movement, which had been gaining ground, has blown it. It has been defeated. Why?
The answer is one that may startle you. Conservatives lost because they deserved to. They failed to live up to the high standards of personal behavior they preach about. And that’s what brought them down.
Is there a double standard here? Why should the case of Mark Foley have helped bring down the Republicans? After all, twenty years ago a Democratic congressman, Gerry Studds, had an affair with a male page, disclosed that he was a homosexual, got his wrist slapped by the House, and then got re-elected! Why has Foley’s indiscretion turned into Foley-gate?
The answer is because it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Look at how the conservatives for years railed against the Democratic liberal establishment and all of its money, the lobbying establishment, the junkets, the payoffs. The conservatives campaigned against it in 1994, only to take over Washington and do exactly the same thing. This is what is known as rank hypocrisy.
Is it unfair that when conservatives do things liberals do, that they, the conservatives, are labeled as hypocrites? No.
According to that great conservative thinker Russell Kirk, the first tenet of conservatism is the preservation of the moral order. True conservatives don’t look at government as a plaything by which they can impose their latest ideas on the country; they look at political power as a guardianship, what Chesterton called the democracy of the dead. In other words, we have a debt to those who have gone before us, and the primary debt is to preserve the moral and constitutional order that our forebears fought to defend.
So when a conservative has a much-publicized affair or is outed for improper sexual behavior with pages, or digs into the congressional budget pot to hand out earmarks to his own district, he is a hypocrite to be scorned.
My hope and prayer is that conservatives in America will do some serious, sober soul-searching. We need to get our own act together before we can preach to others, or before we deserve to hold power. And if we break trust, we are breaking trust with the very essence of who we are. Our own character is at stake.
You can talk all you want about the unpopularity of President Bush, or the Iraq war, or immigration. But what this campaign really boiled down to was, well, when it comes to conservatives, it’s character, stupid. If conservatives don’t learn that lesson, they will spend a long time in exile—and deservedly so.