Most readers of Roger’s Rules probably remember learning the word “antidisestablishmentarianism” when they were in grade school. At twenty-eight letters and twelve syllables, it is one of the longest words in the English language. You may have been told, as I was, that it is the longest. That is not correct. There are a few that are longer: floccinaucinihilipilification, for example. That mouthful boasts twenty-nine letters and describes the habit of estimating something as worthless. Think of how useful it’s going to be as we scrutinize the wreckage Washington has foisted upon the country in its pursuit of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”
Possibly, you were a little fuzzy on what “antidisestablishmentarianism” actually meant. Latterly, of course, you learned that it had its origin in England in the 19th-century and that it described the movement opposing the disestablismentarians, those who wished to disestablish the Church of England.
It’s not a word that you hear very often, but recent events make me wonder whether it deserves dusting off and updating. I am thinking, naturally, of the furor that greeted Christine O’Donnell’s victory in the Delaware Republican Senate primary the other day.
My own feeling about the race, which I wrote about here on Wednesday, is that it is a wake-up call for the political establishment, Republican as well as Democrat. You needn’t be a certified haruspex or expert reader of tea leaves to know that the tea parties have brewed up an eye-opening draught. One important unanswered question is whether the movement that cast up Christine O’Donnell is sufficiently robust to translate Tuesday’s upset into November’s victory.
I do not know the answer to that. I do not believe anyone else does, either. Which is why I have regarded the widespread invocation of the Buckley Rule with some misgiving. The rule stipulates that the prudent conservative seeks to support the candidate who 1) best embodies conservative principles and 2) is electable. It’s that second part that worries me. How, looking at things beforehand, can we know?
Well, we can’t, not really. The best we can do is make more or less educated guesses and be mighty pleased with ourselves if the guess turns out to be correct.
I agree with commentators like Scott Johnson, who has a typically insightful column on the subject at Powerline, and Charles Krauthammer, who weighs in on the Buckley Rule today, that the the Buckley Rule is the counsel of prudence, “a timeless rule,” as Charles put it, “of sober politics.” The problem is that it is often a rule that can be applied only in hindsight. It is less a maxim that can guide action than a ideal desideratum we may pursue but rarely if ever achieve.
So what about the alternative that Rush Limbaugh articulated, the Limbaugh Rule, which stipulates that “in an election year when voters are fed up with liberalism, you vote for the most conservative Republican in the primary — period.”
Is that imprudent? It depends on how fed up the voters really are. Is the tea party an interesting distraction? Or does it token a fundamental realignment? How many events like this one from Effingham, Illinois, are there going on around the country?
How deep is the anger? How thoroughgoing is the rejection of the status quo, the current of disestablishmentarianism? That’s another question we do not yet know the answer to. Christine O’Donnell has a lot of personal baggage. But that is hardly unusual among people who wish to join the greatest deliberative body in the world. How do her misdemeanors stack up against those of Charlie Rangel, say, or Maxine Waters, or Chris Dodd? Is she unelectable? I do not know — but then neither does anyone else. Charles Krauthammer is dubious. Hence his antidisestablishmentarianism when it comes to the role of the tea party in elevating Christine O’Donnell. I’m not sure whether his sketpicism is warranted. But he certainly offers some sound advice at the end of his column: “If DeMint and Palin want to show that helping O’Donnell over the top . . . wasn’t a capricious spreading of fairy dust, perhaps they should go to Delaware now and get her elected to the Senate.” Good idea. Then we’ll be able to say that we followed the Buckley Rule by adopting the Limbaugh Rule. Happiness reigns.