Why Senator Ben Sasse Misses the Point. And Why John Adams Did Not.


Yesterday, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse posted a letter on Facebook laying out how he thinks the GOP got to where it is and the way forward. A colleague of mine, Leon Wolf, posted on it a little earlier today. The letter bears reading and I encourage you to do so.

That said, I think Senator Sasse not only misses the point but he engages in building a false mythology about how we got here.

Melissa and I got the kids launched on homework, so I’ve been sitting out by the river, reflecting on the great gap between what folks in my town are talking about, and what folks in the DC bubble are talking about.

I trust the judgment of this farm town way more than I trust DC. And so I’d like to share a dozen-ish observations on these Wal-Mart and other conversations today:

This is the underlying fallacy. Most “farm towns” in this nation turned out to vote for Donald Trump. Ted Cruz suspending his campaign is not the result of a conspiracy of GOP hacks in DC. It is the result of the judgment of a large number of GOP voters who, mostly, hail from rural and ex-urban areas. The quicker we dispel the notion that their is an inherent wisdom in small town America (which, by the way, gave us the Klan and America First) and an inherent corruption in our political class, the quicker we might be able to find a way forward.

With Clinton and Trump, the fix is in. Heads, they win; tails, you lose. Why are we confined to these two terrible options? This is America. If both choices stink, we reject them and go bigger. That’s what we do.

10. Imagine if we had a candidate:
…who hadn’t spent his/her life in politics either buying politicians or being bought

…who didn’t want to stitch together a coalition based on anger but wanted to take a whole nation forward

…who pledged to serve for only one term, as a care-taker problem-solver for this messy moment

…who knew that Washington isn’t competent to micromanage the lives of free people, but instead wanted to SERVE by focusing on 3 or 4 big national problems,
such as:
A. A national security strategy for the age of cyber and jihad;
B. Honest budgeting/entitlement reform so that we stop stealing from future generations;
C. Empowering states and local governments to improve K-12 education, and letting Washington figure out how to update federal programs to adjust to now needing lifelong learners in an age where folks are obviously not going to work at a single job for a lifetime anymore; and
D. Retiring career politicians by ending all the incumbency protections, special rules, and revolving door opportunities for folks who should be public “servants,” not masters.

Let’s quit chasing this burning strawman about the cornfield, catch our breath, take a nice sip of icy cold Maker’s Mark, and review the bidding. We did not start out this year with bad choices . To the contrary. This year’s GOP field was the deepest and most talented field of any GOP primary in my lifetime.

The GOP field for 2016 included accomplished governors and former governors: John Kasich. Jeb Bush. Jim Gilmore. Chris Christie. George Pataki. Bobby Jindal. Scott Walker. Rick Perry. It included current and former senators who would not disagree with anything Sasse proposes:  Ted Cruz. Marco Rubio. Rand Paul. Lindsey Graham. Rick Santorum. It included one fairly successful business executive:  Carly Fiorina. And it included three hucksters: Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Donald Trump.

Why are we faced with this horrible, no-win choice? Because when the GOP subset of the American people were presented with an array of very accomplished and conservative candidates, the GOP electorate gravitated to the hucksters. In fact, the hucksters outlasted much of the actual talent in the race and one of them is now poised to win the GOP nomination. This does not speak to an illness in Washington, per se, but a national illness. Indeed, Sasse notes earlier in his post:

2. As a result, normal Americans don’t like either party. If you ask Americans if they identify as Democrat or Republican, almost half of the nation interrupts to say: “Neither.”

Why is that? These people Americans don’t like are their friends and neighbors and colleagues. These corrupt politicians don’t just drive off to Washington and set up shop. They are elected, year after year, decade after decade, by the same people who claim to hate both parties and politics in general. And the danger of accepting this critique as valid is proven by the fact that Donald Trump and Ben Carson both were at or near the top of the GOP preference polls throughout the primary.

I’m not smart enough to tell you what the problem is and I’m damned sure not prepared to give you an answer on how to fix things but I think Senator Sasse misses the point made so obvious by John Adams a couple of centuries ago:

We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.

Donald Trump, along with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have run campaigns based on just what Adams feared: avarice, ambition and revenge. Americans rejected a dozen or so men who would have governed for the great betterment of this nation in favor of class envy and economic grievance. In fact, the principles that Sasse proposes were roundly rejected by GOP voters. Unless and until voters determine that government is not there to personally enrich them and to punish their perceived enemies we are basically stuck where we are.