by N. A. Halkides 3/10/14
Recently, there has been a spate of commentators taking up the refrain (long sung by the GOP Establishment) that said Establishment was to be congratulated for its wise stewardship of the Party, particularly through the recent “battles” on the budget and the debt ceiling increase. Hard as it may be to believe, these commentators (including Jonah Goldberg and Charles Cooke at NRO) have taken the line that the Establishment has saved the GOP from the crazy “Wacko Birds” (to use Sen. John McCain’s term) of the Tea Party and other Conservative groups who harbor the apparently heretical and dangerous notion that the time to fight against the Left is now, not at some indeterminate time in the future when Republicans hold the Presidency and both Houses of Congress (as they did from 2001 – 2007, whereupon they proceeded to do exactly nothing but spend money at a rate that made Bill Clinton look like a fiscal conservative) and perhaps some other as yet unspecified conditions also obtain, such as a blue moon or a transit of Venus. As low as the Republican Party and, frankly, NRO have sunk recently, I still would not have believed this possible if I had not seen it with my own eyes. In the face of such astonishing self-deception (or worse), it behooves us as Conservatives to indict the GOP Establishment for its recent malfeasance and duplicity as well as its longer-term failure to stop the Democratic Left, and I would like to present a kind of Bill of Particulars for the benefit of the young or forgetful who may not realize exactly what a record of failure, duplicity, and betrayal these commentators have been defending.
Let’s begin with a brief summary of the recent “battles” mentioned above. The first of these was the budget deal, negotiated in secret by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and then presented to the members of Congress as a fait accompli. The deal’s particulars aside, is that any way for the People’s business to be conducted? A secret back-room deal worked out by a tiny handful of powerful insiders, shutting out all other input and presented to the Congress of the United States to be rubber-stamped in a manner that would be more appropriate for a banana republic? And when we get to those particulars, what do we have?
On December 10, 2013, Ryan and the Republican Establishment he embodies agreed to give up the very modest sequester cuts of $63 billion (one of the only budgetary bright spots in recent years) in return for tax increases (which they attempted to disguise as “fees”) and Democratic promises to cut spending in the future(!) which together came to about $85 billion over the next decade. As usual, the spending increases take effect immediately, while the “cuts,” if they ever materialize at all, will be phased in over ten years. Why did Ryan (and Speaker John Boehner, R-OH) agree to this deal? Because it avoided the threat of a government “shutdown,” something they apparently fear more than anything else.
Now this isn’t the place to discuss the question of “shutdown” strategies in detail, but when this subject comes up one very obvious fact is almost always left out: if Senate Democrats choose to insist that they get all the spending items they wish in a continuing resolution (for Congress doesn’t “do” proper budgets any more, only ad hoc CR’s) and refuse to pass any bill not containing their entire laundry list, Republicans have exactly two options: fight (“shut down” the government) until they get at least some concessions from the Democrats, or complete capitulation. Repeatedly, they have chosen capitulation. There are many excuses given: the shutdown is unpopular, the Democrats control the media so we get all the blame, etc. But if Democrats control the media (and they do, at least the dinosaur variety), one would think that would be all the more reason for the Republican leadership to be out in front of every issue, informing the public and explaining the reasons for the Republican position. Instead, GOP leaders tend to hide in their offices, cowering at the thought of having to explain themselves or actually make a case for opposing the Democratic Left.
Cooke also approved of what he termed a “clean” debt ceiling increase (http://www.nationalreview.com/article/371095/praise-establishment-charles-c-w-cooke). At least in this case, NRO had the decency to present an opposing point of view, that of Andrew McCarthy.
As McCarthy explains, the 60-vote threshold in the Senate still exists for raising the debt ceiling, thus Republicans have the power to stop Democrats there, and while McCarthy didn’t mention this, Republicans also have the power to prevent a debt ceiling increase in the House, where they have the majority. All Democrats can do is threaten a “shutdown” in the Senate, for which everyone assumes Republicans will be blamed. Again, this isn’t the place to determine exactly what concessions Republicans should get from the Democrats in order to agree to raise the debt ceiling (which is an irresponsible thing to do), and clearly simply refusing to raise the ceiling under any terms would not be politically wise, but with so much power on their side, surely they should be expected to wring something out of Harry Reid and his Senate Democrat big-spenders, perhaps modest cuts in domestic spending or some restraints on the out-of-control IRS. But what did Republicans get in return for raising the debt limit? Nothing!
Nor is that even the worst of it. Not only did Senate Republicans capitulate, they attempted to do so in a way that masked their complicity with Democrats, and then they viciously attacked the one man with the integrity to unmask the deception – Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Here is how it all happened:
It only takes 51 votes in the Senate to actually raise the debt ceiling, but under Senate rules, it first takes 60 votes to cut off debate (cloture) and proceed to the final vote. This is how Republicans had the power to stop the debt ceiling increase. But Establishment Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), had schemed to waive this cloture vote, thus sparing themselves having to go on record in favor of cloture (which meant in practice in favor of raising the debt ceiling). In other words, McConnell and his Establishment buddies intended to vote against the debt hike itself, knowing all the while it was futile to do so because the Democrats had the 51 necessary votes for passage, so they could pretend to their constituents that they were against the hike, when in fact they were tacitly voting in favor of the hike when they waived cloture. Sen. Cruz forced them to go on record voting in favor of cloture (hence in favor of the debt hike), exposing their duplicity and fraud for all to see, and that was unforgivable – not only Establishment Republicans, but also Cooke and the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board piled on Cruz, not McConnell! (Cooke went so far as to deny there was any such thing as a GOP Establishment. For my views on that subject, see A Plea For Disunity and Incivility.
To summarize: Republicans under Establishment leadership have had the power to extract concessions from Democrats, but instead capitulated to avoid having to fight, revealing both their pusillanimity and their political incompetence, and then tried to deceive their own constituents about what they were doing. So much for recent history, although the antics of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign in refusing to support Conservative candidates in the fall general election, should they succeed in defeating any Establishment Senators in Republican primaries, is also highly revealing.
The Political Failure of the Republican Party
Now let’s take a somewhat longer view, say the past fifty years with the exception of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency (1981 – 1989). What do we see? We see the same pattern as the one over the past few months just described: Republicans lose, and they lose by default. Inch by inch, year by year, they allowed government to grow in size and power (these two attributes always going together), all the while reducing both individual liberty and, perhaps more surprisingly, their own viability as a political party. I say more surprisingly because if Establishment Republicans care for nothing else, they do love to hold office and play the big shot.
I have chosen not to get too deeply into specific issues here, because this is definitely a case of not wanting to miss the forest for the trees: what we need is a very high-level view of the American political landscape. And when we get that view, we will see that (1) the Republican (Establishment) approach has largely failed politically, and (2) every capitulation has resulted in the further weakening of the Party. Then we can descend a bit and take a closer look at exactly how this has happened.
The failure of the GOP can be measured by its inability to halt the growth of government, and it little matters whether we consider this as a failure to stop the opposition Democratic Party from achieving its goals (bigger government with more power and a permanent government class of dependents whose votes may be relied upon at election time) or, giving Republican leaders more credit than they deserve, a failure to enact their own political program, which assumes that they ever had a political program in the first place. There is some truth to the characterization of at least Establishment Republicans as a “party of ‘no’”: they have often opposed Democratic measures (although never on principle) but they never of speak of liberty or individual rights.
Medicare is a perfect example. Republicans did not argue (as true Conservatives would have) that “providing” health care for seniors or anyone else is not a proper function of government, and that government involvement in “providing” goods and services was sure to create a host of problems as it always does. Some of them may have quibbled here and there about the organization or costs of the Medicare program, but they did not have the courage to object on principled grounds. The result was that they lost the fight and Medicare got established as the beachhead from which Democrats could continue to press for fully-socialized medicine which was their goal even then. Medicare and the subsequent encroachments of government into medicine are what paved the way for Obamacare, just as Obamacare paves the way (as intended) for fully-socialized medicine.
The rest of the welfare state has followed the same pattern. Once you refuse to fight on principle, the principle that it isn’t the responsibility of the individual citizen to provide for the food, clothing, housing, education, and health care of the rest of society, nor the proper function of government to steal and redistribute incomes for that purpose, you cede the moral high ground to your opponents and live in a permanent state of fear least you be labeled “heartless” etc. by opposing any of the hundreds of welfare programs that your “compassionate” opponents fund by ruthlessly taxing the incomes of the productive members of society whom you supposedly represent, and by borrowing money which is really a form of future taxation. You lie low, whimpering in your office, staying largely out of the public view, avoiding conflicts with the Democrats at all costs and hoping they make some tactical mistake that will so disgust the electorate you can eke out a small victory in the next election without ever having to display an alternative and better vision for the future of the country.
The Decreasing Viability of the Republican Party
These repeated political losses have had a secondary consequence (in concert with high levels of third-world immigration, which is beyond the scope of this article) which was unforeseen by the Party leadership at the time and which, even more amazingly, they do not grasp even at this late date: the Republican Party is very close to political irrelevance as an opposition party, by which I mean the Democratic Party is close to being unbeatable at the national level by a Republican candidate and program that is substantially different (i.e. more Conservative) from the Democratic offering. This has come about because with the growth of government and the advance of statism two deleterious consequences necessarily followed: (1) An increasing number of government workers; and (2) An enlarged welfare class, now including middle-class citizens hooked like junkies on government programs they had no need for (as middle-class earners, they were well able to provide for their own needs without government “assistance”). The corruption of the middle class is probably even a more serious threat to a democratic republic than income-transfer payments from the upper and middle to the lower class because of the sheer numbers involved and because the government thereby gains a control over the middle class it could not get by simply taxing it to pay for income-transfer payments to the “poor”.
My research on how government dependency skews election results is incomplete because I have found the statistics rather hard to come by, so they will have to wait for a future article. For now, it should be sufficient to point to certain well-known voting patterns: welfare recipients and government workers at all levels vote overwhelmingly Democratic; thus, as their numbers increase relative to the general population, a point must be reached at which the Democrats will win every election (this is the “tipping point” often referred to). This is not theory; it is mathematical certainty and it is already observable in the State of California as well as every large city with a sizable welfare class. Conceivably, a Republican might still win but only by adopting the statist philosophy of the Democratic Left (California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and President George W. Bush come to mind). Notice that when this point is reached, no non-statist (i.e. Conservative) candidate can hope to win, and we have established de facto one-party rule, one of the hallmarks of dictatorship. The “two” parties are really merely competing factions of the same statist party; no party dedicated to individual freedom can compete any longer, thus no such party will exist. You can see this in Western Europe already, particularly in England and France – voters are only given a choice between Left and further Left – and we are very close to that point now in America.
This brings up the question: why did the Establishment Republican leadership adopt a political strategy that necessarily leads to the extinction of the GOP as a political force? The only answer I can suggest is that they could not see two obvious facts: increasing the size of government will inexorably push a country politically to the Left, and importing millions of third-world aliens who love welfare programs will do the same thing by creating more Democratic voters, at least over the short and medium terms, and probably over the long term as well. This in turn suggests that Establishment Republicans do not think well in abstract terms, or to put it another way, they’re a rather un-intellectual bunch, and this is one of their chief failings.
Now, the superior size of the Democratic base (another way of stating that the country has moved Left) may not have been obvious from the elections of 1992 and 1996, where the candidacy of H. Ross Perot kept Democrat Bill Clinton from getting a majority of the popular vote, but the elections of 2000 and 2004 were ominous warning signs of the Democratic advantage: G. W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 to Al Gore, who could be described politely as uninspiring and not so politely, if still accurately, as “nuts”; Bush then won the popular vote in 2004 over John Kerry by a small margin only because Social Conservatives came out in huge numbers in swing states. This latter fact should have been well-known from the exit polling, which revealed that voters favored Democrat Kerry over Republican Bush on economic issues by such a large margin that despite Bush’s advantage on national security issues, had it not been for voters motivated primarily by social issues, Kerry would have won.
This was a fact of monumental significance, which predictably the Republican Establishment either ignored or misunderstood. What it meant was that the very first time an election hinged on economic issues the Democrats would win, and this was borne out by the elections of 2006 and 2008. Yet political consultant Karl Rove saw a “Republican Realignment” in what was merely a larger-than-usual turnout of rural Ohioans opposed to gay “marriage,” and the Establishment believed him – surely one of the most egregious examples of political self-deception of all time.
Now Let’s Get Personal
What is it about the Establishment that has made it both morally pusillanimous and politically maladroit? Examining Establishment Republicans like Trent Lott, Dick Lugar, John Boehner, and the Bush brothers reveal they have a number of characteristics in common. First, as observed above, they are rather un-intellectual, uncomfortable with abstractions such as “liberty” and therefore unable to hold a coherent theory of limited government. This leads them to adopt the prevailing ideology of unlimited government without even knowing it, just as they adopt philosophical Pragmatism in place of ethical or political principles. Pragmatism means seeking the superficially “practical” route, or “doing what works”. How anyone would have any idea as to “what works” even means without reference to a clear set of values to guide him in the proper direction toward a desirable goal has never been explained by Pragmatists, but nonetheless this philosophy endures, sort of. It is interesting to note that Pragmatic Republicans pretend to be principled, while Barack Obama claims to be Pragmatic as if it were some sort of virtue while in fact steadfastly adhering to the principles of statism/collectivism.
Second, and as a consequence of the first, they lack the moral self-confidence that would allow them to fight the Democrats on principle. The most they can do is put on their eyeshades and complain about how much the latest welfare program costs; they imply the program is wrong because it’s expensive but don’t have the confidence to say the program is expensive because it’s wrong. You can’t win a political fight without making a moral argument for your position, something the Establishment has never learned no matter how many times the Left beats them like a drum by accusing them of “taking school lunches away from children,” “throwing Grandma off the cliff,” etc.
Third, the motivation of Establishment GOPers in seeking office is personal self-aggrandizement rather than public service. The typical Establishment pol likes playing the big shot; morally and psychologically he’s somewhat better than the typical Democratic pol, who either longs for arbitrary power over his fellow men or is at best a useful idiot in service to the creation of such arbitrary power, basking in his supposed moral superiority because he wants to “help” people (by conscripting the lives and confiscating the property of others, of course). Such Establishment players would by temperament rather cut secret deals in back rooms than fight the Left even if they understood the need to fight and were intellectually equipped to do so (which they’re not). Thus, the various faults of the Establishment are mutually reinforcing, which explains why they never learn. They will either have to be dislodged by their betters or they will remain to plague us forever.
It is because they can’t see this that commentators like Goldberg and Cooke have been led so far astray. Here is Cooke, explaining why he thinks there’s no such thing as the Establishment (see the link given previously):
“After all, pretty much every single Republican agrees on the question of Obamacare. Pretty much every single Republican agrees on taxes and spending and the size of government. Pretty much every single Republican agrees on the debt. They disagree, however, on tactics.”
Does every Republican really agree on Obamacare? Or is it that Conservatives understand this abomination to be a fundamental assault on American liberty, a disgusting exercise in the seizure of political power by the Democrats which will do irreparable harm to millions of people, while Establishment-ers understand only that opposition is politically necessary to avoid being challenged in a Republican primary? So every Republican agrees on taxes, spending and the size of government? That must mean the Establishment crowd has proposed actual cuts to government – and severe cuts at that – rather than merely slowing the rate of increase, and we all blinked and missed it. And every Republican agrees on the debt? That must mean the Establishment is ready to cut back social welfare programs, which is the only way we’ll ever get the debt under control. We must have blinked and missed that one, also. The closest the Establishment ever came was the budget proposals of Paul Ryan, which would have perhaps balanced the budget in 30 years time, assuming Republicans won every election over that period and that the country hadn’t collapsed under its debt burden by then – and that wasn’t very close.
The truth is that Establishment Republicans don’t agree at all with Conservatives, but they do agree with the Democrats about Big Government, and merely want a chance to run it themselves, perhaps at a slightly lower cost. That the logic of Big Government dictates they will have to become Democrats themselves in order to do that is either something they don’t care about or, more likely, is something they aren’t smart enough to understand. The fact is, today’s Democratic Left must be fought and defeated if the country is to be saved, and not only are Establishment Republicans not up to the task, they are standing smack dab in the way of the one political movement, Conservatism, that could do so. They have, in fact, declared war on us Conservatives – the very heart and soul of their Party! – so let them feel the fury that has fueled the Tea Party movement, and let us, like Muslims, demand their submission or their heads – either will do.