The GOP Needs a General Grant
Lately there have been a number of analogies made between various liberal political positions and the abolitionist Union side in the Civil War. No doubt this is a result of the 2012 Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln, and its notoriety, and the universal need to identify with the virtuous side of any historical struggle.
A few days ago, on CNN's Piers Morgan's show, columnist Frank Rich likened opposition to gun control to slave-owners in the pre-war South who did not want to give up their slaves. According to Rich, "I think that in some ways the gun culture is as entrenched in the American psyche as [was] slavery."
As a gun owner, I resent the comparison. But if there are any credible analogies to be made with today's political movements and Abraham Lincoln, it is between the Union side of the Civil War and today's Republican Party. Hear me out on this.
I don't mean to simply point out that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, which he was. Recall from history that during the Civil War, President Lincoln had a problem getting generals who would actively engage the Confederate army. "Some of my generals are so slow," Lincoln once remarked, "that molasses in the coldest days of winter is a race-horse compared to them."
We conservatives have a similar problem with our leaders, who hesitate to engage with President Obama and other high-ranking liberals.
We have just finished a month of statements from President Obama that were not only largely ignored by the Republican Party, but easily rebutted if the GOP had dared to mount a formal response. In his January 14 press conference, President Obama called on congressional Republicans to raise the country's debt limit without any pre-conditions, arguing that "we are not a nation of deadbeats."
But of course we are. Never before in human history has a country spent so much more money than it has brought in. Our country is so irresponsible with its spending that we have gone beyond trying to sell our debt to others. We now sell our debt to ourselves -- specifically to the Federal Reserve, printer of the dollar.
Republicans were largely quiet after that press conference. A few days later, President Obama, flanked by children, signed 23 executive orders concerning gun control, none of which would have stopped the Sandy Hook massacre. Yet, except for scattered objections, Republicans in Washington were silent on the orders and the spectacle of using children to stand nearby when the president signed them.
Then, in last week's inaugural speech, among other whoppers, President Obama said that "we cannot substitute spectacle for politics." No one connected the dots to the president's own spectacle a few days earlier.
Come on, Republicans! Get in the public debate and fight! Another gripe from President Lincoln comes to mind, when he wrote General McClellan and said, "[I]f you do not want to use the army I would like to borrow it for a while."
And this Republican non-engagement isn't new. Remember when President Bush and Karl Rove made the rounds, promoting their books? I heard them both on at least two conservative talk shows, where one of the first questions asked -- by conservatives, mind you -- was along the lines of "why did you guys stay so quiet in the second term, when such ridiculous charges were made by Democrats?" Democrats high and low had charged that President Bush and his advisers knew about the 9-11 attacks beforehand, and that they lied to the American people about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Either charge, if really believed by the accuser, would have resulted in impeachment proceedings. Yet the charges were repeatedly made and then ignored by the Bush White House.
"We didn't want to dignify such crazy charges with a response" was the common reply. But after the charges were made so often without a response, even today a sizable percent of Americans actually believe them.
Or take the recent presidential election, in which President Obama's campaign aired the ad "Stage," portraying Gov. Romney as an uncaring corporate raider. The ad ran in battleground states totally un-answered for almost two months. Is there any wonder why Romney was seen by the voters as less sympathetic than President Obama?
Contrast all this Republican silence with President Clinton, who deserves some cynical credit for his rapid response to all the scandals that erupted during his presidency. Within a few minutes of each new scandal eruption, the Clinton White House had a denial, complete with a media smear of the accuser and counter-revelations. As a result, relatively few Clinton scandals occupied the public's attention. (Of course, the operative term there is "relatively.")
We Republicans need a General Grant, or better yet, a series of General Grants. Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to lead Union general by President Lincoln because Grant repeatedly engaged the enemy. Grant knew that the Union had major advantages in troops and equipment. Grant also knew that if the Union army repeatedly engaged the enemy, even if the Union forces incurred more casualties, the Union would eventually win the Civil War. And this is what happened.
Just like the advantages held by the Union forces in the Civil War, today's conservatives have many advantages over liberals. America is still a center-right country. Capitalism works, and economies built on less than capitalism have clearly failed. Americans want a safety net for fellow citizens who cannot support themselves, but Americans don't like that so many have been dependent on government support for so long.
Other liberal policies, like ObamaCare, gun control, union card-check, and bloated government, are losers with the voters. As in the Civil War, the more conservatives engage President Obama and liberals on these issues, the more the natural advantage, the inherent popularity of conservative principles, leads to victory.
So there you have it: if any side of the current political divide is allowed to identify itself with the movie Lincoln, it should be the conservative side. We have the advantages, but we have problems getting our leaders to engage.
In fact, the conservative movement is even more aligned with the more entertaining recent Abraham Lincoln movie, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. After all, we conservatives are battling ideas that have already died. But that is an argument for another column.
Tom Thurlow is an attorney who practices law in the San Francisco Bay Area and manages the blog napawhinecountry.com. He lives in Napa County with his wife Martina and daughter Rachel.