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ERDOĞAN ALKİN

ERDOĞAN ALKİN > Did American conservatism fall or fail?

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Did this week’s presidential elections in the United States show that conservatism in the country has fallen or has failed? For some European scholars, the result of the elections – regardless of whether it was a neck-and-neck race – has shown that conservatism is falling, signaling that the same will soon happen on the old continent. However, others who call themselves experts on American domestic politics and consider the European case to be a totally different phenomenon, say American conservatism did not fall at all but failed due to the campaign run by the Republicans. Which is true? Is it also the end of the neocons’ influence on American politics?

It is not easy to decide which view is correct. However, some research conducted both in Europe and in the U.S., together with some recent election results and opinion polls in Europe, indicates that conservatism, if not falling, has recently begun losing strength in democratic Western countries. First the meaning of conservatism became a subject of discussion. Then the difficulties of making a proper definition of conservatism began to be discussed. It is interesting to observe that similar discussions are now also occurring in Turkey, where the conservative right dominates a major part of the political ideology.

During a recession, people who lose their jobs and an important part of their family income normally put the blame on the government. However, in some troubled European countries, ruling governments are not formed by the conservatives but mainly by social democrats. Then why has the political sympathy for conservatism weakened instead of for social democracy? Mitt Romney’s election campaign might give some hints as to the reason for the failure.

Political analysts now say Mr. Romney did not offer a meaningful change in policies that could help heal socioeconomic maladies and international political problems, but instead repeated what other Republican candidates have said during the last quarter-century. The last Republican president who offered new policies to rescue the American economy during a serious crisis was Ronald Reagan. He tried hard to convince the people during his successful campaign and was elected. Then he tried hard again to convince Congress to implement those policies and then, after the assassination attempt against him, used the growing sympathy of the Democrats to successfully pass the policies he designed through Congress.

The other important reason for the failure of the Republican campaign might be the negative influence of their traditional opinions on taxes, financing social policies, poverty, unemployment, unjust income distribution and the like in the middle of a continuing recession. It is, of course, not easy for a political party to sacrifice some important parts of its ideology because of a change in domestic and international economic and political conditions. However, there must be a limit on insisting on old principles without taking into consideration the recently altered economic and political environment.

In short, the American type of political ideology is the common beliefs, approaches and concepts of the sympathizers of a political party, whether Democrat or Republican. This means that “belief” alone is not sufficient to shape an ideology: It is necessary to support beliefs with realistic approaches or policies to satisfy believers.

November/12/2012

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