In Praise of Extremism
By: David Bozeman
The most annoying cliche in American politics has to be that Republicans are (cue the fright music) too extreme. Former Senator Bob Dole, who is so moderate and conciliatory that his two national campaigns (1976 and 1996) both crashed and burned, recently offered his take on the GOP, famously advising them to post a ‘Closed for Repairs’ sign. This for a party that, for all its weaknesses, controls the House and could conceivably control the Senate in 2014 and holds 60% of the nation’s governorships. This for a party that won 47% of the vote against an historically significant incumbent (who, by the way, saw his percentage shrink from 53% in 2008 to just over 51% on his re-election — rare for a two-term president). And then there’s MSNBC host and former GOP congressman Joe Scarborough to offer his two cents. Targeting those who call him a RINO, he replied ”I like winning. I’m definitely a RINO in that respect, my dear howling friends.” Scarborough was defending Republican strategist Mike Murphy, who is working on pro-gun control ads with New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Quite a contrast to the Scarborough of 1994 who staunchly defended gun ownership, telling the NRA that “The founding fathers did not give us the Second Amendment to protect our rights to shoot ducks.” Therein lies the difference between clear conviction and following the edicts of public opinion.
First of all, the idea that the Republican Party is extreme is demonstrably untrue. Furthermore, who decides what is extreme? Who deems themself the final arbiter of the center of American political thought? And really, what is so morally superior about the center? There are few customs and institutions, now shamed and discarded, that were not once embraced by large swaths of the voting public. Real leaders, such as our founders, did not court public opinion as much as they molded it.
Senator Dole and others have opined that Ronald Reagan would be shunned by today’s Republican Party. Newsweek considered that notion over a year ago, and, though it is hard to be certain, it is highly unlikely, given the level of affection and respect conferred on him and his ideas. But how come no one ever snidely asks if John F. Kennedy, a virulent anti-Communist and tax cutter, could get the Democratic nomination today? Could Bill Clinton, who famously told a joint session of Congress that “the era of big government is over”?
‘Extremist’ is one of those labels slapped on anyone who bucks the agenda of President Obama’s Democrat Party. Interesting, isn’t it, that the Tea Party, which explicitly extols lower taxes, balanced budgets, Constitutional law, all-of-the-above energy policies, etc., is considered extreme, while the president, who promised the “fundamental transformation” of the US and has complained about the restraints placed on him by the Constitution, is just a centrist mainstreamer? This president succeeds personally because he is defined not by his policies (massive spending, unprecedented control of the private sector, tax increases and heated invective against ‘the rich’) or results (a stagnant economy and an administrative culture that harasses its opposition) but by hyperbole. When he is cautious, he is merely a prudent man of the majority, when he grabs power, he is bold and transformative. But he is never extreme. That moniker reserves itself for those seeking to restore America’s founding values.
Today’s Republican Party is much like the man in the old Far Side cartoon. He is standing on a busy street corner, railing to everyone about vampires. No one is listening to the apparent loon, but no one’s reflection appears in the mirror that is being carried down the sidewalk, either. However crazy he appears, he is not wrong. If modern Republicans are extreme, it is only because the bloodsucking undead have hijacked the mainstream of American thought.
Democrats and their media minions do not foster spirited debate, they marginalize opposing thought. The proper role of government offers plenty of room for debate, and we on the right would truly rather discuss ideas than reduce the argument to vampire imagery. Productive discourse requires reason, authenticity and passion, and, in showing passion, one does not walk on eggshells worrying about how the self-appointed etiquette experts will perceive him. The voters can discern the heat of the moment from the cold, hard facts. The next great Republican leader will offer choice, contrast, charisma and principle, and if the water carriers for the DC status quo label him an extremist, he (or she) will wear that charge as the proverbial badge of honor.