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Who Will Lead the Country Back to the Basics?

President Obama has shown what we don't need. Now we need to decide what we do need.

by
Dan Miller

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March 8, 2010 - 11:13 pm

Vice President Biden says, “Washington right now is broken.” That’s a good thing if it gives “we the people” an opportunity to fix it, something neither major party wants to do. Why should they? With few exceptions, both parties want the same things: power and more of it. The words “of the political class, by the political class, and for the political class” pretty much exclude the rest of us. Only twenty-one percent of voters nationwide say that the government has the consent of the governed; sixty-three percent of the political class think there is consent.

Both major parties have leaders but they do more shoving than leading, often without knowing a useful direction in which to shove. Senator Evan Bayh says partisanship is out of control. Representative Barney Frank says the same thing, and he should know. There are reasons for the divisiveness, and many of them stem from and produce impotence and its colleague, frustration. So much was promised in 2008, yet there have been bad consequences for many and significant benefits for very few. Lots of the people to whom the wonders of Obama Land were promised have decided that they don’t want them, can’t afford them, or in any event won’t get them. This makes those who promised them look incompetent, and that leads to frustration. Perhaps we should offer President Obama a hearty round of applause for masterminding the creation of these opportunities. It may be the only good thing he has done for the country.

The opportunities are there, just waiting to be seized. The Democrats are fading fast and are rightly concerned that they will do poorly in the 2010 congressional elections without — or perhaps worse with — President Obama’s help. Nor is he faring well, with fifty-two percent not wanting him to get another term in office. These problems are unlikely to be solved soon. The AP reports:

Obama’s expansive domestic goals are largely the same, but his message is changing, now constructed around a concession that the public is disillusioned and wanting results. If he cannot show people that he understands their frustration and is working to fix it, the risks are real.

All that angst that Obama wants to harness as a force for change — as he did in his campaign — will turn against him. That means eroding public support for his agenda and potentially big losses for his party this year in congressional midterm elections.

The Democrats are in a defensive mode and don’t know whether to lean to the left (with President Obama), to the right (against President Obama), to do both, or to do neither. The task is made more difficult since it is tricky to predict which way he will appear to lean and the changes in direction are rapid and erratic. Spend us into oblivion and then promise to balance the budget; damn nuclear power to please the greens and then mendaciously pretend to finance a banquet of green pork to seem to throw everybody a bone; the list could go on and on. While trying to decide what to do, the Democrats are racing for the exits.

Even though the mainstream Republicans think they will do OK in the elections this year, and most likely will, they haven’t figured out which way to appear to lean either. Should they be content to stick with a safe but ho-hum posture exemplified by former presidential contender Senator McCain, or flit off into uncharted territory with less moderate conservatives?

So long as both major parties are focused principally on their short-term tactical goals of winning the 2010 congressional elections, as distinguished from the long-term strategic goal of achieving what’s best for the future of the United States, neither is likely to focus on what needs to be done. They must be reminded of their obligations and that failure to meet them has consequences — for them as well as for the rest of us. As noted here, it is necessary to “send a clear message to senators across the country that they do not own the offices they hold. They might then learn that they will be called to account and replaced if they are not responsive to the party base.”

The entitlement mentality is contrary to what most conservatives hold dear and there is an increasing perception that incumbents are not ipso facto entitled to reelection. Neither is a political party; the Ted Kennedy seat is gone. From Rasmussen Reports:

Most voters think the country would be better off if the majority of the current Congress wasn’t reelected this November, and their confidence in their own congressman continues to fall.

The tea party movement is remarkably diverse but united on only a few extraordinarily important goals: respect for the United States Constitution, America’s safety, and freedom to the extent possible from governmental meddling. These basic goals are the principal distinguishing factors. In other respects, as noted by Lloyd Marcus:

the feelings, thoughts, and opinions of tea party patriots are all over the place. What a mess! Well, I say, how wonderful! I mean, think about it. Millions of Americans who have been passively watching our country slipping away for years are suddenly passionately seeking to restore it. So frankly, I do not care if the movement is a bit wild and free. Scott Brown’s shocking, historic win in Massachusetts confirms that we are making a huge difference.

If subsumed by the mainstream Republican Party or if it loses sight of the basics, the tea party movement will probably be a flash in the pan. Otherwise, it augurs an incipient groundswell. Ditto Governor Palin; Senator Brown, and Marco Rubio, a candidate for the Florida senatorial nomination. They unite on only the few critical goals and do not speak with a monolithic voice, nor should they; their supporters certainly do not. At best, trying to do so leads to mediocrity. We have seen that in both of the major political parties, and we have seen the consequences for the United States. Fortunately, nobody leads the tea party movement now.

There is a movement to encourage consensus by getting widespread conservative agreement on the Mount Vernon Statement. Here are the guts of it:

A Constitutional conservatism unites all conservatives through the natural fusion provided by American principles. It reminds economic conservatives that morality is essential to limited government, social conservatives that unlimited government is a threat to moral self-government, and national security conservatives that energetic but responsible government is the key to America’s safety and leadership role in the world.

Even though I am not sure about the “leadership role in the world” bit except as it relates to America’s safety, I like it for most of the reasons Rick Moran doesn’t. There is another movement which has drafted a contract from America which proposes twenty separate proposals to be voted on and posted on April 15; they all appear to be subsumed within the three basic points of the Mount Vernon Statement. If either movement is to succeed, the focus has to be on the major issues as to which there is substantial unity: respect for the Constitution, America’s safety, and minimal governmental meddling. The focus cannot be allowed to slide to more contentious issues such as abortion, gay marriage, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the like. There are many who support respect for the Constitution, America’s safety, and minimal governmental meddling but who also favor abortion rights; there are some agnostics and I am one of them. There are also homosexual conservatives; if they support the basic goals, they should not be excluded. We need their support. Once there is a responsible and responsive government, these issues can be debated. The best place to do it would be at the state level; the states are diverse and their residents — not the federal government — should govern them.

Senator McCain says he also hopes to have a ten-point Republican manifesto this spring; time and the country have passed him by and it’s probably too late for that. He should find an enjoyable pasture to which he can retire. Rinoville should be a pleasant place; Obamaville looks like another promising choice.

Lieutenant Colonel Allen West, a candidate in Florida’s 22nd Congressional District, or someone like him may be what we eventually need. He generally has been flying under the radar but that may change. This rather bombastic video has already had over two million viewers. According to James Lewis, West “is an adult who can make a moral decision under immense pressure. Far too many of our politicians just slip around real moral decisions; those are the people we don’t need as leaders.”

Here is a twenty minute lecture by Colonel West about terrorism and Afghanistan. Others may have said some of the same things, but none whom I can recall have said them as well; I certainly have not heard comparable good sense coming from the White House, President Obama’s security advisors, or the leaders of either major party. They are effectively muzzled by the need to be all things to all people while offending none. As a consequence of this process, the basic principles have been buried out of sight and out of mind under a vast mountain of junk.

This time, perhaps we can get it right; we had better. If a basic conservative is to become a viable presidential candidate for 2012, it’s already high time to think about it. One will emerge soon enough; too soon and he will be a lightning rod.

If the focus is on 2012, as I think it should be, it is not necessary for the Republicans to win control of the legislature this year, and it may not happen in any event. True, it is generally better and more satisfying to win than to lose. However, sometimes it is necessary to focus on the war rather on the immediate battle and thereby to sacrifice one objective in favor of other, more important basic objectives. Heresy of heresy, perhaps it might even be better if the Republicans didn’t win a majority in 2010 and sat proudly in an increased number of cheap seats for a little while longer. A “Hail Mary” pass perhaps, but if they do win a significant majority in 2010 it might well pave the way for another conciliatory middle of the road candidate in 2012; then, next verse, same as the first. Not a good thing.

Even if the Republicans do win majorities in both houses of Congress, they are very unlikely to win veto-proof majorities. President Obama can quite effectively disparage, and compensate for, congressional “obstructionism” by issuing executive orders regardless of whether the Republicans gain a simple majority or remain in the minority. The more ill-advised executive orders he issues, and the more harmful regulatory actions “his” regulatory agencies take — and we ain’t seen nothin’ yet — the more good red meat the conservatives will have in 2012 when it really matters.

Sometimes chemotherapy cures cancer and sometimes it doesn’t. It is unpleasant and often is a last resort; that seems to be where we presently are. With a strong conservative minority in the Congress and looking toward 2012, the Republicans — allied with the amorphous “tea baggers” but neither absorbing the other into oblivion — can help to point the country in a positive direction. If sufficient others sniff the wind and go along with them, President Obama may come to be seen as the overreaching “president of no!” There is nothing particularly dynamic about just say no; should that happen, President Obama’s chances of winning reelection will be further diminished and the chances of a real honest to goodness basic conservative becoming the president in 2013 will be enhanced.

I hope that the Republican Party does not get bogged down in following a “safe and moderate path.” If it does, the tea party movement must follow it neither into oblivion nor into ruinous infighting. The conservatives shouldn’t take positions calculated to alienate other conservatives who share their basic principles but don’t agree on some of the ancillary issues. The overriding basic and common issues are respect for the Constitution, America’s safety, and minimal governmental meddling. Those should be the focus and they should be sufficient.

President Obama won the 2008 election on a platform of hope and change. He has brilliantly albeit inadvertently demonstrated that the need for both is far greater now than it was in 2008. If the incubus of leftist control is to be felled and the country is to revive, substantial change is needed. We need to do more than hope for it, and are unlikely to get it if the focus this year is on short-term goals.

Dan Miller graduated from Yale University in 1963 and from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1966. He retired from the practice of law in Washington, D.C., in 1996 and has lived in a rural area in Panama since 2002.
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