2009: A clarion call

New Year’s Day is always a day of optimism as the old is swept aside and the new looked forward to as the light at the end of the tunnel for some and a vast frontier of new possibilities for others. I suppose those who share my belief in conservative political principles would tend to subscribe to the former, but I’m choosing the latter road in this instance.

This optimism, though, comes with the galvanizing thought that things almost can’t get worse, either as a nation whose economy is ravaged by a deep recession or as those who comprise the bulk of a political party whose influence was even more severely tarnished and corroded in recent national election. One could almost describe our movement as equivalent to the Tampa Bay Rays baseball franchise, whose short existence was marked by year after year in the basement of the American League.

In 2008, however, the Rays turned their fortunes around by securing the American League pennant for the first time in franchise history. And while they fell short of their ultimate goal by losing the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies (who had also overcome a lengthy streak of futility), they achieved their true initial goal of making the playoffs, a possibility many baseball observers didn’t even have on the radar screen as the 2008 season commenced.

Oddly enough, the Rays’ triumph actually is reflective of how our movement can succeed in two key areas.

For several years, the Rays had quietly built up a very successful farm system with a number of solid prospects and those young players all worked their way up the minor league ranks until they were ready to come of age in 2008.

Secondly, the team stressed fundamentals and preached a team concept with a goal in mind. Rays manager Joe Maddon termed it as 9=8: nine players playing smart, hard baseball for nine innings equals one of the eight playoff spots available to teams in Major League Baseball. The Rays accomplished that goal in each game often enough to win the American League’s Eastern Division, then defeated two other teams in the playoffs to win the AL flag.

While a political movement is no leisurely pastime, those principles can apply to our cause as well.

For years, we’ve spoken about building up a farm team of prospects who begin in local and state political races and work their way up the ladder. While we as conservatives rightfully point to two state governors – Bobby Jindal in Louisiana and Sarah Palin in Alaska – as examples of the GOP’s future leadership on a national stage, part of the overall question becomes who replaces them as they graduate up the ladder in politics.

More importantly to me, however, is the other part of the query: how will they be assisted in their efforts? We saw in Palin’s case a serious reluctance by many in the party to assist her efforts both in Alaska and in her campaign backing John McCain’s run for the White House. Palin’s political career has been one of alienation as she wasn’t the GOP establishment candidate in Alaska nor did she have the full support of many of the so-called establishment Republicans in the nation’s capital. On the other hand, Jindal hasn’t received that same treatment but the situation in Louisiana was far different as the state Republican party wasn’t already in power as he made his bid, nor has he ever been thrust into a situation of running on a national stage. It remains to be seen how he’ll be treated should he decide to run for national office in 2012, but one of his advantages could be having spent some time in the nation’s capital as a Congressman.

From where I sit as part of the grassroots, I look at those establishment Republicans and shake my head in disbelief. I’m sure I speak for many among us who cringe every time someone in Washington or a state capital talks about “bipartisanship” when the other side rarely gives an inch – at least insofar as the size and scope of government is concerned. The way I look at it, slowing down the pace of government growth isn’t a concession by the other side.

This brings me to the other part of the equation, fundamentals.

When I signed up for this Republican Party gig, I did so because they were the closest political home to my core beliefs of limited, Constitutional government and as a party that has won on a national stage with at least one candidate who had a similar political outlook, he being Ronald Reagan. The first vote I ever cast for President was for Reagan’s re-election in 1984, and to this day it’s likely the one Presidential vote I didn’t regret making somewhere down the line.

Prior to his election as President, in fact years prior to his nomination as the party’s standardbearer, Reagan spoke of a political palette comprising bold colors rather than pale pastels. Reagan spoke as one who had little to lose by making his beliefs public, and we as a movement find ourselves in a similar position as 2009 dawns.

I’m writing to you from the state of Maryland, whose General Assembly is about to convene for what I like to term the “90 days of terror” that the body’s session is limited to by our state’s Constitution. To gain power in our state’s legislature, the Republican Party next year (and yes, 2010 is now “next year”) would have to add 35 seats to the 36 it currently holds in the House of Delegates and ten seats to the 14 they have in the State Senate (which in total number 141 and 47, respectively.) They would have to win four of the state’s eight Congressional seats – including one they just lost in the 2008 election – and keep their one incumbent to become a majority of the state’s Congressional delegation, and defeat a Senator who’s been in office since 1986 to regain a Republican Senate seat for the first time in decades. To more or less of a degree, this situation exists in many other states. We are in a position where we have nothing to lose by attempting to shift the debate in a more conservative direction.

For years, we have allowed those who favor a larger, more powerful yet less Constitutional government at all levels to control the debate.

This has to end now.

The debate should be moved to the court of making them justify why their programs, some of which have been in force now since the New Deal of the 1930’s and others from the Great Society of the 1960’s, should remain in place when their stated goals have not been met and their continuance threatens the very foundation of the nation’s economy. To that end, we need to engage those who believe in an overarching, all-powerful government in ways they haven’t been before. Perhaps this is controversial to say, but we need to conduct our own sort of guerrilla warfare here – not with bullets or bombs, but by forcing them to defend their points at times when they would be otherwise off-guard. In truth, it’s what we should do for all of our elected leaders of whatever stripe; however, those who are on our side should rarely need to be questioned as to why they advocate policy and vote as they do.

In most states, 2009 is simply a year where local offices are up for grabs. It’s a perfect time to lay the groundwork for what is to come next year; a crush of mid-term and state elections which will shape the political landscape for a decade or more as redistricting will for the most part be in the control of next year’s winners.

As movement conservatives, it is our task to develop, engage, and most importantly educate those who haven’t developed or are amenable to change their political philosophy by practicing what we preach in limiting government and explaining why this is to the public’s benefit, particularly when the Left is reliable in trotting out “victims” of “mean-spirited cuts” in government spending and regulation.

Unlike the Rays, whose “next year” finally came in 2008, we still may not achieve all of our goals in 2010. Political change takes a much longer time on the calendar than uprooting the previous American League standings does, although our Orioles seem to be an exception to that rule. As a movement, we need to become anti-political as far as thinking one generation ahead rather than one election ahead. When the Left says that something is “for the children” they need to be asked whether the effect their new program will have on that generation’s freedom and wallet is being taken into account, and whether the benefits merit the cost. In many cases, they’ll have a hard time justifying the effort if challenged to prove their point.

Our success will not be measurable in what’s accomplished, but by what does not happen. Barack Obama is on record as complaining that the Constitution is written as “negative rights” – those things which government cannot do. If we are to be the party that reflects the intent of the Founders, we must engage in pressing for negative government and bringing back the equilibrium between the branches of government and the tension between rights of the government and the governed, erring in favor of the governed.

I hope everyone running for the chairmanship of the Republican Party will read and understand what I’ve written here. Principle over politics need not be unpopular. Let’s make 2009 the year we begin the recovery – not just an economic one but one of Constitutional government as well.

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