04/13/2008 05:09 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

It's Time to End Post-Reagan Conservatism

Since former Speaker Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America," American politics has been dominated by post-Reagan conservatism.

Post-Reagan conservatism liberally throws out the name of the Gipper for the purposes of legitimacy; that is where the similarities end. Unlike Reagan, it is not based on optimism but rather pessimism. It appeals not to our highest aspirations but to our deepest fears.
Moreover, post-Reagan conservatism has proven beyond any doubt that it is unable to govern effectively.

It is a brand of conservatism that offers the bombastic, fear-based rhetoric of misdirection to enact fiscal policies that woefully benefit the wealthiest segment of society while bankrupting the nation's coffers.

Led by the neocons, post-Reagan conservatives also boasted as being vastly superior to their liberal counterparts on national security issues.

Yet, they are the architects of one of the dark chapters in American history -- the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Using post-Sept. 11 fears to justify their actions, they play the tune of patriotism while they dance the flamenco on the Constitution.

Rather than admit the gravity of their mistakes, they have instead, at the taxpayers expense, spent billions on mascara, eyeliner and lip-gloss on a pig named "stay-the-course."

In the four years (2002-2006) they controlled the executive and legislative branches of government and, by extension, the judicial branch, we saw how the gap between their rhetoric and policy has placed the country in dire straits politically and economically.

Fiscally speaking, those embracing post-Reagan conservatism believe there is no such thing as a bad tax cut, even if it's at the expense of the nations infrastructure through borrowing.

The philosophy was based on an overly simplistic premise: Government is the enemy; the private sector is the friend. Financial debacles such as Enron, WorldCom, and Bear Stearns were aberrations in this world view, requiring no need for enhanced government regulation.

Post-Reagan conservatism is currently on life support, in part, because of Karl Rove's grandiose vision of making the Republicans the permanent majority party.

The ultimate failing of post-Reagan conservatism was to arrogantly believe that not even the Constitution trumped its ideals as a justification for using torture, suspending habeas corpus and wiretapping American citizens without a warrant.

Maybe it's time we embrace the notion that neither government nor the private sector, nor any political philosophy, represents the paragon of virtue, and the only political absolute is there are no absolutes.

Moreover, post-Reagan conservatism has proven to be just as corrupt and fiscally irresponsible, if not more so, as the charges against liberals. Absolute belief in government or the private sector merely strengthens the inherent failures of each.

What is needed going forward is a progressive (which is not to be confused with liberal), pragmatic leadership that includes a role for government as well as the private sector to solve the country's problems while turning a deaf ear to these post-Reagan conservatives who erroneously claim they alone possess the truth.

It is written in Federalist 51, "If men were angels no government would be necessary." Or as former Defense Secretary William Cohen so aptly stated: "Government is the enemy until you need a friend."

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of "Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War." E-mail him at or go to his website,