Sunday, January 07, 2007

Saving the Republicans

This bit from National Review called to mind a Chesterton essay I read recently. First, Ramesh Ponnuru:

Yesterday, I spoke to a smart, well-connected Republican strategist who has been out of step with his party for the last few years. I agree with most of what he had to say, and thought you might find it interesting...

“There is no consensus on why we lost.”...

He adds, “There is little trust [on the part of congressmen] in President Bush. There is zero trust in Karl Rove.” The congressmen feel that the White House is looking backward—trying to come up with a plan for the next two years that redeems the previous six...

“I don’t know what we stand for,” he concludes. "I know we're for big business, and I know we like spending." He’s glad the party lost.

I too am glad the GOP lost, although I am disappointed that the Democrats didn't lose, too. Actually, the loss was inevitable for two reasons:

First, the thinking members of the conservative base had forgotten why they voted for Republicans in the first place. There will always be people, we call them sheep, who will follow the advice of their shepherd of choice, but docile cretins convert no one, and, though their votes matter, these are ultimately of little value. Kierkegaard comes to mind; he said something along the lines that the capability to convert was dependent on the ability to seduce.

Alienation of the better part of one's base is a mortal mistake for two reasons. First, some of these people stay home and do not vote at all; at the risk of slipping into vainglory I offer myself as Exhibit A. Some do vote, but this leads me to my second point. The "thinking members of the conservative base" are worth much more than the votes they bring to the table. Comprising a comparitively small segment of the population, their votes are actually fairly insignificant. However, intelligent people talk, and do so, surprisingly enough, in an intelligent manner. They are capable of convincing people, both idiots and otherwise; thus they play an important role in each election cycle. In 2006 the aforesaid thinking members kept mum. No conservative defended Bush, and those that did immediately exposed their incredible lack of intelligence.

The other reason that the GOP lost power in 2006 is far easier to explain, being of a simpler nature. The American public trusts politicians more than I think wise; but when one party holds too much power and fails to delight the expectations of the idyllic public, a certain segment of the population empowers the other party, with the hope that they will more readily fulfill their senseless dreams. Put plainly, it is perfectly normal for a party to lose power in an offyear election wherein the President is in his second term and the House and/or Senate are controlled by his party.

The loss of power then, though lamentable, should also have been expected. More regrettable was the inability of the Republicans to enact anything which could be even vaguely construed as a conservative reform. Six years of power begat two dubious votes on the High Court, a decent tax cut--though no significant tax reform--a doozie of a mess in both Afghanistan and Iraq, No Child Left Behind, and the largest budget deficits in the history of the republic. Even if the Democrats do nothing to further increase the size of the leviathan government beast, an unlikely scenario, the last eight years will have been disastrous for conservatives. Without question, George W. Bush has been and will go down as an ignominous failure.

But the failure is not Bush's alone. Nor would an improvement in leadership be liable to bring about significant reform. Many in the Republican crowd are looking for the next Reagan, the high priest and demi-god of American conservatism. Tangentially, the more I look at Reagan, the less I like him, and the less I find him to be genuinely conservative, though Reagan apologists are quick to point to the Senate, controlled by Democrats, for frustrating most of the Gipper's noble intentions. Still, suffice it to say I'd trade him for Bush in a heartbeat.

Anyway, not only is Reagan not coming back, but his ressurrection, aside from being a messy affair, wouldn't do a bit of good. He'd still have to deal with a House and Senate idealogically Democratic, even if he had a chance to start anew with Republican control. All of which brings me to Mr. GKC. I received seven more volumes of Chesterton's collected works--Santa still comes to my house; it's glorious. Each of the volumes I received contains essays written for the Illustrated London News. I quote from November 27, 1915, entitled The Weaknesses of Our Leaders:

Strength is the great weakness of politicians. They are haunted by the decayed Carlylean fantasy that a nation in peril must be saved by a Great Man; and each of them is always trying to prove that he was the Great Man and all his colleagues were impiously blind to the fact. They are wrong from the very root. A great nation in peril is saved by a great nation, or else it is not saved at all.

Chesterton speaks of England, that is, a nation; this applied to his fair home, and it probably applies to America as well. I do not speak of the threat posed by terrorism. Such a threat is comparitively miniscule compared with that posed by the ever-growing government. Should we ever be in need of saving, it will almost assuredly be because of the stooges in Washington.

But on a less pessimistic note, the aforesaid quote applies to the Republican party as well. And while I would never wager so much as a penny on the GOP coming to the aid of the republic, therein lies, at present, our best hope, short of the miraculous. If the Republican Party is to be saved, it must be saved by its rank-and-file; Romney, McCain, Gingrich, Guiliani: these will not save the party. Neither will the second coming of Reagan. He wouldn't even make it past the primaries.

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