by Faba Calculo 11/12/13
Ramesh Ponnuru, Rich Lowry, Jonah Goldberg, and Dennis Prager. What do they all have in common? Well, for one thing, they’ve both been read out of the conservative movement recently on this site alone.
We could argue terminology. Maybe “read out of the movement” isn’t exactly what happened. Call it what you will: gone liberal, gone wobbly, gone “establishment,” or just flat gone RINO. I won’t quibble on wording. But whatever you call it, one way or another, these four, and possibly others, have been declared to have, at some recent point, seriously departed from orthodoxy into heterodoxy, if not full blown heresy.
I won’t go into what Jonah wrote, as his sins against purity include admitting to a growing support for gay marriage, something which, my personal support for it notwithstanding, is still contrary, in terms of actual policy, to what a strong majority of Republicans and conservatives view as core principles. For Ponnuru, Lowry, and Prager, however, their chief (and probably only) crime was to disagree with the Tea Party (and other like-minded individuals) over purely tactical issues by publically saying what should by now be obvious to everyone: the government shutdown was a foolish thing to do in the face of its near-zero chance of working and far higher likelihood of damaging the party’s (and the conservative movement’s) chances in the 2014 and 2016 elections. For Ponnuru and Lowry, see: Against Despair. For Prager, see: Feeling Good vs. Doing Good.
Though the two articles mentioned above share a number of points, as the Ponnuru/Lowry article was by far the longer and more complete analysis of the two, I’ll briefly summarize in:
1. The shutdown didn’t gain us anything of value we didn’t already have but instead made things worse by focusing attention not on the flaws of Obamacare but on the internal divisions of the Republican Party.
2. The tactic of equating prudential disagreement as betrayal only hurts the Republican Party and the conservative movement.
3. There is legitimate frustration with how the party leaders had been handling things and the outcomes thereof. Nor did the leadership do much better in how they acted during the shutdown itself.
4. What makes it impossible to remove Obamacare right now isn’t a lack of Republican purity but insufficient political strength (i.e., minority status in the Senate, not holding the White House, and too few active supporters in the electorate) to compel the Democrats to support efforts to do so
5. The shutdown also drew attention away from the debacle that Obamacare was suddenly becoming
6. The party has, since the end of Reagan’s time in office, continued to move the right and to experience considerable successes
7. The idea that we’ve been losing elections because of insufficient purity ignores the fact that our more conservative national candidates (i.e., for Senate and House positions) have been doing even worse in terms of vote counts than our more moderate presidential candidates on a state-by-state basis
8. Buckley’s rule that “conservatives should support the rightwardmost VIABLE candidate” (emphasis added) should be our guiding principle, and this extends to our tactics as well
9. Even those pushing the goal of a one-year delay of Obamacare must have known that their stated principles applied just as well to a full repeal. That they didn’t try for the latter, more ambitious, goal indicates that they themselves were applying standards of what could and couldn’t be achieved (though badly overestimating what could be achieved)
10. Conclusion: there’s simply no substitute for winning elections.
With this framework, Prager’s piece can be most succinctly summarized as having repeated point 1 while adding an additional motive behind the shutdown: to make those who wanted the shutdown feel better. And, like the Ponnuru/Lowry article, he had the temerity to backup what he said by citing polls.
With all due respect to Patrick Henry, IF THIS BE TREASON GOING WOBBLY, THEN…boy, “going wobbly” really been defined down.
At the risk of being labeled “wobbly” myself, I must confess to being thoroughly in the Ponnuru/Lowry/Prager camp here. Such purely tactical disagreements (especially now that those who were against the shutdown have been proven right) are far too little to justify claims of liberal/establishment sympathies, wobbliness, or whatever you want to call it. Furthermore, this foolish maximalist positioning while in a far more minimalist position on the battlefield is a recipe for defeat now and a lessening of any chance of electoral victory down the road. And, should this approach predominate, who is going to be the next person to be read out of the movement?
Well, probably Thomas Sowell.
Back in late September, Dr. Sowell wrote an article calling the effort to defund Obamacare via government shutdown “futile and foredoomed”. He also said it risked creating “the distraction that Obama so much needs” (predicting beforehand the realization of Ponnuru/Lowry points #1 and #5). And, towards the bottom of the article, he wrote that, while believing that President Obama (and Chief Justice Roberts) deserved to be impeached for their roles in bringing such an obviously unconstitutional piece of legislation into law, “[b]ut, for the same reason that it makes no sense to impeach either President Obama or Chief Justice Roberts, it makes no sense to attempt to defund ObamaCare. That reason is that it cannot be done. ” (echoing Ponnuru/Lowry point #4) (See: http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/sowell092413.php3#.UoGXnvYo5R0).
That article was written before the shutdown began. Now, in a follow-up, he has written another article on this topic from a more retrospective point of view. Here, citing Burke’s principle that “[p]reserving my principles unshaken, I reserve my activity for rational endeavors” Sowell builds the case that the Tea Party’s efforts to repeal Obamacare in this manner didn’t meet the standards of “rational endeavors” (echoing again Ponnuru/Lowry point #4). He further states, “[w]ith the chances of making a dent in ObamaCare by trying to defund it being virtually zero, and the Republican Party’s chances of gaining power in either the 2014 or 2016 elections being reduced by the public’s backlash against that futile attempt, there was virtually nothing to gain politically and much to lose.” This is actually a touch harsher than anything Ponnuru/Lowry said and more in keeping with Prager: this has actually hurt our chances for 2014 and 2016.
He closes with a key question. “People can even learn from their mistakes — but only if they admit to themselves that they were mistaken. Whether the Tea Party can do that may determine not only its fate but the fate of an America that still needs the principles that brought Tea Party members together in the first place.” And that is the question. Can the Tea Party (and other like-minded fellow travelers) admit that they made a mistake?