As I promised on Tuesday, I have a little more to say about the National Press Club speech by House Majority Leader, Congressman Steny Hoyer. (The transcript comes from CQpolitics.com.) What piqued my interest in this case was his statement on his opposite number, the Republican Party. I think I’ll tackle this a paragraph or so at a time:
First, let me say a word about the opposition. George Orwell recognized that the difference between majority and minority is less a question of seats than of psychology. The majority, he wrote, and I quote, “is always faced with a question, in such and such a circumstance, what would you do, whereas the opposition is not obliged to take responsibility or make any real decisions.”
Having served in both capacities, I can share Orwell’s view.
Let me quickly put aside my thoughts of an Orwellian future for our nation, beginning with President-elect Obama’s scrubbing of his change.gov website once his plans for compulsory volunteerism were read. We’re not quite up to the Ministry of Truth here, but just wait.
Back on point. The job of a minority in politics is simply to put itself back into the majority. In the meantime, their task is to mobilize their supporters to fight tooth and nail anything which veers too far in the opposite direction. It worked for the Democrats while Bush was President and the GOP ran Congress, so now it’s our turn. Our responsibility on the right is to stand up for our principles and by extension for those of us who elected (or voted for) Republican members of Congress based on their belief in Republican principles.
That is now the Republicans’ strongest temptation: the unchecked chance to criticize. Republicans may choose to emphasize disagreement and practice obstruction, especially when so many are blaming the media, blaming moderates, blaming everyone but themselves for what happened on November 4th.
First of all, we have plenty of room to complain. Why is it that only we should we take defeat lying down? The Democrats don’t know the meaning of the word defeat – even when the election results don’t favor them they oftentimes cry fraud or voter suppression. Remember Florida 2000? Obama was the first Democrat presidential candidate to win with a majority of the vote since Jimmy Carter, who ran with a somewhat similar message against a scandal-marred GOP administration whose candidate (President Gerald Ford) was an incumbent solely by virtue of the 25th Amendment. I happen to think those who voted for Obama mainly voted on the idea of change rather than the practicality of it.
Despite the election results, more voters still consider themselves conservative rather than liberal. It is up to us to represent that number any way we see fit. Obstruction and obfuscation worked well for the Democrats when they were a minority; we reserve the right to be just as obstinate.
But we know what happened. Over the last eight years, Republicans had an unprecedented opportunity to put their philosophy into effect, and it was weighed, and measured and found wanting.
On that I disagree. With better conservative leadership at the top, perhaps you’d have a point. But I don’t consider the huge growth in government spending and additional federal power and entitlements as part of the Republican philosophy – please fill me in on where those aspects fit in. A more accurate measure of Republican philosophy to me would be the Reagan presidency, which indeed had a successor in Bush 41, and again trumphed in the 1994 Congressional elections.
Some conservatives understand that already. As the National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru put it, “What we have seen over the last two election cycles, it should be emphasized, was not the rejection of one or another faction of the Republican Party, but of the party itself.”
In the immediate future, with no governing responsibility and with the moderate Republican virtually extinct, the other party is likely to move towards a more narrow agenda, even further away from the centrist and independent voters who sustained its majorities.
But that would not simply be damaging to the future of the Republican Party, in my opinion; it would be dangerous for our country.
If a “more narrow agenda” is stopping the slide toward an all-powerful federal government, then count me in. We do not take the view that government should be all things for all people.
What was rejected over the last two election cycles was a seemingly headlong rush to become Democrat-lite by the GOP. The Republican moderates were tossed out because they tried to be a paler shade of purple and voters decided that if you’re going to vote for a liberal, don’t mess with the pale imitation. You’ll notice that Democrats have gotten smarter about backing centrist candidates in conservative districts (like Frank Kratovil) because they know conservatism sells to voters. The trick is keeping the true agenda hidden until the votes are counted.
Our country needs a loyal opposition to work constructively on legislation, to challenge the Democratic arguments, and hold us accountable.
Our country needs Republican leaders in the tradition of Bob Michel, Everett Dirksen, and Howard Baker, who saw country first and party second, conservatives who are in the strong — who are strong in their principles, but who would rather help shape legislation for the common good than reflexively obstruct it for partisan positioning.
We see in Maryland just how working constructively with Democrats on legislation works. Any common-sense amendment the GOP puts up is routinely voted down, and it’s rare that major GOP-pushed legislation sees the outside of the committee chair’s desk drawer.
Personally I do see country first and party second, which is why I’m critical of moderate Republicans. Basically what Hoyer did with this portion of his speech is project onto Republicans many of the very actions his Democrat cohorts did during the previous six years. Hopefully the GOP can succeed at stopping most of Barack Obama’s agenda (yes, we can!) Needless to say, you can also give me a conservative Republican leader like Newt Gingrich or Ronald Reagan anytime.
In American politics, we have two sides competing. One side aims to grow government ever larger and have it take more and more control of people’s lives, under the guise of helping them prosper. That’s the side Hoyer stands on. The other side, where I stand, is one which favors more individual freedom, and while that does carry more of a risk of failure on a personal level, the constraints on achievement are fewer as well. Oftentimes the opportunities we attempt to create make the rewards much greater than the risk involved for anyone who’s bold enough to seek them – regardless of background; meanwhile the Hoyer side is attempting to reduce risk and create rewards for only a few of their favored special interests.
It always amuses me when those who stand on the other side attempt to give our side advice on how we could do better, when their real objective is something along the lines of burying us so far underground we won’t see light for ten years. True, there are things we can do better as a party and where we can learn from how the Democrats won this election insofar as tactics and strategy go. I read a good article on this subject today that’s worth checking out, by Bill Wilson of Americans for Limited Government. Read carefully his criticism of the GOP’s usage of the internet compared to Obama’s.
However, the one thing we as conservatives who favor a more limited, Constitutional government should never, ever do is compromise on our set of principles. Perhaps the American public has been dumbed down to a great extent, but they can still smell a rat.
Finally, to those who think I have a “my way or the highway” viewpoint, let me state to you what Barry Goldwater noted, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” And while Goldwater lost that year’s election, the movement he inspired eventually carried the day. There will come a day again when conservatism is in the electoral majority; my task is to educate those who are uninformed as to why it deserves to be installed there as quickly as possible.