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Morning Jay: Shake It Off, Conservatives!

6:00 AM, Nov 9, 2012 • By JAY COST
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Taft-Hartley is the quintessential example. In fact, it is the keystone of the modern conservative movement, even though most Republicans today know very little about it. Taft-Hartley is why, when asked who the greatest conservative leader of the 20th century is, I always list Robert Taft in front of Ronald Reagan – Reagan’s TEFRA would never have happened without Taft-Hartley.

The important context here is the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which could very easily have been subtitled “The Permanent Democratic Majority Act.” It gave organized labor sweeping powers to reform work relations in the North, which in turn seemed to make it impossible for conservatives ever to win another election. Labor unions forged a permanent alliance with the liberals in the Democratic party, and Northern Republicans in historically conservative bastions were forced to shift left or be booted from office. But the right found its opening in 1946, and made full use of it. Taft-Hartley dramatically curtailed the power of organized labor, and there would not be a modern conservative movement were it not for that foundational piece of legislation.

Thinking about the present day, if conservatives are right and what Walter Russell Mead has called the “blue state model” is indeed collapsing, then the GOP might not be that far away from another moment. At the least, the fact that it did not come in 2012 does not mean it is not coming.

And conservatives should be ready for it. For starters, they should ignore the triumphalists on the left espousing a permanent shift leftward. Nonsense! Yes, conservatives must do a better job of reaching out to Hispanics, but some perspective is necessary. The incumbent president is set to take in millions of fewer votes than he won in 2008. He limped across the finish line by dint of vicious demagoguery, which lowered turnout among white voters who have voted Republican in the past. Put simply, the GOP is still very much in this ballgame.

Instead, conservative should make a serious study of the leaders who made full uses of the moments when they were handed to them. On the right, these men were Bob Taft, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. On the left, they were Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Barack Obama. Conservatives should ask themselves: what qualities did these leaders have in common? That will help them find the best standard bearer to guide the GOP and the conservative movement when the next moment comes.

I don’t know when that will be, but I do know that the left is wrong: The trajectory of American history is not an inevitable leftward drift. So buck up, conservatives!

Jay Cost is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author of Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, available now wherever books are sold.

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