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Carney: Why conservatives have good reason to give thanks

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Photo - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., second from right, meets with newly elected GOP senators.. From left are, Sen-elect Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Sen-elect Deb Fischer, R-Neb, McConnell, and Sen-elect Ted Cruz, R-Texas. (AP Photo)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., second from right, meets with newly elected GOP senators.. From left are, Sen-elect Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Sen-elect Deb Fischer, R-Neb, McConnell, and Sen-elect Ted Cruz, R-Texas. (AP Photo)
Politics,Timothy P. Carney,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

The world of politics has given conservatives and libertarians very little to be thankful for recently. But amid the setbacks for the causes of limited government and traditional values, there have been blessings, and on Thanksgiving we ought to recall them.

Election 2012 was a drubbing for Republicans of all stripes. Of course, the liberal media and the GOP establishment draw the same lesson from this election that they draw from every election: Conservatives need to be neutered, and moderates need to be elevated.

But the two most conservative candidates running for federal office both won: Jeff Flake and Ted Cruz. Over six terms in the House, Flake racked up an American Conservative Union score of 96.73. Along with Ron Paul, Flake typically topped the scorecard of the National Taxpayers Union. He also regularly posted 100 percent scores from National Right to Life.

Flake is not only roundly conservative, he has no qualms about defying Republican mandarins. He was comfortable in tiny minorities opposing popular measures. He also was the founding father of the House "Anti-Appropriators," a tiny caucus of Appropriations Committee members who repeatedly voted on the floor against their leadership and who used their committee perch not to bring home pork, but to try to reduce spending.

Flake graduated to the Senate this month. In the Upper Chamber, Flake will join Jim DeMint, Rand Paul and Mike Lee as stalwart conservatives who are unafraid to buck the party leadership.

If you ask Lee, that rightmost Senate caucus is now a Fab Five, with Texas freshman Ted Cruz rounding out the group. Cruz certainly has the right pedigree: He won the Senate primary over establishment choice David Dewhurst, who was backed by K Street and business PACs. Cruz doesn't have a voting record yet, but he has the right friends -- and enemies.

Conservatives can also be thankful that the 2016 Republican presidential field might be very strong. Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Susana Martinez, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Rob Portman, Bob McDonnell, Nikki Haley -- not all of them will run, but some of them will. The prospective field sure looks better than Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Huntsman.

Jindal has a solid conservative record as governor. Walker is battle-tested and clearly willing to stand up to special interests. Rand Paul is showing political carefulness his father has lacked. And maybe by 2016, the name "Bush" will no longer be an albatross for Jeb.

On the policy front, 2012 gave conservatives some things to be happy for.

Republicans functioned under an earmark ban over the past Congress, and conservatives last week derailed establishment efforts to defang it for the coming Congress.

Also, one of the most venerable and pointless bits of corporate welfare, the ethanol tax credit -- which could take the form of direct payments if the beneficiary didn't owe taxes -- was allowed to expire.

Within Republican ranks, there was growing opposition to corporate welfare, too. Every Republican primary debate featured at least one attack on corporate welfare or crony capitalism. In both chambers, a record number of Republicans voted against reauthorizing a corporate-welfare agency called the Export-Import Bank. Notably, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was one of the nay votes on Ex-Im.

Even Obama's first term provided some things to be grateful for. For starters, Obama wound down America's decadelong occupation of Iraq.

For my wife and me, 2012 was the first year in a decade where we had no close friends or family deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. That happy circumstance wouldn't have come about had Obama made different decisions regarding Iraq. Conservatives are more likely than liberals to have family and friends in the military. We should all be thankful that the president delivered on his Iraq promise.

Osama bin Laden is dead, and al Qaeda appears to be weakened -- Obama presided over these developments. As we remember the friends we lost on Sept. 11, we're grateful that our enemies' murderous capabilities are weakened.

But in a way, Thanksgiving, when most of us take a time out from our regular lives, ought to remind us not to look for meaning and happiness in politics. Conservatives and libertarians already understand this.

Aristotle was correct: Man is a political animal. That means that we are inherently social, and forming the world around us is part of our nature.

On the national level, politics is often dispiriting and even corrupting. But politics can be ennobling when practiced on a smaller scale, closer to home. Remembering that makes it easier to find reasons to give thanks, even after election 2012.

Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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