Columnist George Will is starting off 2012 on a positive note… at least in most areas. For his premiere column in this election year, Will doesn’t sound very enthusiastic about the prospects of defeating Barack Obama in November, but he still feels that conservatism in general is on the upswing and we should be looking forward to a banner year.

Although they have become prone to apocalyptic forebodings about the fragility of the nation’s institutions and traditions under the current President, conservatives should stride confidently into 2012. This is not because they are certain, or even likely, to defeat Barack Obama this year. Rather, it is because, if they emancipate themselves from their unconservative fixation on the presidency, they will see events unfolding in their favour. And when Congress is controlled by one party, as it might be a year from now, it can stymie an overreaching executive.

One of the first items on Will’s list of positive conservative indicators is a story which we covered here earlier this month. It’s the not very widely covered fact that America became a net petroleum exporter again in 2011 for the first time in more than half a century. Good news to be sure, but why does George Will see this as particularly beneficial to conservatism? Because progressivism, he claims, relies on scarcity as a means to allow government to control behavior.

For the foreseeable future, a spectre is haunting progressivism, the spectre of abundance. Because progressivism exists to justify a few people bossing around most people, and because progressives believe that only government’s energy should flow unimpeded, they crave energy scarcities as an excuse for rationing — by them — that produces ever-more-minute government supervision of Americans’ behaviour.

Energy issues aside, the author also sees plenty of room for optimism regarding the November elections even if Obama wins a second term, and the Senate is the key. By taking the majority there, the GOP’s stamp of approval would be required for any future appointments to agencies such as the NLRB, the EPA and the energy department. These entities, which Will refers to as unconstrained instruments of presidential decrees, will lose much of their power to do mischief through what amounts to extra-legislative lawmaking.

This is a double edged sword, of course, and continues an unpleasant precedent. In theory, the president makes these appointments as part of his mandate as expressed by voters selecting him for office. Using the legislative branch to thwart these types of appointments at every turn has always struck me as somewhat dirty pool, but the practice has been in place by both parties for a while now, so there’s not much to be done about it.

In that light, George Will may be correct when he closes by saying that, in the end, control of the White House may not wind up meaning very much if conservatives control both chambers of Congress. With that, this parting observation:

In any case, nothing that happens this November will bring an apocalypse. America had 43 presidencies before the current one and will have many more than that after the end of this one in 2013 or 2017. Decades hence, it will look like most others, a pebble in the river of American history.

And on that cheerful note, enjoy your New Years Day, folks.