The Ratchet Effect on American Politics
In a 1977 speech to the Institute of Public Relations, Margaret Thatcher said, "Britain is no longer in the politics of the pendulum, but of the ratchet."
Margaret Thatcher's description of the political state of Great Britain could just as accurately describe the state of politics in the United States in 2018. Many conservatives have found solace in the belief that times of statist control will result in the country shifting in a more conservative direction. The problem with this theory is that while it may accurately describe the mood of the country, it does not describe the mood of the ruling political figures. Republicans, after years of Democratic rule, have found themselves in control of the House, the Senate, and the presidency, but we haven't seen a significantly different conservative policy.
The Trump administration has cut back on regulations including the individual mandate in Obamacare, issued a tax cut, and appointed originalist federal judges. There has also been the passage of a $1.3-billion omnibus spending bill that continued funding Planned Parenthood, furthering the expansion of the federal government. The explanation of this phenomenon is provided in the idiom Thatcher coined as the "ratchet effect." Once liberals have ratcheted the nation far to the left, conservatives cannot turn the ratchet the other direction. They can slow or maybe even stop the lurch to the left, but they can never bring the country any farther back from where the left has turned them. The left has the nation on autopilot toward an ever growing centralized government. In 2018, with the constitutional principles, hanging only by a thread, bold candidates and bold solutions must be the answer.
Conservatives are often quick to rally around the most articulate conservatives. The ability of a candidate to explain constitutional conservatism is a tremendous quality for a candidate to have, but time and time again, we have seen articulate conservatives bend to the will of the progressive majority. The most sought after attribute future candidates should possess was best stated by Ron DeSantis as he was describing the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia: "[p]erhaps the most important quality for a constitutionalist Supreme Court justice is something that Scalia demonstrated in spades: backbone. There will be times when the proper reading of the Constitution will diverge sharply from the conventional wisdom of D.C. elites, the legacy press and the legal intelligentsia. Scalia never wilted in the face of intense criticism; indeed, he reveled in it, as it was a sign that he was properly discharging his constitutional duty." This backbone is the quality that allowed Scalia to be successful.
In Washington, D.C., there are intense pressures applied to representatives. Those who challenge the system will find that there is something that both sides of the aisle can agree on: they hate you. This pressure applied over years has proven incredibly successful at wearing down even the most conservative of legislators. Candidates must have the "backbone" of an Antonin Scalia to stand up to the prolonged pressure.
William Buckley sums up what this type of candidate looks like in his mission statement for National Review, 1955: "[a] conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it." In order to get this type of candidate, we must reject political prognosticators who press conservatives to back moderate safe candidates "who can win." Traditional red states must nominate these candidates. Local Republican leaders should press to change their nominating process from primaries to caucuses. Caucuses allow grassroots supporters to have a larger impact than special interest groups. Caucuses give local community leaders the ability to make the case for their bold constitutional candidate. It was a Utah caucus that produced Mike Lee. Just a few bold candidates like Mike Lee do more for conservatism than hundreds of candidates who don't have the temerity to fight back.
Electing bold candidates is not enough. The federal government will perpetually grow in power in the corrupted model in place today. This is far from the government the founders intended for America. The bold solution for our federal government, unmoored from constitutional principles, is found in the Constitution itself.
On September 15, 1787, at the Constitutional Convention, George Mason of Virginia was worried about allowing only Congress to amend the Constitution. Mason's concern was that if Congress was part of the problem, it would block beneficial change. James Madison's notes describe Mason's position when discussing the Amendment process: "on Congress, no amendments of the proper kind would ever be obtained by the people, if the Government should become oppressive, as he verily believed would be the case."
The states through conventions have the ability to directly propose and ratify amendments to the Constitution. This gives states the ability to utilize the constitutional concept of federalism to take back some of the powers usurped by the federal government. The amendments proposed by Levin include a balanced budget amendment limiting spending and taxation; an amendment repealing the 17th Amendment, thereby empowering state legislators, as the founders originally put in place; an amendment requiring photo ID to vote to protect our elections; an amendment allowing the national legislature or state legislatures to override a ruling from the Supreme Court with a three-fifths vote; an amendment allowing two thirds of states the ability to override federal statutes; and amendments placing term limits on Congress and limiting federal judges to one 12-year term. These amendments will structurally place the federal government back in the constitutional constraints that embody the separation of powers principle that limits the ability for government to become tyrannical. The term limits imposed will change the dynamics of the elected bodies. No longer will leadership be confined to members who have been influenced by D.C. corruption for decades. Elected officials will be much more accountable to the needs of their constituents and less likely to deviate from their core principles.
Short- and Long-Term Solutions
Amending the Constitution through an Article V convention is not a solution that will occur within the next few months. It may take years to accomplish, but it is a structural solution to bring the country back under constitutional principles. The country did not devolve to this point in a matter of months, and consequently, the long-term solution is not going to be a rapid fix. That should not deter conservatives. Conservatives should join the grassroots movement to push for a convention.
In the short term, we must back candidates with backbone – candidates who will fight the progressives in both parties. These bold candidates must be able to withstand the onslaught levied against them, slow the statist agenda, and become beacons for the conservative movement at the national level. We must break through the ratchet effect on government and make significant strides to save constitutional conservatism.