Those who know me or have read this blog in the past know for the last few years I have, for the most part, gone quiet and withdrawn from the fight. While getting a little older adds perspective it should also result in your questioning how your beliefs interact with your fellow citizens and more broadly society as a whole. I have never wavered in my core conservative believes. I believe in the individual rights and personal responsibility of the citizen. I believe in a government limited in scope to only those core responsibilities necessary for a free and just society. I believe in the defense of our freedom and those around the world who stand with us in the defense of liberty. What was shaken was my belief in the “conservative” movement and indeed the Republican Party is the internal dramatics which seem bent on self destruction. The 2012 election cycle was a disaster for conservatives and Republicans alike (I believe the two are inseparable), yet I reached the painful conclusion in the waning days of the 2012 campaign that the impending defeat was self inflicted. That the Republican Party with the weight of the conservative movement could not defeat the Obama-Reid-Pelosi Democrats made me question if those groups truly represented my view.
“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” Senator Barry Goldwater, Republican National Convention, 1964
Like many conservatives of my age, my views were rooted in the 1964 campaign of Senator Barry Goldwater, who lost that election just 6 weeks before my birth. Those views were crystallized during my teenage years as the Reagan-Thatcher conservative wave redefined western culture and politics while defeating, at least in the short term, the forces of evil that threatened the very existence of individual liberty. I believe in simplicity for it is that which can adapt to the unforeseen and provide direction in times of crisis. Conservatism is simply limited government, personal freedom and responsibility as well as the defense of those values against all those who seek to defeat them. For me, that is the test I apply to any political question. However in the early part of this century that direction seemed to be lost within the conservative movement and most certainly in our elected represent ivies.
At the elected level Republicans took on the character of “Big Government Conservatives”, a fundamental contradiction of terms that defies reason or logic. However of greater concern the conservative movement began to be dominated by those who sought to used government power to achieve their parochial agendas rather than to limit government’s interference in the ability of the individual to achieve those most basic of American values: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. I grew up in an age where conservative leaders were “happy warriors”, driving forward an agenda to improve the lives of people by improving mutual prosperity while limiting government interference in the lives of the citizen. We earnestly believed that our policies represented the best path for the largest number of people while still protecting those who needed a hand up. By the middle of the last decade some claiming the mantle of leadership of the conservative movement had become decidedly nasty. Indeed many were advocating government activism to advance their respective special interest agenda at the very expense of the liberty of the individual.
The election of 2008 seemed to erase those issues as we were reminded that conservatives and Republicans of differing perspectives were not the political foes, the most left wing President and congressional majority in the history of the Republic were. The rise of the tea party movement, the most effective grass roots effort sense the Sons of Liberty in the 1770’s, united the right and in 2010 resulted in the largest congressional reversal in a century. For a time it seemed like order had been restored and rational conservatism was again in the majority of the body politic. Then came the 2012 GOP presidential campaign and the gates of the asylum were opened as one of the most internally destructive political races in memory resulted in the election of the politically weakest incumbent Presidents in a century (Yes, Jimmy Carter was politically weaker – his own party was fatally divided – but in the wake of Obamacare this incumbent should have been doomed). For me it was late summer of 2012, convention season, when I first realized that the damage was done and like a freight train rumbling down the tracks toward a washed out bridge, the GOP nominee was headed to defeat. To be honest, there were many contributing factors leading to Mitt Romney’s loss, but in my opinion the divisive and indeed hateful soundtrack of the 2012 primary campaign resulted in the eventual outcome. Political fratricide is so illogical and irrational that it borders on the insane. Thus my crisis of conscience and belief began.
“Purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers. King Pyrrhus is remembered, but his nation disappeared. Winston Churchill set aside his lifetime loathing of Communism in order to fight World War II. Challenged as a hypocrite, he said that when the safety of Britain was at stake, his “conscience became a good girl.” We are at such a moment. I for one have no interest in standing in the wreckage of our Republic saying “I told you so” or “You should’ve done it my way.” “ Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, CPAC 2011, February 11, 2011
Politics without principles is a dangerous thing and I have always believed that a leaders beliefs and convictions were not only more critical but a better prediction of success than policy specifics. Going back to my earlier reference to simplicity, the conservative-libertarian-Republican right’s failure can , my opinion, be laid almost entirely on the movement forgetting two of Ronald Reagan’s foundational rules of politics: the so called 11th Commandment “thou shall not speak ill of a fellow republican” and his 80/20 rule on those who agree on 80 percent are friends rather than enemies for disagreeing on 20. We saw a presidential campaign where those who stood no chance of ever being elected president were elevated by a media set of ratings, and more than a little leftist dirty tricks agenda, as they spewed hate filled attacks of fellow candidates in the name of “real conservatism”. In life I have very little sympathy for those who are the “victims” of deliberate self inflicted wounds, in politics it is unforgivable.
Honesty time, I have a soft spot for internet politics, these words appear as such. However the apparent anonymity that the internet provides many of all political persuasions brings out the worst in many as they utter words they most likely (we hope) would never say face to face. Rather than improve transparency and increase dialogue among citizens, the internet has turned places like twitter and facebook into digital MMA Cage Fights: anything goes and the consequences are irrelevant when compared to the number of “likes” and “retweets”, where number of followers determines the virtue of the words. While entertaining when bored, this is not a recipe for either intellectual or electoral success; it brings into question the virtue of the author. A few years into the internet era I abandoned the use of usernames, where the technology allows, and only write under my own name. Only where there is a very real threat to the use of a real name exists, and those are rare indeed, is there value in anonymous words.
Yet the problem is deeper and more fundamental than simply the words, it seems like many have suspended that part of the brain that questions the motivation of the speaker. The air waves are filled with so many voices of conservative thought (there would be leftist voices if only they could get ratings – think Air America) yet perversely those voices do dramatically better economically if the Republican party fails. Bill Clinton was a financial windfall for many conservative hosts only to be surpassed by Barack Obama. Now I am not saying all these hosts are motivated only by money and as a believer in free market capitalism I support entrepreneurism. However it is the listeners who seem at times to turn off their own brains. Politics, like government itself, must gain its intellectual legitimacy from the people, not the hangers on to the process.
Lastly we come to the question of purity. While we all like to be in a room full of people who agree with us totally, it soon becomes apparent that those conversations provide little intellectual challenge. Politically it is death. The hard core reality of politics in America is philosophically there exists no pure majority in our politics. I do believe there is a fundamental conservative undercurrent, especially on the role of government, but that is not enough to form a governing majority. If we learn nothing else from the lessons of recent years, divided government achieves nothing but delaying hard choices (think Social Security, Debt…). Governing majorities are created, built from individual building blocks of points of agreement between individuals. Ronald Reagan understood this. Those who truly remember the 1980’s know he didn’t get all he wanted. Yet even with Democrats controlling at least one chamber of Congress his entire presidency he arguably achieved more than any conservative in modern memory (yes I know a strong case can be made for Thatcher, but the message would be the same). It is time we must decide do we want a government consistent with conservative values that only gets 80 (OK, maybe 90) percent; or do we want leftist majorities which give us more like Obamacare. Winning and electability are not bad words, intellectual dishonesty is much darker.
We now find ourselves in the middle of the 2016 Presidential campaign and yes it is very much underway. We on the right will be facing a left united behind Hillary Clinton in a way no party has in a century. I have concluded that this is the fight that will define much of the rest of my life. If the left wins Obamacare will be permanent, Clinton Immigration reform will change the nature of America (full disclosure, I am an Immigrant, an American by Choice) and the economics of envy so common in Socialist Europe will come to our shores. This is a fight no true believer can stand by and watch. For me it is a challenge to stand by my principles, convictions and respect for others while helping in some small way preserving America as the land of personal freedom and liberty: home of an exceptional people.
Let the fight be joined.