Day Traders vs. Long-Term Investors
Day traders versus long-term investors. That's what came to mind when reading Ramesh Ponnuru's and Rich Lowry's lengthy essay at National Review Online ("Against Despair"). Shall the GOP be led by day traders or long-term investors? Who are the conservatives and who are the Republicans?
Ponnuru and Lowry argue that conservatives are overreaching and brash, while establishment Republicans can be lackluster and shortsighted. But establishment Republicans have an edge. Their approaches to Washington's political realities are conventional and practical.
Conservatives blew it, write the authors, by pushing ObamaCare defunding that led to the shutdown. The polls say so. The damage is done. Repairing a damaged GOP is accomplished how?
By playing politics the "normal" way. Per the authors:
While conservatives are right to be dissatisfied with the results that our political engagement over the decades has yielded, it has produced real achievements. Persuasion, winning elections, passing legislation the normal way: That's the approach that helped bring the top tax rate down from 70 percent, reduce the crime rate, reform welfare, and ... oh yes, topple the Soviet Union.
That was the 1980s. That was the Reagan presidency. That was Gingrich's back-bench revolt and rise. That was clarity of principles and unambiguous proposals advanced by...conservatives.
Then was not Barack Obama, leftist president. Mr. Obama is a statist whose aim is a gross expansion of the federal government. Through ObamaCare, of course. Also via the IRS, NSA, and EPA, among many others. Via czars -- leftist cadres whom the president handed portfolios without congressional approval. Via a purging of generals and conformity to the president's worldview. Through attempts to impose birth control and abortion on religiously affiliated hospitals and health care providers.
The economy is fitful, thanks to the president's policies. The Federal Reserve, with the president's backing, prints money as if pernicious inflation can't occur. Debt beyond comprehension. And much more...
The 1970s were no hoot. Jimmy Carter was a liberal bungler, not a doctrinaire leftist bent on "transforming" America. Barack Obama may bungle, but his ideological underpinnings are firm, and his determination to push the nation as far left as possible is unwavering.
Liberty is greatly offended by the president, and if he succeeds -- if Mr. Obama can hold and consolidate his gains -- liberty shrivels. The authors concede (italics added):
The tendency [among conservatives] arises from legitimate frustrations. The federal government seems constantly to expand even as -- and sometimes because -- it proves itself incompetent. Republicans have done precious little to reverse or even halt the trend. Obamacare is a disastrous and unpopular law; but if the Republican party has a strategy for bringing about its eventual end, it has been kept well-hidden.
No "seems" about it. And government incompetence is commonplace.
The conservative insurgency is happening for sound and compelling reasons. Conservatives are filling a void. The groundswell of support for Ted Cruz and Mike Lee among grassroots conservatives and Tea Party patriots has genuine cause. Rand Paul gets the reaction he does from libertarians and the grassroots because of real fears about massive domestic surveillance.
Republicans? Congressman Peter King tells us not to worry; in fact, the president shouldn't apologize for NSA spying. Speaker Boehner, it often appears, prefers to declare victory and leave the field.
President Obama is a change agent on a grand scale, a fierce revanchist on an historic mission. The collapse of communism taught Mr. Obama what about the failure of centralized government? About command economies -- command societies? No lessons for Mr. Obama and his cohorts in the Soviet Union's fall. Only a grudging pause before a resumption of their statist march.
And what about Western Europe's over-bureaucratized governments and super-government-in-the-making? At-risk economies. High structural unemployment. Irresponsible monetary policies. Crippling taxes. Unassimilated immigrants. Yet the president and his allies are importing Western Europe's social democracy. What will future historians write about the president? A man who chose to imitate failure. Remarkable -- and dangerous, if not halted.
Republicans aren't going to stop the president and the left; conservatives are. Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and movement conservatives halted the nation's drift in their day and reversed the nation's fortunes for a generation. Not Republicans -- not Rockefeller or Gerry Ford or George Romney or Nixon. Reagan wasn't well-received at first. Reagan succeeded because, as he famously said, he didn't change; the nation changed. Reagan didn't catch up with the times; the times caught up to him.
Wrote the authors:
The key premise that has been guiding these conservatives, however, is mistaken. That premise is that the main reason conservatives have won so few elections and policy victories, especially recently, is a lack of ideological commitment and will among Republican politicians. A bigger problem than the insufficient conservatism of our leaders is the insufficient number of our followers. There aren't enough conservative voters to elect enough officials to enact a conservative agenda in Washington, D.C. -- or to sustain them in that project even if they were elected. The challenge, fundamentally, isn't a redoubling of ideological commitment, but more success at persuasion and at winning elections.
The suspicion among grassroots conservatives is correct that Republican leaders lack "ideological [principled] commitment and will." Conservatives have begun the process of doing what an out-party is supposed to do: articulate clear differences with the in-party over the nature of government, policies, and the country's direction. Bold contrasts provide clear-cut choices for voters.
In the short run, voters may choose against the out-party. But if the out-party is right -- and conservatives are right -- then events and the in-party's failures will alter voters' perceptions. Then voters can be persuaded. An out-party that consistently and confidently expresses its principles and acts upon them authenticates itself. That party reaps rewards when voters' awareness finally coincides with need.
The Republican Party's 2010 election gains weren't much about what GOP leaders did. They weren't "consistently and confidently" expressing principles as much as the grassroots rebelling and asserting itself to bring more conservatives to Congress -- and statehouses and localities. Twenty-ten was a bottom-up success.
Building a durable majority is a longer-term proposition, however. That must be premised on the right principles rightly understood by voters. Muting differences and -- regularly -- trimming sails doesn't serve the purpose of attracting voters; it's more like the actions of a minority party with a minority mindset.
About the Gingrich-led shutdowns in the 1990s, the authors claim that their successes -- or at least their lack of harm -- to Republican fortunes is spin. They wrote:
What this retelling of the [90s] story leaves out is that the shutdowns ended conservatives' political momentum and Republicans spent the next several years running away from the limited-government conservatism that was associated with the debacle.
Doesn't that say more about Republicans than it does the alleged shutdown "debacle"? People, strongly rooted in their convictions, don't run from their principles in the face of adversity. But wet-finger-in-the-wind politicians do.
Then this curious argument from Ponnuru and Lowry:
[Conservatives' defunding campaign in] contrast to the Democrats' behavior in 2009 and 2010 is instructive. They were willing to muscle through a health-care bill even though the public opposed it, and even though some of them realized it would cost them seats. Republicans should have a similar commitment to better causes. But they should also note that Democrats used this maneuver only when they had the votes -- large majorities in both houses of Congress, control of the White House -- to pull it off. They did not take a large political risk while having no plausible way to gain a policy victory to show for the potential costs.
If I understand the authors, it's okay to act against the will of the people when a party has the presidency and congressional majorities? The Democrats ramming through ObamaCare could prove ruinous to their fortunes, far more than their 2010 setbacks. The shutdown was a transient affair. ObamaCare gives fresh insults daily to taxpayers and voters. The expectation here is that as the ObamaCare disaster unfolds, voters will weigh conservatives' government shutdown tactic less harshly -- and weigh their arguments and proposals and actions more favorably.