Moderates? We Don't Need No Stinking Moderates!
"Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!"
From Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madres to the television comedy classic The Monkees and through the iconic Blazing Saddles, those words have signified the defiance of individuals firm of belief and with a philosophical approach more akin to Larry the Cable Guy ("Git'r done!") than the self-absorbed pontificating of President "smartest person in the room." And that is exactly what the Republican Party needs: the spine and steel and conviction of candidates with "immoderate" beliefs rather than the pant-pant-pant of the please-love-me wing of the party celebrated by elites both left and right. And so it is time for conservative primary voters to deliver a message: "Moderates? We don't need no stinking moderates!"
Conservatives would do well to remember the lessons of Ronald Reagan. His success, Lady Margaret Thatcher tells us, was powered by "clear principles," great "purpose," and "strength and conviction." That's why there's now a statue of him in London. He was as immoderate as they come, relentlessly attacking those who trespassed upon his core beliefs: the Soviets were "the focus of evil in the modern world"; the growth of government threatens "to crush the very roots of our freedom"; and President Jimmy Carter gave the nation a "litany of despair, of broken promises, of sacred trusts abandoned and forgotten." Ronald Reagan won in large part because of his immoderation, openly mocking the conventions of the Beltway and media elites. You're wrong, wrong, wrong, he told them, unashamedly professing deep and immoderate faith in God and American exceptionalism.
He was, in fact, one of our most intelligent, able, and immoderate of presidents. History told him that moderates -- those willing to compromise and negotiate away foundational beliefs -- leave broken lives and shattered dreams in their wake. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain was a moderate who embraced negotiation with Adolf Hitler, signing away the lives of tens of millions to a genocidal maniac and guaranteeing a Second World War. Moderate Republicans of the sixties and seventies collaborated in the large-government welfare programs of Democratic progressives and "unleashed a whirlwind of marriage destruction and illegitimacy" on the African-American community.
Ronald Reagan saw this and more. His books, his papers show a man who knew that immoderates -- such as those who immoderately told King George to take his tea and taxes and go jump in the Thames -- created freedom and prosperity. His grasp of history and reality told him that a stubbornly immoderate Abraham Lincoln saved the United States when he fired a series of military generals, moderates more interested in their personal public relations with the Civil War-era Washington elites than saving the union; in their place he put the hard-drinking and exceedingly immoderate Ulysses S. Grant. When the Lindsey Grahams and John McCains of Lincoln's party kicked their spittoons and screamed, he merely looked at them and said immoderately, "I can't spare this man; he fights."
For Beltway Republicans, moderation is business-as-usual, participating in rather than stopping the growth of government and power at the expense of average Americans. Moderate was Republican presidential candidate John McCain, lauded by the mainstream media for refusing to acknowledge the questionable associations and corruption of then-candidate Barack Obama. Moderate is Republican John Huntsman pledging -- to the cheers of mainstream media, which view him as the "best" presidential nominee for the GOP -- a "mellow" campaign in which he would, under no circumstances, attack a President who has vowed to bring traditional America to its knees -- after all, can't disappoint the journalists who flock to his press conferences, "as numerous as supporters." Moderate is Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, a flavor-of-the-month for Beltway Republicans and media who admired his willingness to call a "truce on the so-called social issues," thereby ensuring his electability.
"Electable," of course, is code for Republicans and conservatives who are willing not to be conservative. They are Republicans who, in their souls, are merely politicians basking in the praise of mainstream media à la John McCain. McCain recently celebrated his return to elite grace with a photo op at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Cairo with Senator John Kerry (Democrat, Vietnam) and Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric. American taxpayer dollars -- borrowed, of course, with the approval of Republican moderates -- are being distributed by the Egyptian government to key insiders of that country and McCain, of course, is right back in the middle, his conservative principles as dead as New Coke or a Coptic Christian in Egypt.
Republican moderates join in the consensus of the educated class of New York Times columnist David Brooks, thinking and acting correctly. Income redistribution, expanded government, an economy ruled by regulation and politicians -- none of it works. But, unlike the immoderate Reagan and his successors either joining or about to join the party's primary scrums, the Republican moderate recognizes good intentions. And, with the best of intentions, join the president and his party -- as National Review's Mark Steyn put it -- as "lifetime member[s] of the government class," a "well-connected Latin American-style elite enjoying" their privileges while consigning the rest of us to "poorer, meaner lives."
And so the mainstream unhappiness with the Republican presidential field for 2012 should be taken with a Reaganesque and politically incorrect grain of salt. The primaries are attracting the attention -- if not yet the official candidacies -- of a plethora of immoderates: Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, Ron Paul, even Tim Pawlenty. The official field is strong, the potential field stronger.
And that is what's worrying the media and political elites: that the 2010 elections signified a critical mass of voters deciding "we don't need no stinking moderates" and the 2012 election will see the return of the immoderates...and "Morning in America."
Stuart Schwartz, a frequent AT contributor, is on the faculty of Liberty University in Virginia.