November 4, 2004 -- President George W. Bush has been reelected with a comfortable margin and his party has picked up seats in the Senate and House. The Republicans and the political movement on the right, which includes traditional conservatives, neo-conservatives and libertarians, now will try to define what, exactly, this victory means.


Bush has been portrayed as a conservative, the leader of a movement that favors limited government, but this description is problematic. Many traditional conservatives, while favoring defense against terrorism, are concerned about the tendency of neo-cons in the administration to emphasize a crusade to spread democracy as an end in itself over American security. Traditionalists and libertarians were incensed by Bush's out-of-control spending and his prescription drug entitlement—the largest expansion of the welfare state in decades. Indeed, while many of the domestic policies outlined by Bush in his nomination acceptance speech sounded like they came from Ronald Reagan, others were more reminiscent of Teddy Kennedy.

Many conservatives have told the administration that they would oppose big government programs in a second term; before the election, the administration assured its movement friends that it would hold the line on spending. After his victory, Bush said his new priorities would include tax, Social Security, tort, and medical liability reform. This is good news.

We have become a divided America--a country of producers and parasites.

The Bush victory is being portrayed in part as a triumph for cultural conservatives. A high turnout of Christian fundamentalists might have provided victory margins in some battleground states; voters in eleven states adopted resolutions banning same-sex marriage; and one in five voters said that the most important issue for them was not Iraq, not the economy, not terrorism, but, rather, values. This suggests that Bush might see his victory as a mandate to social engineer society in light of conservative personal values.

It is important to understand the nature of these value concerns. Certainly some individuals on the political right simply are intolerant of others and inconsistent regarding the principles of freedom that they are reputed to hold. But others no doubt act out of frustration. Many individuals back the retention of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance because they have little power to rein in the violence or to improve the quality in government schools. Forcing schools to retain the problematic words in the Pledge is, for them, a symbolic victory.

Many individuals supported Alabama Judge Roy Moore when he placed a display of the Ten Commandments in the lobby of his courthouse because these individuals have little power to rein in a judicial system that ignores the Constitution; forcing lawyers who are destroying the law to pass by the Commandments on their way to court is a symbolic way of saying, "Hey, there are standards!"

Many individuals oppose same-sex marriage because they see a society in which human relations are superficial, broken homes commonplace, sexually transmitted diseases rampant, and the tax bill to cover the costs of social breakdown taken from their wallets.

But the real value problem is the decline of true individualism. Individualists love their own lives and make happiness their goal. They recognize, to paraphrase Ayn Rand , that they are beings of both self-made wealth and self-made souls, that they must create their own values and happiness. They take responsibility for their actions and would never want to become dependent on others. And rather than grasp for symbolic victories over those who would restrict their freedom, they would use their minds to discover the causes of these assaults and the actions necessary to counter them.

But paternalists like John Kerry have pandered to citizens, treating them like children who can't tie their shoes without government help. This has made many individuals morally flabby and infantile. They don't think of themselves as adults who can run their own lives.

We have become a divided America, but not the two America's that failed VP candidate John Edwards sees, of rich and poor, privileged and deprived—the usual leftist claptrap. We are a country of producers and parasites. Unfortunately, many individuals are a little of both, trying to make it on their own but taking government handouts or favors, perhaps because they let themselves be seduced by a desire for the unearned, perhaps because of high taxes and heavy-handed government regulations that they feel give them little choice but to get back whatever they can from a rapacious state.

Faulty values are indeed at the root of most of our public policy and cultural problems. It is necessary for us to define the conflict clearly as one between rational individualism and both the pre-modern and post-modern forms of paternalism. The Bush victory will place values questions at the fore, and true friends of freedom and individual flourishing will have an opportunity to cut through the confusion by articulating a philosophy that is appropriate for man on earth!

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Edward Hudgins

About The Author:

Edward Hudgins is the former director of advocacy for The Atlas Society, the author of numerous Atlas Society commentaries, and the editor of several books on politics and government policy. He is now research director for the Heartland Institute. He has also worked at the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, and Joint Economic Committee of Congress.

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