US and UK: not the same conservatives

British blogger Mike McNally writes in reply to Anne Applebaum’s article in The Washington Post chiding Republicans for being too far to the right and too angry, telling them they should be more like the British Conservative Party under David Cameron. McNally’s reply: “Surely you’re mad?

Contrary to what Applebaum, who describes herself as “a fully paid-up member of the mushy political center,” would like U.S. conservatives to believe, the contrast between the current British and American political scenes could not be more dramatic. In America, what could be a defining battle between statism and individual freedom is just getting started. And while in Britain there’s little difference between the parties, the differences between Republicans and Democrats have never been starker.

Applebaum writes: “The history of the Tories shows that if by exciting your base you lose the center, then you lose the next election too.” Leaving aside the fact the she’s comparing apples to oranges, it seems as if commentators like Applebaum and Frum are living in what we might call a pre-3/23 world. They obsess about “the base” and “the center,” but on the day Obama signed the health care bill into law, against the wishes of a majority of the American people, such distinctions lost much of their meaning. Increasingly, you’re either for Obama and his agenda, or you’re against him.

And Applebaum apparently hasn’t been looking at the polls. Obama’s approval ratings are in the tank. The Democrats’ favorability ratings are at an all-time low. The GOP is enjoying leads on the congressional ballot that are virtually unprecedented. Maybe she also missed the elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

Why at this stage would Republicans want to change the way they speak? As it happens, mainstream political opposition to Obama, Pelosi, and Reid has been remarkably civil, given what’s at stake, but if you can’t get angry at the prospect of your country being irreversibly damaged by the most arrogant, incompetent, and out-of-touch president and Congress in history, when can you get angry? This is no time for mushy centerism and rebranding exercises. America needs the conservatism of Thatcher, not Cameron.

I don’t know enough about British conservatism to place them on a scale, though they seem like “Labour-lite” from this distance. American conservatism, on the other hand, is largely classical liberalism – small government, free markets, low taxes, broad individual liberty. Given the mood of the electorate, I have to agree with McNally that the Republicans would be crazy to want to imitate the Conservative Party.

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