December 22, 1995 | Commentary on Political Thought
Washington's big-government establishment was stunned in November 1994 when conservatives took over Congress. Their surprise, I think, is testimony not only to their arrogance -- but to their ignorance as well.
For years, liberals have dismissed conservatives as kooks, cranks and crazies. Rather than debate our ideas -- and defend their own -- they have preferred to rest on their (rapidly decaying) laurels. And while they were busy calling us names and ramming their costly utopian schemes down our throats -- schemes that didn't work, of course -- we were organizing, networking, writing, thinking, debating and refining our ideas and institutions.
A good example of the conservative movement's commitment to grassroots mobilization is the nation's oldest conservative lobbying organization, the American Conservative Union (ACU) -- which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.
The ACU started when Sen. Barry Goldwater lost to Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential race. Instead of knuckling under to what looked like a liberal tidal wave, a small group of concerned conservatives met to rally and re-energize. That core group formed the ACU, which now boasts a membership topping 1 million. The ACU was one of the first groups to encourage Ronald Reagan to seek the presidency in 1976. After Reagan announced he would run, the ACU began one of the first independent, non-party-affiliated campaigns on behalf of a presidential candidate. Since then, other grassroots organizations like the Christian Coalition and the Traditional Values Coalition have launched similar campaigns that have established indispensable networks of support for conservative ideas and candidates.
The ACU has kept busy, year in and year out, drumming up support for conservative causes such as a balanced budget, the creation of a national missile-defense system, curbing the growth of the federal bureaucracy, a free-market economy, a belief in limited government, a confidence in traditional moral values and a commitment to a strong national defense.
Today, the ACU is best known for its annual ranking of congressmen based on how they vote on a representative sample of key political issues. A good conservative ranking with the ACU is often touted in campaigns and worn as a badge of merit among members of Congress. Of course, a negative ACU ranking also has its uses ...
Groups like the ACU and The Heritage Foundation have always stood up for the ideals that led the way to victory in 1994 and are still transforming Washington -- ideals the liberal left still treats as "new" and unpalatable. And we are not alone in the struggle against the liberal establishment.
In 1995, a number of conservative organizations celebrated significant anniversaries, providing further evidence that the 1994 elections were no accident. National Review, that lively "bible" of conservative opinion, reached a milestone: its 40th anniversary. With profound insight and humor, National Review and its founder and editor-at-large William F. Buckley Jr. have introduced several generations to an intellectual tradition based upon prudence, respect for the past, religious belief and common sense.
Commentary magazine, the important "neoconservative" monthly edited for 35 years by Norman Podhoretz, observed its 50th anniversary just recenly. It remains an intellectual joy, hosting on its pages the incisive observations of America's best minds under Podhoretz's hand-chosen successor, Neal Kozodoy. Looking slightly ahead, Heritage will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 1998 -- just a neophyte in comparison to our colleagues.
Prior to the 1994 elections, the left underestimated the intellectual vigor and tenacity of the conservative movement, and its ability to mobilize support. Not anymore. Liberals now realize we can win Washington back; or, if we have to, dig in for the long war and fight in the trenches until we get our next chance. Groups like the ACU have built this legacy.