Conservatives are very excited right now. Midterm elections are less than two months away and all indicators predict that they'll be a tsunami for conservative Republican candidates. People like Sean Hannity and Dick Morris seem to think that not only will the elections be a huge victory for conservatives, but that they'll prove that conservatism is the real belief system of the American people. I understand why some conservative commentators think that, but I'm not so sure.
Things are looking great for conservatives and their philosophy but I don't think that means Americans have really adopted conservatism on principle. Remember, the people who now call themselves conservative by a margin of 2 to 1, put the Democrats in control of Congress in 2006 and voted in Obama in 2008. Were they conservative then? I don't think so. So what's going on now? To use a famous phrase, it's the economy, stupid!
Americans are fearful and fuming over the economy, especially unemployment which has hovered dangerously close to 10% for months. On top of that, they see a government that's spending money recklessly, driving up the deficit, and ramming through new entitlement programs in total disregard for the opinions of the people. In anger Americans are lashing out at the party that's in power, which happens to be the Democrats. But again, that doesn't mean Americans are truly embracing conservatism. If you doubt that ask yourself this: would the Tea Party movement exist if the stimulus had worked and unemployment had remained below 8% as Obama promised? No. The Tea Party movement, like Obama's falling poll numbers, is a reaction to the failure of Obama's policies. Had those policies succeeded even half as well as expected most Americans would now be enamored of big government and unconcerned about deficit spending. The voting public is fickle; that's just the way it is.
Americans' current shift to the right may not be grounded entirely in principle but it does present a golden opportunity for committed conservatives. Because of Obama's failures Americans are open to right-wing ideas. They're willing to listen to people who're offering free market, small government solutions to the nation's problems. If committed conservatives intelligently engage Americans in this crucial moment then conservatism may very well become the principled view of most citizens. Otherwise, Americans' "conversion" to conservatism may prove to be mile wide but inch deep.