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Friday Interview: Conservative Mojo

Wall Street Journal economics writer talks about reviving conservatism

In today’s Friday interview, Carolina Journal’s Mitch Kokai discusses with Steve Moore, senior economics writer for the Wall Street Journal and former president of the Club for Growth, how conservatives can get their mojo back. The interview aired on Carolina Journal Radio (click here to find the station near you).

Kokai: Why are conservatives in the position that they need to get their mojo back?

Moore: Well, the real problem, I think, is with the Republican Party, not the conservative movement. Republicans in a lot of ways have abandoned some of the very principles on which the party has flourished and, most importantly, the idea of making government small and getting rid of government programs that are wasteful and inefficient. And instead we’ve seen a huge increase in the size of the federal budget under Republicans. The budget has grown by 50 percent in just five years under Republican rule. I believe that if Republicans don’t get back to the core principle of limited government and individual responsibility and cutting taxes, the party is going to lose power and the parties are going to switch, where the Democrats are now the party back in control.

Kokai: What about those who say that government is going to be big and that fight is over — now it is just important to have good, big government?

Moore: Big government conservatism is a contradiction in terms. If you are a conservative, at the very root of your belief structure is the idea that government should be very limited, it should be limited to the powers at the federal level that are outlined and enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. And as you know, those are very limited powers. They are things like building roads and running a judicial system and having a national defense. But I believe almost half of the things that we spend money on in Washington now are probably outside the bounds of the U.S. Constitution.

Kokai: So what do we need to do about issues such as immigration?

Moore: Well, this is an issue that certainly divides the Republican Party maybe right down the middle. I have always believed that immigrants are great assets to this country for the most part. They work hard, they are generally very conservative in their lifestyles, they are ambitious, and I think that the workers that we bring in through immigration are people who really make large contributions to our economy — whether you are talking about low-skilled Mexicans who are doing a lot of the grunt work in this country or whether you are talking about some of the top scientists and engineers that we get that are working at some of our top laboratories, and even starting high technology businesses. So we need to keep the golden gates open to legal immigration. I do think we need to fortify and strengthen our border — no question about it — and I think President Bush is right to put more security agents at the border. And finally we have the strength and the institution of Americanization, or assimilation, so that when the immigrants do come to this country, they learn English, they learn about what America is about, they learn our history. That means no bilingual ballots, no bilingual education — they should be integrated into our economy. That is what the melting pot is all about.

Kokai: Speaking of economics, you say there are many reasons now for economic optimism.

Moore: Well, this is a very powerful economic expansion. It is one of the most powerful expansions we’ve seen in many years. We’ve seen an increase in wealth of about $13 trillion, the average American household now has $100,000 in net assets — that is assets over their liabilities — so we are becoming a very rich society in terms of incomes, in terms of jobs, in terms of employment openings and so on. And so I think that the Bush tax cuts had a lot to do with that. When Bush cut the capital gains and dividend taxes and reduced the tax on investment, that sprang forward a huge amount of new investment spending by businesses that led them to hire more workers, and so it has been a very fruitful economy. Now obviously people are concerned about things like high gasoline prices, and there is a lot of concern about China and the impact that they are having on our economy and those, in many cases, are justifiable concerns. But on balance the statistics are very strong, and I believe that we should make those tax cuts permanent, and we have to eliminate the death tax once and for all.

Kokai: Well with all the good news about the economy, do conservatives have any legitimate reasons for pessimism?

Moore: Well I think the — one of the lessons we’ve learned as conservatives, is that there is a difference between being a conservative and a Republican. And the Republicans are not all conservatives. We have many what we call “RINO Republicans.” Those are “Republicans In Name Only” who really don’t believe in the Reagan vision of strong defense, small government and lower taxes, and more individual responsibility. And so there is still a fight going on within the party. It would not be a tragedy, in my opinion, if the Republicans lost some of their power. Maybe they need that wake-up call to get their mojo back and to take back power in 2008. Because don’t forget that that is going to be the biggest election of all with Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket for the Democrats.

Kokai: So how do we get back to the basic core principles of conservatism?

Moore: Well, I think Republicans have to rediscover their roots. I think it requires, for example, defeating Republicans in primaries who represent conservative districts but maybe don’t represent their conservative voters in terms of their voting behavior when they get to Congress. I think term limits are important so that you don’t have people who become permanent parts of the establishment. You know, a lot of times, people come to Washington as conservatives and they turn liberal as they spend more time in Washington. So the conservative movement has to take back their party. It is as simple as that. And it probably starts with finding a conservative who will carry the mantle of conservatism in the 2008 election cycle.

Kokai: Speaking of that mantle, Ronald Reagan carried the mantle or carried the flag for conservatism for many years. Do we need a new Reagan?

Moore: Oh, I don’t think there is any question that, you know, we are always looking for a new Ronald Reagan. The Democrats need Ronald Reagan for their part. I mean politicians like Ronald Reagan with the vision — you know I put him up there with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, some of our greatest presidents — so it would be great if we had another Ronald Reagan on the horizon. I don’t see one out there right now. But you know, a lot of people think that there was no way that Ronald Reagan would ever be president, so I think that there is probably someone out there that we are not thinking about who could be the next great American leader for the 21st Century.

Kokai: So, Steve, you watch the political battles from Washington, D.C. and New York. Do you personally think conservatives will get their mojo back?

Moore: Oh, yeah, I mean in terms of our ideas? I mean they are taking hold everywhere in the world. Free markets are the in thing. I mean you look at what has happened in eastern Europe, countries that just 20 years ago were Communist that are now moving very radically forward with free market agendas. You see that happening in a lot of the Asian countries. China is moving towards free markets, not as quickly as we might like to see them. But think about this: that 25 years ago, when Reagan came into office, our greatest enemies were China and Russia. And they were basically Communist, and they were trying to destroy the capitalist system. Now both of those countries are moving towards capitalism. So yes, our movement is winning and our movement is winning because our ideas are right, our ideas are the ones that create freedom and prosperity and that is ultimately what people around the world are after.