When I was a teenager growing up in northern Minnesota in the 80s, I lived in the only state to have voted for Walter Mondale during the Reagan Revolution. So naturally, to rebel against authority, I embraced that revolution. My teachers were most distressed. grins “He’s bright, intellectual, a gifted speaker, and…and crestfallen whisper conservative.” I took a college level class in Econ my senior year of High School (88), and the teacher wanted me to go to the DFL (because Democratic Party isn’t socialist sounding enough for Minnesota) caucus. I said no, I’d be going to the Republican caucus. He said, in his gruff voice that hid his good humor; “You realize they can hold that in a phone booth, don’t you?” I said, “Good, it’ll be easy to support Jack Kemp there then.”
I read the old National Review, with Buckley’s acid wit lambasting the left (and liberal Republicans most of all, Lieberman got his Senate seat in part because of a Buckley endorsement). And I was drawn to the Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk’s thundering statement of the coming revolution. The Primer that Reagan and those who came with him lived by. And I learned the central truth of that work…”Ideas have consequences.” The maxim of modern conservatism, something that increasingly gets dropped from sight in modern discourse.
The past few days I’ve lurked more than posted, my family was in, so that had something to do with it. But also because I’ve been thinking how to say this. The Bailout debate has bothered me. The claim that there are some of us who are “Conservatives first and Republicans second” is what finally crystalized this in my mind. And I’ll answer this part first…
Guilty as charged.
If the Republican party throws over the Conservative Movement, there’s no way in the infernal regions I will stay a Republican. Period. If the Republican party is no longer the party of Goldwater, Reagan, and the Contract with American, then we should just fold up shop and leave it to the “Me too Republicans” who are more interested in doing the “little new deal” with the Democrats than winning an election with pragmatists who will sell us out anyway.
What’s worse, history has shown that the pragmatists LOSE, the ideological candidates win. Reagan overturned the entire political dialogue in the country for a generation with his revolution. He invigorated countless youth…who the Republican aparatchniks managed to fritter away on the Bushes and Doles and pragmatist Establishment Republicans. When Gingrich tapped into that vein with the contract of America, he won the biggest turnabout victory of all time. I can remember the pundits pontificating the Republicans would NEVER regain control of the House. That the numbers and districts were too skewed against us to win. It wasn’t a charming face that won…or a dozen of them. It was an ideology of limited government and free markets and limited taxation that won.
The same, to a lesser extent with Bush in 2000 with “Compassionate Conservatism” winning an election he had no rational reason to win against the picked VP of a reasonably popular president in a time of prosperity. Even Bush the elder in 88 proves this…”No new taxes.” And he was able to use that, and the gaffes of his opponent, to win. In fact, he proves the point completely. Because he governed “pragmatically.” And so we got the tax increase of 90, David Souter, and me too leadership that led to him being bereft of ideas or claim to the Revolution in 92, and thus, as George Will so aptly put it; “By the pragmatists only standard, he is a failure.”
Republicans don’t win by running pragmatic campaigns. They don’t capture the populace by governing “pragmatically.” People don’t WANT government in the way. McCain claims to get that. But his actions in the bailout debate belie that. His choice of Palin made me hope that he really did get it. That ideology DOES matter to the American people, who are, at their core, distrustful of government interference. But his actions in a bailout that economists across the spectrum say is a bad idea prove he doesn’t. That he’s what I always thought he was, a pragmatist. Just like Romney, just like the Bushes, just like Dole. And when Republicans talk about being “pragmatic” they are inviting defeat.
The bailout debate shouldn’t be about how deep we let the government into the banking sector. It should be about making sure that government can do for the populace what it cannot do for itself…period. The banking sector is going to have the reinvigorate itself one way or the other. It will just take longer and be less efficient if Government does it. Just like the Chrysler bailout SEEMED to save the car industry in the short term, but instead allowed manufacturers to continue on the path of self-destruction that has now wiped out GM’s value and seen Chrysler absorbed and sold twice anyway. Government should protect the private citizens who have fought to live honestly in a system that has allowed debt to spiral out of control. Instead McCain and others continue to try to reinflate a housing bubble that will CONTINUE the debt spiral and the bankrupting of the American society which has been going on since the Carter administration and was exasperated by Clinton.
Ideas have consequences. And when we refuse to live by those ideas, we deserve to lose. And if the Republican Party refuses to accept the ideology of Goldwater, Buckley, Reagan, Gingrich and yes, I believe Palin, then yes, the Movement IS more important than the Party. If the party operatives keep throwing up pragmatic, establishment Republicans, and trying to shove the limp-spined Romneys of the world at us as true conservatives, then we need to show Ron Paul how to really do a Third Party, and do what is necessary for the Movement. And doing that in the end is best for the country as well. I don’t, by the way, think this is necessary. But it is time we pushed the current RNC crowd out of the way and brought in people who GET what being a Republican is. You don’t have to agree on all of what Conservatism is. But you can’t openly undercut the movement either.