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Were Conservatives Successful in Achieving Their Goals?

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Conservatism is a preference for the historically inherited rather than the abstract and ideal. This preference has traditionally rested on an organic conception of society—that is, on the belief that society is not merely a loose collection of individuals but a living organism comprising closely connected, interdependent members. Conservatives thus favour institutions and practices that have evolved gradually and are manifestations of continuity and stability

Government’s responsibility is to be the servant, not the master, of existing ways of life, and politicians must therefore resist the temptation to transform society and politics.

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It is not hard to see why. The Obama years have set a high-water mark for the size and reach of the federal government, including a post-World War II record for federal spending as a percentage of gross domestic product at 25.2% (for comparison, the post-war average has been 19.8%). The United States has amassed more than $6 trillion in debt since January 2009. Prior to Obama, no president had submitted a budget with a trillion-dollar deficit; he has submitted four of them. And even as the administration's projections for the coming years promise smaller deficits, they also promise a larger and more expensive government than Americans have ever seen. The president's defenders maintain that the circumstances he inherited — an epic financial collapse that drained revenue from the Treasury and exploded the federal deficit — meant he had little choice but to spend our way out of trouble

They are surely right that Obama faced enormous economic challenges, many of which persist. But the president did not simply respond to an economic crisis: He leveraged that crisis to pursue longstanding goals consistent with his liberal ideology. Along the way, he extended the power of the federal government to an unprecedented degree, pushing through the largest stimulus package in history and, in a crowning act, a federal regulatory takeover of health insurance. And the president has always insisted that he would not be satisfied with half measures — that "the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little." What might be enough for him? Recall "The Life of Julia," an interactive infographic released by the Obama campaign during the 2012 presidential race. It followed a fictional woman through every stage of her life from shortly after birth to just after retirement.

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All things considered, operating as it must in a political culture framed for more than two centuries by popular evangelical commitments, liberalism has little choice, if it is to remain a vital political option, but to better understand the historical specificity of its own ascendancy in a culture part of whose fundamental narrative it has largely sought to dismiss.

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