Will Conservatives Shun 2008 Elections? Should we Care?
By: Warner Todd Huston
Remember that one kid you used to know that always got so mad that he would quit whatever game was being played because no one was doing what he wanted to do? Oh, he was an OK guy, but at least one time in every play session he would skulk off to the corner and pout. His pouting didn’t alter anyone else’s behavior, of course, and it certainly didn’t cause anyone to run after him to cajole him to return, but he went off in a snit just the same. Remember how the response to his pouting was merely a collective shrug of everyone’s shoulders with the game continuing without the pouter in attendance? And remember how he just came back the next day as if nothing happened anyway?
It makes you wonder; what did all the pouting achieve? Nothing changed, so why did he do it? He didn’t get his way, so what was the point? Yet, there is seemingly always one in the bunch who will act this way whether on the playground, in business, or in politics, whether among a bunch of kids or we adults.
In politics today, we see a small core of Conservatives on the right who have become the pouters, the ones threatening to go off in the corner refusing to play with the rest of us.
The question is, why would they do this and if they do, so what?
My question came to mind after I saw a new petition on the Internet pledging that “unless a suitable candidate is selected for the GOP 2008 presidential nomination” the signatories will “stay home or vote third party”. This is no sudden sentiment but representative of the feelings of many Conservatives, one that is gaining adherents of late. At the very least, the din is getting louder.
Using the petition as a basis for evaluating this sentiment, as it seems fairly representative of the trend, we should first examine their reasons before addressing the efficacy of their attempt to force their will by threatening to quit. The end result of such an examination, though, proves that too many Conservatives seem uninformed about their Party as well as their own history.
In explanation of their reasoning for the effort, the petition says “In the belief that the Republican Party has become too liberal…Returning to its liberal roots, the GOP has recently become the party of big business, neoliberal globalism, and unwise interventionism – not the party of conservatism.”
It seems some Conservatives have grown to assume that the GOP was a “liberal” party before they took it over and that it is now returning to that liberal direction. But, it is wholly absurd to claim that the GOP is “liberal” or that it ever was — what it could become is another question, of course. In fact, until the post WWII era there was no such thing as a liberal in the modern conception of the word. In case anyone wonders, the GOP was created nearly 100 years before the modern concept of a liberal was even invented so there could be no “returning” to it liberal roots. There just plain aren’t any. No, far from being grounded in liberalism, the GOP has always stood against modern liberalism in general terms. Whether it has adopted some liberal aspects or policies is certainly debatable, but to merely claim it is a “liberal” party is empty of serious analysis and smacks of pure hyperbole.
The next charge that the GOP had “recently become the party of big business”, is just as absurd. “Recently”? The GOP has always been the party of big business, folks. But that is nothing to be ashamed of necessarily. Someone has to be the party of capitalism and expansion. That the GOP is that party is without a doubt. That it is not the Democrat Party is equally obvious. So, unless the signers of this petition want to turn against capitalism, they should excise this foolish rhetoric from their statement of principles.
When the GOP was first created it was the Party of expansion, internal improvements and growth. It wanted to facilitate trade routes between the states and railroads, and canals to support them. The early GOP also wanted to use public funds to link all corners of the country one to the other. In its simplest form, the GOP wanted a sort of Federal welfare program(s) for business.
After the Civil War, the GOP became even more dedicated to furthering the aims and acceding to the needs of big business. Heck, in the 1890s without big business, the US government would have ceased operating if the leading Robber Barons of the day hadn’t lent it enough money to keep the doors in Washington open. Of course, this close working relationship with the business community led to abuse and the occasional scandal, but that is another discussion.
Certainly one can point to the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft with their Trust Busting as proof of the GOP taking some adversarial role against big business, but even that didn’t make the GOP anti-business, nor did it last long into the future from the turn of the century… especially once FDR brought his destructive, anti-business socialism into the Democrat Party’s mentality.
So, the claim that the GOP is suddenly “the Party of big business”, ignores the fact that it always has been such a Party. It is also illegitimate to cite Thomas Jefferson, a founder often claimed by modern Conservatives as one of their own, and his distrust of business as a guiding principle, by the way. Jefferson alone did not create the USA. He had just a bit of help from the business friendly Alexander Hamilton, to be sure.
Granted, the Reagan revolution brought into the GOP a sense of fighting for rugged individualism and a desire to use government to support the common citizen (or more precisely to stay out of his way), but this focus is of much shorter duration in the Republican Party, though no less admirable, than that of a support of big business. So, for any conservative party to succeed, some focus on the common capitalistic needs of business must be adhered to.
I will not address the claim of “neoliberal globalism” as defining the term is so fraught with subjectivity that it ends up being nothing but a meaningless demagogic label. But the charge of “unwise interventionism” is one that resonates with many Conservatives and always has. There has always been a sizable segment of the American “right” supportive of such isolationist sentiment. Any other mixture would simply end up advocating for American decline.
So far, in their statement of principles, they only have one historically defensible position that can properly be ascribed to the GOP and Conservatives is the isolationist bent in the phrase “unwise interventionism”.
The petition goes on to disclaim every single candidate or possible candidate for the GOP nomination for president except Tancredo, Hunter and Ron Paul. They even claim their displeasure for Fred Thompson in an addendum to their petition (And I’d bet some of their signers would like to retract their support of the petition with that late addition, too. It seems to me that this is a sort of bait and switch tactic.)
This thing ends with these five points.
(1)-We oppose the third-world invasion of the United States, and reject amnesty and any path to citizenship for illegals. We support deportation, attrition, and massive reductions in legal immigration, especially from the third world.
–This is in direct contradiction to US history in practice, but quite common for the sort of wild, nativist, exclusionary fear expressed by a minority of Americans since the days of hatred of the “Dutch” (German) invasion of the mid 1800s or the days of signs posted about the country that said “Irish need not Apply”. But, this emotionally based argument does nothing to solve the problems or promote American growth. Not that their displeasure is entirely groundless, because many of their underlying complaints are perfectly correct, but the ginning up of emotion evident in this particular point is unhelpful and the petition’s “especially from the third world” is nothing but racist tripe. It also attacks the problem from the wrong direction. The reason so many immigrants are becoming a problem here is because as a society we’ve stopped expecting immigrants to become Americans allowing them to stay but foreigners who just happen to live here. With bi-lingual education in our schools, constant coddling of other languages on printed matter and a focus on empty exercises in multiculturalism, we have crippled the idea of being an American. Assimilation is what the Conservative movement should be addressing. The rest will take care of itself in many ways — but not all to be sure.
(2) We oppose free trade, the support of which has become an ideological suicide pact. Free trade is both destroying our economy and undermining our sovereignty. Historically, conservatives have opposed free trade, and they should, but many in the GOP have been “neoconned” on this issue.
–Simply opposing free trade is too simplistic a stance. It is true that many Conservatives have been wary of unimpeded free trade which reflects their isolationist tendencies, but capitalists should support some amount of “free trade”. And, if the petition is holding up the past actions of conservatives against free trade as some sort of positive example to follow, they should remember it was protectionist “conservatives” who created the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, the disastrous move that deepened the Great Depression and helped cause WWII. And that is hardly a ringing endorsement of the sensibility of being against “free trade”!
(3) We support a moral candidate, critical of secularism, who embodies the virtues of the Christian Western tradition.
–This one is truly a Conservative sentiment, though the “moral candidate” stricture is not entirely relevant. Better to replace a “moral” candidate with a candidate with reliable “character” there is a difference, fine as it may be.
(4) We oppose the illegal neocon war in Iraq. The transformation of the Middle East to liberal democracy is Jacobin, not conservative.
–There is no “principle” here, just rhetoric.
(5) We wish to see big government reduced in size – in all three branches – and for many offices and functions to be returned to the states, where they Constitutionally belong.
–Finally, a true Conservative position with which no Conservative can find fault.
All in all, this petition misses it on most points and shows that a true understanding of Conservatives in America and the true history of the GOP is out of their grasp. But, this seems quite typical of many people who claim the mantle of Conservatism, sadly. They make many assumptions about what the “true principles” of the GOP and Conservatism are and often misconstrue them.
Still, ideological debate is not the biggest problem with this petition. A healthy debate from within is just as good as that from without and most of the points stated as principle in the petition are points over which a valid discussion might be had. The true test of the efficacy of the petition and the sentiments contained within is in the final recommendation that like minded Conservatives should stay home on election day or, worse yet, waste their vote on a third party.
The “We’ll Show ‘Em, We’ll Stay Home in November” Approach!
Unless the above criteria are met, we pledge to stay home or vote third-party in 2008.
If they don’t get their way, will taking their ball and going home work to steer the GOP in the right direction? Whether it will or not, an increasing number of Conservatives are voicing this possible action over their frustrations with the current direction of the Party.
Unfortunately, by staying home, Conservatives will just eliminate themselves from a seat at the table and all they will succeed in doing is insuring that their closely held principles will be ignored by the only Party in which they have any chance at all of making a difference.
Further, instead of somehow forcing it to go “back” to conservative policy, their abandonment of the GOP will, indeed, drive it further toward that Party of big business and the “liberal” positions that Conservatives fear it will become. How they expect the Party to lean more conservative without them there to push the Party that way is anybody’s guess?
The ball game will just continue as they sulk in the corner and their principles will do neither them nor the country any good in the final analysis.
They say the answer to that dilemma is to vote third party, of course. In a third party, their thinking goes, they will still have the chance to elect people who’s ideas they support and they can be satisfied that their principles have been upheld.
I most certainly can understand the desire to stick by your principles, but it is just plain foolish to think that a third party unable to even commend 10 percent of the vote could succeed in electing people to carry their ideals into Congress and it is especially ridiculous to think a third party can elect a president.
Conservatives, it seems, have never been more than 1/3 of the strength of the Republican Party. They do have the power to force some concession to their ideals within the party, but outside of it they are far too weak to make any difference at all. And there isn’t enough “others” out there to join up with to put the prospects of a third party over the top.
It must be remembered that the GOP was born of the self-destruction of the Whig Party that left a large number of Americans without a party representing their views. We currently have no such large block lying outside either the GOP or the Democrat Party. So, an exodus of Conservatives from the GOP will not create a strong new party to rival the other two, but will merely leave both the GOP and the Democrats without any sizable block of Conservative voters and a tiny number of Conservatives standing outside the system and powerless to bring about any change in their favor.
Additionally, trying to create a party from the head down has never worked. Ralph Nader failed, Ross Perot failed, John Anderson failed, George Wallace and Henry Wallace both failed, even the highly popular Theodore Roosevelt failed to do it. None of their efforts resulted in their election, much less than seeing the birth of a new and powerful third party with any stamina.
The place to make third party efforts effective is on the local and state level to give future candidates a base from which to run for the presidency. A third party just cannot be built by starting with a run for the White House if history is our guide. So, if they truly want a new party, the 2008 presidential election is not the place to start.
So, we must conclude that Conservatives abandoning the GOP are defeating themselves by turning away from the Party. Worse, they are harming the country by turning over all reigns of power to those who, with Conservatives gone, would find no impediment in their way to prevent them from materially altering the shape and goals of government.
Just a look at Congress today where the work of Jim Demint and Mitch McConnell proves what determined Conservatives can do even when in the minority. They are working inside the system and getting something done. Should they have been standing outside the system the best they could do is fecklessly rail against the bad policy passed in their absence.
Conservatives are the guardians of our American past, our character and our traditions. But for them to abandon the field to the enemy of those principles is unconscionable to say the least. So, let’s hope that this petition fails in its goal to further distance Conservatives from a seat at the table, an action that will result in a worse deterioration of our American way of life.
One thing is sure. It won’t do frustrated Conservatives any good to further remove themselves from any chance to affect change or prevent further decay of our nation’s mores and traditions. This is why I will not give a link to this petition or name the people and organizations pushing the idea. I don’t want to see our principles made inconsequential and powerless. Whether we win big or lose a little, we won’t even get a chance unless we stay in the game.
Stay and fight, Conservatives. The country needs you.