May 29, 2010
Don't Speak for Me
Who invited the thought police to the Tea Party? I am a traditional conservative, and I'll speak for myself, thank you very much. I came out early to join the Tea Party because it was time to protest an overweening administration. The beauty of those protests was that Americans who want smaller government came together spontaneously with a goal of being heard in Washington.
Now, six months before midterm elections that should really register our complaints -- if we can manage to nominate serious, effective candidates who will represent our views -- I'm ready to protest the power-grabbing and abuse going on by the self-appointed conservative orthodoxy police.
I attended and thoroughly enjoyed our local grassroots Tea Party last April, and the more organized 9/12 Tea Party in Washington. The excitement of Americans taking to the streets in leaderless, spontaneous, and grassroots protests has given way to a business as power moves to fill a void. Various national organizations have taken the words "Tea Party" into their organization names, opened up blogs, and solicited for donations. I applaud their industry, and I certainly believe they are entitled to their own opinions. But this is a two-edged sword. While some of them are meeting a real need for leadership, others contend that they speak for a "constituency" instead of themselves.
Watching some of the self-appointed Tea Party leaders, my early excitement has given way to an unsettling concern that the ideology police on the right are committing the same error as the intolerant on the left. Just as Keith Olbermann has his worse, worser, and worst, the new wannabe arbiters of everything conservative are giving us conservative, conservativer, and conservativest. During this election cycle, beware if you do not fit their hair-splitting definition of conservativest.
The conservative orthodoxy police who have press access and national forums appear to be making or breaking conservative candidates based upon their own "are you conservative enough" litmus tests. This scares me. Faced with two candidates who believe in small government, low taxes, fiscal and personal responsibility, who decides which candidate is really "better"? Is abortion a litmus test? Do libertarians (with whom I also sympathize) get bonus points? Do common sense and real-life experience -- in which tough decisions that might render someone's record only 98% "pure" -- enter into the decision at all? Or are they looking for the candidate who talks the loudest and seems to be the most extreme tax- and government-shrinker? Does the ability to get elected matter?
There is no race more important than the U.S. Senate contest in Nevada, where there is the potential of unseating Harry Reid. But what is happening in Las Vegas isn't staying in Las Vegas. If you are seeking the Republican nomination in Nevada, you'd better court a few highly opinionated individuals from outside that state. Rather than allowing local politicians to duke it out using local money, local press, and debates, this most important election cycle is beginning to bear the imprint of a few special interest groups. It may be that just as conservatives argue that George Soros has outsize power because he founded, seeded, and supported a concentration of liberal special interest groups, so too is the right in danger of exactly the same thing.
I have also been watching the Nevada Republican Senate primary because I met candidate Sue Lowden 25 years ago, when I was part of the investment banking team which helped the Lowdens take their company public. Sue Lowden realized the American Dream through hard work, honesty, and integrity as she and her husband built a successful business in Nevada creating jobs and opportunities for others. She is a down-the-line conservative on the issues.
Some outside special interest groups have chosen to endorse Sharron Angle, a former substitute teacher and full-time politician. That is their right. While I find Lowden more impressive and professional, they are both conservative women. My objection is that certain outside special interest groups have announced that they will run hard-hitting negative ads against other conservative candidates. That isn't helpful to the debate on the issues. And it certainly isn't helpful to the effort to knock off Harry Reid.
In theory, I don't have a problem with outside money in general. But a candidate who cannot raise money in her own state is a candidate who doesn't have the support to win. In addition, there is something highly troublesome about requiring our local candidates to run not just against opponents in their backyards, but to raise money and seek support in anticipation of national interference. How can any of our local candidates compete with a well-funded national special interest machine?
It takes more than just being the purest ideologue to move the Ship of State. It takes intelligence, competence, and skill. Isn't that the type of leadership we deserve? Whether they represent Nevada, California, Kansas, or any other state, I would like to see candidates elected who have already proven themselves leaders in their fields, because experience is a good predictor of success. I would like to see seasoned professionals who are not career candidates or hack local politicians. We deserve the successful business leader who has been around the block and understands what it takes to build a business. Rather than the community organizer, don't we deserve the successful community leader, who has spent a lifetime giving back and expects results in return for his or her hard-earned money? We should be represented by people who have proven that they will safeguard our treasure as if it were their own and not used it as a personal slush fund -- by leaders who can articulate a coherent vision instead of talking points. Those don't seem to be everyone's criteria, though.
I believe that traditional conservative values translate well to most Americans and are not divisive. All the noise in this election cycle may be wasted if ideologically pure candidates who are nominated and ultimately elected are incompetent and ineffective. I remind my fellow conservatives that just because a candidate waves the Constitution in the air does not mean that he or she can actually get anything done. If such people are not able to roll up their sleeves and effectively address our problems, then they too will be replaced, as in 1994 and 2006. If we can't elect visionaries who can achieve national consensus and create practical solutions, as Ronald Reagan did, then we lose. We, the conservative activist defenders of small government and individual liberty, should really not tolerate having our candidates dictated to us by purists, who care more about rhetoric than ability to govern from the right.