Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Republican Leadership and Other Oxymorons

It seems like it ought to be an anomaly that, in the midst of the most unambiguously left-wing American government at least since Carter and arguably since LBJ, or even FDR, the Right is finally getting its act together, showing fire and fight and even some unity.

It doesn't seem possible, does it?

Particularly since there haven't been any squeaks out of the Republican Party that could possibly be construed as leadership -- at least, not by anyone who isn't a soldier in the French Army. [Correction: except for Sarah Palin, who has withstood withering assaults in the press and the popular culture and still manages to stand tall in a stiff wind.]

Well, to me it's not a surprise at all. I can't say I was expecting this, but I was certainly hoping for it.

A friend of a friend, a nice fellow, a student of philosophy I knew in passing many years ago once made a statement that was relayed to me; I have never forgotten it: "I believe in the Republican principles of government; the problem is finding Republicans who believe in them." Small, limited government; strict Constitutional construction; private property; low taxes; equality before the law; free enterprise. That's the ticket. Problem is, nobody's selling it.

Except for the Reagan interregnum, the Republican Party during my lifetime has been little more than the Democratic Party's junior partner in the creeping socialization of America. They have been instrumental in consolidating liberal gains. Republicans have stood by dumbly while conservatives have lost ground on every issue they ever cared about. And finally, it cost them the presidency, as the GOP actually joined hands with liberals on immigration "reform" and forgot how to defend fighting a war of their own choosing.

The plummeting of Bush's poll numbers, from about 70% early in his presidency, to about 25% in his last year of office, seems phenomenal. If you're going to accomplish a drop of such magnitude, it requires not just polarizing your enemies but also infuriating your erstwhile friends.

It was a familiar dance for years. Betrayal after betrayal of conservative principles by the GOP would be practiced diligently until election season, by which time the only credible approach to campaigning was for Republicans to demonize their opponents as "too liberal." There's a joke about two guys out in the woods, discussing what they would do if they encountered a grizzly bear. One guy said, "I'd run." The other guy said, "That's silly, you can't outrun a grizzly." To which the first guy responded, "I don't have to outrun him; I only have to outrun you." Republicans figured they didn't actually have to be conservative; they only had to be more conservative than their Democratic opponents.

It's a losing strategy. A political party must fear its base. The argument that you're better off with half a loaf than none presumes that your guy actually wants you to have that half a loaf. Under Bush (both Bushes, actually), the GOP was more likely to seek common cause with Democrats on how best to take our half-loaf away. The GOP became not a supporter of conservatism, but a subverter of conservatism.

So the Republican Party shambled toward the 2008 election with all of its enemies and half of its friends angry at them. How did all that bipartisan blather work out for you, Senator McCain?

And now, with the GOP out of the way, conservatives and libertarians know they have no friends at all in Washington. Rather than rely on their sissified Republican champions, they flexed their own muscle -- and have managed to push the Obama agenda back on its heels. Considering the odds against them -- the Presidency, Congress, and the media all arrayed against them, with their long knives out -- they have accomplished quite a lot. In spite of no help from Republicans. Maybe because of it.

We're not out of the woods yet, and in fact may not prevail in this battle. But at least once in my life, I have been fortunate enough to witness what a ragtag group of ordinary schlubs can accomplish when their dander is up and there's no one else to do the job but themselves.

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