There is a scene in C.S. Lewis’s _The Great Divorce that has been sticking in my craw in the last month or so. It’s the scene where they talk about Napoleon. If you haven’t read it (you should, it’s good) it’s a discussion of Hell. Hell, Lewis explains, is a place where one’s wishes are immediately granted. The problem is that people wish for things that make them feel better without actually helping them. The narrator talks to a couple of folks who say they looked up Napoleon. They spent a year spying on him and they said that all he did was pace back and forth saying “It was Soult’s fault. It was Ney’s fault. It was Josephine’s fault.” That’s all he did. For an eternity.
I’m enough of an optimist to say that the wilderness is not for *THAT*… but, goodness, measuring some of the responses to the election, one might think that it was. People explaining that it was the fault of the media, or the fault of insufficiently rigorous investigation into the whereabouts of Barack (HUSSEIN!!!) Obama’s mother at the moment of his birth, or even the fault of the faithless American People. It was Soult’s fault. It was Ney’s fault. It was Josephine’s fault.
To be sure, much of the complaining has taken the form of something like “if only you had been more like me, you would have succeeded. Since you were more like you, of course you failed.” While this argument feels good when you say it (go on, say it), it loses much of its oomph when one realizes that social conservatives are saying it at the same time as fiscal conservatives and yet again at the same time as defense hawks at the same time as paleocons at the same time as neocons at the same time as libertarians at the same time as Lincoln Chafee is saying it. Sure, one or two of these groups may be right (I’m pretty sure that at least one is) but the argument itself is just as likely to be the letting off of steam as it is an accurate measurement of the state of affairs.
Best to take a step back and think about what really happened and what it means. What happened in 2004? The Republicans won. Big Time. They picked up seats in their majority-controlled Senate, they picked up seats in their majority-controlled House. They re-won the White House with a majority vote and that is something that people hadn’t seen since 1988. Four years later, the Democrats have a nigh-unfillibusterable lead in the Senate. The Democrats have the House. Obama won the White House with a percentage of the popular vote exceeded only by Ronald Reagan in 1984.
This is more than can be pinned on Josephine.
The Republican Party is sick… but this is a sickness brought about by its own actions. If it is to get better, it has to change its life. Not only the party leadership but its lay members who, in many cases, are its best-of-intentioned enablers.
If you are familiar with Twelve-Step Programs (and who isn’t?), you know that the first step is to admit that you have a problem.
Why is this important? Surely the temptation is to point out that, hey, life is painful. One’s spouse is unpleasant. One’s job is drudgery. One’s hobbies are boring and feel more like chores than diversions. Hey, who *WOULDN’T* want to engage in some bad habitry at the end of the day with those situations surrounding one?
Well, it’s not about whether one reasonably reached the point where bad habits made sense. It’s not about that at all. It’s that if one wishes to regain some semblance of sanity, the first step is to admit that one’s life has gotten out of control.
2004: 55 Senators. 231 Representatives. 286 Presidential Electoral Votes.
2008: 41 Senators. 178 Representatives. 173 Presidential Electoral Votes.
First, you have to admit that you have a problem.
If you don’t admit that you have a problem, you can expect to find yourself getting even worse. You could shrug off and say, hey, the pendulum swings. (14 Senators, 53 Representatives, and 113 electoral votes over the course of 4 years is a pendulum swing?) If you don’t admit you have a problem, whether you find yourself on top again depends more on whether the other guys can force the pendulum back quickly enough into your side than on any action (as opposed to reaction) you make. Most importantly, if you don’t admit that you have a problem, you will never achieve *HEALTH*.
At this point in the power dynamic, it’s not about maybe winning an election again (though it will, of course, involve that on some level) but it’s about not being sick. You admit that you have a problem when you realize that, hey, you don’t want to be sick anymore. Even if you can’t have the life you once did, you won’t be sick.
Step two. A power greater than your own can bring you back to sanity.
Now, I had a friend who did the program a few years back and he explained to me that it didn’t have to be the Judeo-Christian God, necessarily. It can be Allah, Buddha, and even that doorknob over there (he said, pointing to a doorknob). The point was that the power to help was external to yourself and not something that could merely be brought about with willpower alone.
How does that apply to the Republicans? Well, one great example is the phenomenon that I’m seeing that we’d only be doing better if Republicans-In-Name-Only would stop criticizing legit Republicans, then the party would be hunky dory… and therefore the best thing to do is to criticize those RINOs as hard as we can! Get them out of leadership! Get them out of the party! As if the House/Senate/Electoral Vote numbers were reversed.
Step three. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
Now, again, without getting into the whole Judeo-Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Doorknobist debate, I’d think that this would apply if the Republican Party said something like the following: “We turn our lives over to these principles rather than by resorting to the situational ethics where we can always, every time, find a good reason for abandoning principle.” In a nutshell, it shouldn’t be about oneself, but about how one lives as one’s principles dictate.
Step four. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory. Ah, now this is where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it? Instead of saying “well, everyone else was worse than I was so it’s perfectly understandable that I made the unnamed mistakes that it’s plausible that I would have made in theory… anyway, there’s an election to win”, one needs to sit back and say “okay. I screwed up.” And more than the general “I screwed up”, one needs to say *HOW* one screwed up.
A small example would be the treatment of Joel Hefley (my old congressman… his INS liason helped me with the paperwork that would allow my wife to immigrate from Canada). He was the chair of the House Ethics Committee… and he got replaced by someone who was more of a loyalist because Hefley was “too independent”. This was a small mistake, surely… but there were others.
The big one that strikes me as exceptionally obvious is the treatment of Peter Fitzgerald. Peter Fitzgerald was the senator who held the seat recently held by Obama. He made a handful of principled (goodness, extremely principled… like, 99-1 principled) stances in the days following 9/11 and was told that he would not be supported in his re-election bid. The Republican Party had a young, up-and-comer who would surely be a star some day… Jack Ryan. That was quickly followed by Jack Ryan’s replacement: Alan Keyes. Well, Obama won the Senate Seat. Hey, maybe Obama would have beaten Fitzgerald easily, right? In a year where Republicans picked up seats in the House and Senate, right? When Bush beat Kerry by 3 points.
Now this shouldn’t be a “Republicans Can’t Do Anything Right!” screed but it does need to be a fearless moral inventory. It must be more than a token “yeah, everybody screws something up sometime” and it certainly cannot be a “you should see those other guys! They’re much worse!”
We’re talking about health and getting better. “Those other guys are a lot sicker than me!” ain’t gonna cut it. Perhaps you disagree with these choices of mine, sure. That’s reasonable. Come up with your own inventory.
If you can’t come up with anything that doesn’t involve pointing out the extenuating circumstances of any given action, then you have a problem.
Step five. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
I would say that the wrongs that I picked out fall under the category of “loved power more than loved principle”. If you think that the stuff that I picked out wasn’t indicative of anything wrong, particularly, that’s fair enough. What was the nature of the wrongs you came up with? If it was something like “didn’t throw out the Hefleys and Fitzgeralds out fast enough!”, well… that’s fair enough, I guess. I’d wonder if you are aware that you have a problem, though… and I’d point out the numbers from 2004 and the numbers from 2008 again.
Step six. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
This is a tough one. If you are not, in fact, ready to have these removed, it’s pretty certain that they won’t be. If you don’t even see them as defects of character in the first place (“I loved too much! Is that a crime???”), it’s 100% certain that they won’t be removed.
Do you want to be sick? Do you want to be well?
Step seven. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Well, we’re back to the whole Judeo-Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Doorknobist dilemma again. It’s possible to simplify this down to going to one’s principles and asking them to help you overcome where you have failed in the past. Also note that word “humbly”. It will come back to haunt us.
Step eight. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
This is where another pitfall may come down. “Sure, I may have hurt so-and-so… but he was an even bigger jerk!” “So-and-so asked for it.” So on and so forth. This isn’t about making a tally of cosmic justice and how you saw yourself as the best way to dispense it and, sure, you may have gotten a little bit out of control but you never hurt nobody who didn’t have it coming… but about being well. About no longer being sick.
I imagine that the list of persons harmed would be longer than merely Hefley and Fitzgerald in my cases… but those hurt by bad decisions made by the Republican Party and those who will be hurt by the even worse leadership that replaced the Republican Party that was replaced primarily because of all of the bad decisions it made.
Step nine. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Well, this is probably impossible, I admit. It’s not like Hefley or Fitzgerald is really helpable. It’s not like they can offer a position of leadership or anything… but it might be good to do something as small as say “yeah, that was a mistake.” It involves humility, of course. Again, if one’s first response is to say “there’s no way in hell that Hefley deserves so much as an ‘I’m’!” (or whomever happens to be on your list from 4 and 5), this can be a good indicator that you’re just going through the motions and this isn’t about being healthy but merely about winning elections.
If it’s not about the deeper principles (about being *healthy*), then why not just switch parties to become a Democrat? It’s not like it won’t help in the current climate. If it’s about more than that (the Principles), then… why wouldn’t you want to help those who have been harmed by mistakes?
Step ten. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Ah, this is where the rubber meets the road. Instead of automatically pointing out how other people do bad things too or how circumstances totally dictated that we did the wrong thing or that admitting wrong is a political act and that there is not going to be any admission of wrong until everyone else admits wrong first…
Well. I’ll say it again. This isn’t about imposing some form of cosmic justice on the world (look at the House/Senate/Electoral Vote numbers again… how much imposition do you think you are really capable of putting out there?), it’s about becoming healthy. If, every time, when the slightest mistake is made, the automatic response is to say “we can’t give any ground on this, or else everyone will jump on it!!!”, well… the viewpoint that people will pick up is not “hey, that guy doesn’t do anything wrong” but “dang, he can’t even drop a pencil on the floor without explaining the theory of gravity and he’ll be dead in the cold, cold ground before apologizing for the way that the good lord above made the world so that pencils would fall when dropped!”
A “whoops, sorry, I got clumsy” would be far, far more appropriate and far better received.
It’s also far healthier.
Step eleven. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His Will for us and the power to carry that out.
It comes back to the principles. Republicans need to constantly be meditating on the principles. What does it mean to be conservative? What does it mean to be Republican? It’s far too easy to see that, hey, things are picking up again AND THAT MEANS I CAN FALL BACK INTO MY OLD HABITS!!! That’s not healthy.
And, finally, Step twelve. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Well, as you may or may not know, I am a Libertarian and not a Republican. I am mostly Libertarian because of my embracing of, for lack of a better term, God as I understand him (call me a doorknobist, if you must). Now while I know that you guys will not reach the same conclusions that I have, I know unhealthy when I see it.
The Republican Party is *NOT* healthy. If it’s to get better, it had better get to following these steps. The crazy thing is that even though I disagree mightily with the Republicans, I can see that following these steps will result in a healthier Republican Party… and one that will win more elections. But it’s not about winning more elections. The pendulum swings, after all. It’s about being healthy.
Like with Napoleon in the beginning of this essay (remember him?), it seems that the Republican party is spending more time pointing fingers at the external forces behind the Republican Party’s failure rather than noticing that it is cut off from God as it understands Him. Instead it just seems to be pacing back and forth explaining how it didn’t do anything wrong, it’s not doing anything wrong, and if anyone says that it’s doing anything wrong, it’s part of the problem.
Not only will that not result in not winning elections…
It’s Not Healthy.