Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Political Parties

Just to clarify....

I think I may have been misunderstood in some of my recent posts calling Republicans to account for having favored health insurance mandates and the Medicare prescription drug benefit.  It's true that I don't believe that Republican politicians are trustworthy on such matters.  Left to their own devices they'll fight a statist measure by Democrats by offering something only somewhat less statist.  Give them control of the White House and both houses of Congress and they'll run up a massive deficit, piling earmark upon earmark, and then complain when Democrats do the same thing.

But I recognize that, as weak-willed as they tend to be, they're our best hope, the only alternative being to support some third party.  This, of course, would be a disaster, splitting the conservative vote and guaranteeing Democrat control for the foreseeable future.  And surely it is to the credit of the GOP that every single member remained firm in the fight over the health care boondoggle.  This is not the Republicans' customary behavior; at the very least one might have expected some of the usual suspects (Snowe, Collins, Voinovich) to break ranks.

That this didn't occur has everything to do with the rise of the Tea Party Movement.  This is something almost entirely new to American politics, at least at the national level--a grassroots campaign of conservatism.  The Democrats never seem to have a problem finding a crowd to support some new federal entitlement; in many cases it's a matter of rounding up a bunch of college students, or visiting the local unemployment office.  For Republicans it was always different.  As P.J. O'Rourke put it, "conservatives have jobs."

The Tea Partiers are having an effect on the GOP similar to that of a stiff drink.  They're making them defiant, feisty, unwilling to sacrifice principle for some short-term face-saving advantage.  This is why the Tea Parties are such a refreshing development.  It also explains why the left is apoplectic in its denunciation of them.  No accusation, it seems, is too shrill. (I refuse to include a link to the infamous Frank Rich editorial from this past weekend, as I have no desire to promote the spread of his poison.)  Ugly incidents are provoked or, if necessary, invented out of whole cloth.  Democrats want back their old, pliable Republican Party--the one of Bob Dole, or before him Everett Dirksen and Charlie Halleck, the kind that could broker a backroom deal that succeeded only in making them seem like good losers.  They understand that their GOP will not return as long as the Tea Party Movement remains; therefore it must be destroyed at all costs.

We must prevent that from happening, and to do this the Republican Party and the Tea Partiers need to stand together.  Without the GOP's votes in the House and Senate, the Tea Parties are politically irrelevant.  But without the Tea Parties, congressional Republicans will most likely revert to form.  How long would it be before they stopped denouncing the health care plan and decide that it's acceptable, so long as it's controlled by Republicans (see Education, Department of)?  What this means, though, is that conservative intellectuals need to get behind the movement.  There is an understandable reluctance on our part to do so.  After all, we come from the tradition of Edmund Burke, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Robert A. Taft, one that has long viewed politics as a gentlemen's game and distrusted mass action.  Many of us also differ from the Tea Partiers in matters of policy; personally, I do not share their enthusiasm for Sarah Palin, and I believe more than they in things like free trade and separation of church and state.  We need to get past this; the differences are too minor, and the stakes are too high, for us to remain in the ivory tower.  The next couple of election cycles may be our last chance to save the Republic.  We cannot afford to remain aloof.    

Categories > Political Parties

Discussions - 15 Comments

Was big-government ("compassionate") conservatism, plus heavy speding and ear marks partly the likely effect of having very small Republican majorities, particularly when our governing class was largely Progressive. The only things they could agree on, and pass (given the need for 60 in the Senate) were the things they did. Bush's effort to push our old-age hand-outs toward an individual responsibility model had no chance without close to 60 GOP votes. Ditto reform of Fannie and Freddie, and a more market-friendly prescription drug bill (a signigicant number of GOP Congressmen opposed the bill that did pass), and education reform (No Child Left Behind was Ted Kennedy's bill).

Interesting that you mention the GOP intellectual tradition and ignore the founders of the GOP, who were not timid, and whose conservatism was closer to that of the men of 1776 than to Burke, with its focus on transcendent principles, rather than a focus on prudently managing change over time.

Well, John, at last I can agree with you, on every point. I too support the Tea Party, although we must NOT let them morph into a third party -- that would be a disaster, again. The Tea Party must remain a faction of the GOP, and its most effective use is within Republican primaries (and, of course, marching in the streets to let the country know that the milk cows have had enough!)..

I'm not happy with the GOP either, but we must face realities.

As for the founders of the GOP, weren't they just Whigs? Are weren't Whigs all about using Federal largess to improve America? Or "fundamentally transforming" the South? Not sure I'm comfortable going back to GOP progenitors. Let's stick with Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan -- the 20th Century version of the GOP.

How about the 1808 Gallatin Plan for federal improvements? Jefferson was president. From his Second Inaugural, "by a just repartition among the states,
and a corresponding amendment of the constitution, be applied, in time of peace, to rivers, canals, roads, arts, manufactures, education, and other great objects within each state." He was, of course, speaking of what to do with peacetime surplus.

That was the Constitutionally conservative position on improvements, that an amendment was needed. For others, like Washington, the Elastic Clause stretched far enough. The Whigs just went to that position when referring to national improvement. I do think all of them, Founders and Whigs, would have gagged over the "organic" accretions to our government. None ever saw the "Necessary and Proper" or "Elastic Clause" as flexible as a bungee cord.

To the post, if conservative politics are a matter principle, then as principles converge so do politics, don't they?

Sorry--aloof I am, and aloof I remain. The GOP establishment is in the driver's seat. As long as that is the case, they can win--or lose--on their own. You may reluctantly support them all you wish. I will not. You are simply going to have to make a choice. Make it a good one.

What is the point of supporting the slightly lesser of two evils? If people just don't get over this idea then we get nothing....ever. I think you are taking a short view because so what if the republicans take back the house in 2010? Anyone want to bet me they don't get rid of a single thing? The best way to stop the democrats is to kill the old foe they count on and love to square off against. We need to have people who support the constitution and individual rights in the local governments who simply refuse the tyranny of the despotic federal government. I don't understand this mentality of despot B is great, despot A is awful: A vote for liberty is a vote for despot A. I imagine that you did get some criticsim for your earlier post, probably had people call you a conspiracy theorist or worse just for challenging the right left paradigm.

The point is that you get less evil. I would a heck of a lot rather be complaining about the wishy-washy semi-conservatism of John McCain right now than the out and out theft of personal liberty we are coping with instead.

Thank you so much, aloof Horatius and noble Brutus and all other zealous and self-righteous conservatives who sat out the last presidential election and guaranteed us President Obama & friends. Of course Republican politicians are not, for the most part, worthy of trust. Who trusts them? Yes, I would rather have them and some conservative influence on them, than the rampant statism we have got currently.

The Tea Party movement, a grassroots campaign of conservatism is not exactly new. The same sort of thing took Reagan into the presidency. In the same way, people got involved who would not otherwise have gotten involved -- yes, they had jobs, too. It is impressive that the Republican establishment was moved over health care into a more conservative position, but the bill was such a stinker, the Democrats made almost easy.

Anyway, Brutus, no one is taking a short view over elections because no one is taking a short view over the course the national government is taking. The view ahead is scary and the fall elections might apply brakes of a sort. The road less taken is another matter.


There is more in heaven and earth.

First, don't make me laugh. I am trying to be indignant here.

Second, that is the other guy's line.

What's worse: We get drug down slowly or we fall down quickly still remembering which way is up? I actually think that we are the opptimists here because we see the light at the end while the conservative mainstream is happy to try and hold on to the sides of the tunnel telling everyone you don't want to see what's next disregarding the light at the end. There is a battle, I hope not a violent one, to be fought....I just think your methods are simply passing the buck to next generation and I want no part of it.

Brutus and Horatio, you'd better gets your guns out, then. Your way (letting the GOP die) will only hasten the day when a real revolution is necessary to restore our liberties.

The GOP nominated Goldwater, it elected Reagan, it installed most of the Contract with America. The problems started because of a real lack of leadership. George Bush was no conservative (just like his father, he was a big government moderate, really). With the right leadership and the zeal of the Tea Party, the GOP is salvageable, and that's what we better do, and right quick.

I do not think most of the population knows which way is up. I am staggered by the civic illiteracy of my students and of most people I meet. My husband just told me about being at a fundraiser for a US Senate candidate for Ohio and that most people at the luncheon appeared not to know that every state had two senators. These were all solid citizens. Everyone watches TV all the time and can tell me all about American Idol, but no one knows anything about our government. Yes, it is like being in a tunnel and lighting matches to show a map to the top that no one can read. I expect the end to be nasty at the rate we are falling.

Republican democracy may turn out to be a happy blip in the history of the world. I would preserve whatever we can of it before it are looking at a happy Camelot of freedom disappearing into the mists of time. Personal liberty was about more than sexual preference and tattoos. Give me Patrick Henry's liberty, something worth dying for.

Sorry Redwald, I was writing my comment before yours landed.

Amen, brother, preach it.


There are many ways to secure liberty, and I see no reason to engage Redwald on his line of argument.

As far as I am concerned--you enable the GOP, you own the results. I will not oppose, as you will not allow it to be successful opposition, but neither will I support. As a citizen, I simply am not required to have loyalty to either party. But when the time for accountability comes, I get the right to speak up. It is time to adjust to that fact. If you support the GOP and prevent others from acting, you are then the GOP and must stand by the results. Period.

I wish you the best of luck. If you win, then to you, and not me, go the glory.

I hope I do not have to love the GOP. As far as candidates for president go, I cannot see anyone to enthuse me for the 2012 presidential election. Nor was I happy about anyone in the 2008 field, not Republican but not from any other conservative type party, either. Others are free to act. I hope someone good shows up to rally me to the new and better party.

In the meantime, I will go with the lesser of two evils and hope my demands for improvement have good effect.

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