Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Last Best Hope for the Last Best Hope

Ronald Reagan famously quipped on more than one occasion, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me." Today, many conservatives feel the same way about the Republican Party. While they may be right in some respects, their timing couldn’t be more wrong.

Just as many registered Republicans are getting fed-up with their party for drifting away from conservative principles, many Democrats are waking up to the realization that they, too, have been left by their party; in some cases, left long ago. Add to that the number of so-called moderates who vote left on a number of issues, but still lean right on the fundamentals, and we are witnessing a conservative shift in the American voting population. But don’t take my word for it: on October 26, 2009, Gallup reported that 40% of Americans consider themselves conservative while 37% consider themselves as moderates. Now they are all looking for a politically conservative place to call home.

So, where will they go?

Not to draw too heavily on Reagan, but he did have a way of putting things. In his famous 1964 speech “A Time for Choosing,” he included an anecdote about a Cuban refugee recounting his escape from Castro to some Americans. "We don't know how lucky we are," remarked one of the Americans. The Cuban replied, "How lucky you are? I had someplace to escape to." Reagan concluded this tale by declaring America the last stand on earth for freedom. Some minutes later, he concluded his speech, evoking the words of Lincoln and again naming America the last best hope on earth. (I suggest you listen to or read that speech. It is astounding how much is the same as it was 45 years ago.)

Though he doesn’t say it, I suspect Reagan looked upon the Republican Party as the last best hope within the last best hope. If he had thought it possible to steer the Democratic Party back onto a conservative course, I expect he would have stayed put. Instead he moved to where he believed his voice would be heard and his conservative ideas considered.

What does all this mean to conservatives?

For years it has been accepted as fact that there is no difference between Republican and Democratic Parties. If this were true, Democrats would not be working so hard to change the Republican Party. They tell Republicans that they need a “big tent” to attract more voters, that they should be less conservative and more moderate, that they must be more tolerant and bipartisan. I could go on a tangent about what “big tent politics” really means in regards to the Republican Party, but many others already have.

This “advice” from Democrats to Republicans serves to illustrate the difference between the parties. If the opponents of conservatism claim that it must be thrown out of the Republican Party, then that party must be a bastion for it. And if they claim Republicans are intolerant of “other” (read “progressive”) ideas, it is only because Democrats are intolerant of conservative thinking.

There is one other difference between the parties. It is the greatest Republican strength and it is also their Achilles' heel. Republicans hold their leaders to a certain standard. They don’t believe that the ends justify the means. They hate corruption within their party and Democrats know it.

My friend Jonathan Cousar has written an ardent piece about how Democrats exploit the Republican longing for perfection at election time. By picking out the flaws in a minority of Republican officials, Democrats are able to make Republican voters lodge their protest by staying home and not voting at all. Stop and think about how effective that is at promoting conservative policies. While Republicans wait for perfect conservatives to swing this country to the right, Democrats put less-than-perfect progressives in office, slowly inching the country left.

I am not saying that Republicans ought to compromise their ideals to win elections; precisely the opposite. Conservatives ought not to blindly accept Republicans as they are now. Rather, conservatives need be more involved in the party to insure it reflects its conservative base. Less desirable elements do need to be weeded out of the Republican Party, but in general, Republicans need to become better gardeners.

Let me explain: I’m not talking about “sowing the seeds” of conservatism. They’ve been sown and it is no trouble getting them to take root. Neither am I talking about “cultivating” conservatives by voting in local elections and primaries. We all already know all that grassroots stuff. But where conservatives stink at gardening is in the weeding. Sometimes we don’t weed enough; we need to vote out RINOs in the primaries and replace them with Constitutional conservatives. But conservatives also have a tendency to pull up flowers with the weeds. Democrats don’t have this problem since, politically speaking, all they cultivate are weeds.

Case in point, Sarah Palin vs. Hillary Clinton: I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard conservatives or Republicans say that, while electing the first woman VP or President would be great, they wouldn’t want that woman to be Sarah Palin because she doesn’t live up to everything they could want in a female candidate. Meanwhile, when it looked like Hillary had a shot at the White House, I heard no liberals or Democrats make any such claims. Hillary already had everything a PC-minded leftist could want in a female candidate for president, a vagina.

I’m not advocating voting for the “lesser of two evils.” I am saying that it is better to vote as conservative as possible and to know what the important issues are. That is to say, if you are turning down a tax-cutting, defense-minded Constitutionalist because he thinks abortion is too nuanced to tackle in broad strokes and he got a DWI in college, you really need to examine your priorities.

What all of this is aimed at is the notion that conservatives ought to start up a third party. Liberals and progressives didn’t start up their own party; they took over the Democratic Party. Why, then, should conservatives tackle the Sisyphean task of launching a new party when a perfectly good vehicle for their ideas already exists? If conservatives are to tackle the monumental task of returning our government back to founding principles, wouldn’t doing the same with our political party be the test run?

There may be problems with having a two party system, but right now conservatives need to gather beneath a single banner. Preserving the last best hope is first the priority.

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