Roger’s Rules

Who Governs?

One of the great themes of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain is time. In one haunting passage, Mann describes the curious distortion of the experience of time that occurs to many inmates of the mountain sanatorium where the book’s principal action unfolds. Each day seems to go on forever, but the weeks whiz by and months, well, they just evanesce without trace.

I suspect something similar happens on pleasure cruises. I am only into my second day of National Review’s post-election cruise and already I can see that there are odd bulges and contractions in the orderly progression of minutes and hours. Those looking after the passengers must have some inkling of this, for I noticed that all of the elevators (yes, elevators: this is one big ship) have mats that announce the day of the week lest the patrons lose track of just where in the week they are. Today, in case you were wondering, is MONDAY.

So far, the mood has been distinctly upbeat. The results of November 2 waft like a pleasing zephyr through the hallways of this red-state crowd. Yes, there were disappointments, but every rose has its thorn and although Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer are formidable thorns around here, there is an unstated gentleman’s agreement to regard the election as cause for celebration.

I think it was, too, though it is worth asking exactly what happened. That was the subject of the first two sessions, an interview between longtime NR staffer John J. Miller and Pat Toomey, one of the brightest new conservative lights in the Senate, and an interview between NR editor Rich Lowry and conservative pollster Scott Rasmussen.

The big theme Senator-elect Toomey and Scott Rasmussen had in common was this: the 2010 mid-term election was not an endorsement of Republicans. It was a shot — a veritable cannonade — across the bow of the political establishment, Republican just as much as Democrat. As Mr. Toomey put it, Republicans are very much “on probation.” If they pack their bags, go to Washington, and continue the big-government, tax-and-spend policies that has been the stock-in-trade of the political class for as long as anyone can remember, then 2012 will be a repeat of 2010, but with a load of those just voted in voted out.

One symbolic issue is earmarks. Senator Tom Coburn, I read today on Instapundit, is one who gets the message.

Republicans can send a signal that they get it. Or they can send a signal that they continue to not get it and say they’re not going to change. And if they do that, they’re going to pay for it at the ballot box.

It has been pointed out often recently that the total number of dollars involved in earmarks is, as dollars are counted these days in Washington, comparatively small. But the move against earmarks, which is gathering steam, has a symbolic value: earmarks are a tit-for-tat, quid-pro-quo, underhanded means of funneling money to one’s constituents. It is a rotten practice that should stop. And beyond that, as Mr.Toomey pointed out, it nurtures a culture of corruption, because politicians who insert earmarks into a bill are then committed to voting for it, whether or not it turns out to be a dog’s breakfast of a bill.

Scott Rasmussen pushed harder on this anti-business-as-usual theme. What do people want government to do? Only 21 percent of those polled believe that our government governs with the consent of the governed. They do not want to be be governed by Democrats. They do not want to be governed by Republicans, either. They want a government that, by adhering to the principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility, will continue that great experiment that Washington, Madison, and Hamilton inaugurated in the late 18th century: a government that managed the great trick of being an exercise in self-government.

Mr. Rasmussen also made a prediction: the Republican candidate in 2012 would not be Mitt Romney. It would not be Tim Pawlenty or Newt Gingrich. Nor would it be Sarah Palin. But would, he said, be “a friend of Sarah’s,” i.e., someone who spoke up for the forgotten principles of the Founders, who believed, with Ronald Reagan, that the nine most terrifying words in the English language were “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

November 2nd was not the end, not by a long shot. But it was a rousing beginning of a movement to take back America: back from the insulated political class who think they know better than the people they supposedly represent how they should live their lives and how they should spend their money.

It was a tonic beginning to what promises to be a thoroughly bracing paean to self-government.