“It is curious – curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.” Mark Twain
In 1976 being a “movement” conservative was not easy.
We were, much like today’s constitutional and religious conservatives, and the Tea Party - outside the Republican and cultural establishment both – lied about, despised and marginalized. Most of us were new to politics, drawn into action by the death spiral of the Johnson-Nixon era, the unraveling culture and the dramatic growth of a paternalistic national government.
We were looking for rational, principled and honest leadership to save an America that was being driven into social chaos and literally being burned down by far left radicals on the one hand; and crippled by weak-kneed so-called “moderate” Republicans on the other, who were passionless and who refused to fight for anything except their own positions. To us, they looked and acted like the undertakers to American greatness, and we came to understand that they were actually just as absorbed as the far left was in perpetuating and managing a huge bloated, freedom crushing central government. Too many loved the power and privilege of the growing ruling class.
The difference between 1976 and today was Ronald Reagan.
We came out of the businesses, farms and factories of America, and joined a genuine citizen revolt that nearly denied the GOP nomination to the decent, but wholly inept sitting president, Gerald Ford (who went on to lose to the hapless Jimmy Carter – the second worst president in modern history behind the current occupant).
In the ensuing four years the Reagan conservatives upturned countless state parties and won scores of elections replacing party leaders – it was tough, confrontational and occasionally ugly. But conservatives wrestled away the leadership of the Republican Party so they could fight for the cause the “establishment” leaders had refused to fight for – and in so doing, the Reagan revolution changed America and advanced the cause of human liberty for a generation.
Reagan bought us that generation; but only one.
While the circumstances have changed, the cast of characters in 2013 remains the same. There are the ultra hard left collectivists who 40 years ago were burning down the cities and today largely run the Democrat Party, the universities, the mainline churches, and the press; and the crony-capitalist, big government establishment patrons of the Republican Party who have wormed themselves back into the party’s leadership by learning how to “speak” conservative in public, while voting “left” in office. And they have proved for the most part, to be as weak, timid and wholly without principle as they were 40 years ago.
Both groups of politicians have brought to the land a civil chaos growing exponentially.
This is what happens when free people abandon their government to political opportunists on both sides of the aisle; the Federal government now acts as our unchallengeable sovereign; our content-free and moral-less education has collapsed and been replaced by cultural Marxism; our financial affairs are at once corrupt and corrupting; our culture speaks to the debased; our laws foil the law abiding and excuse the lawless.
Worst of all, our so-called “leadership” has deserted the defense of our core liberties of speech, association, religious freedom and redress of grievances.
There are no easy answers here; and there will be no popular ones. The responses all involve political, cultural, and religious conservatives fighting – not with respectful deference to our failed leadership, nor with the soft tones of those who question the rightness of the cause; but with the thundering collective voice of the majority of Americans just like us, who see that the nation is slipping away at freighting pace.
To paraphrase President Lincoln; it is up to conservatives to “bear the battle.” No one else will.
Retracing our steps to 1976, genuine conservatives must fight first those who have co-opted the Reagan Revolution -cleaning up our own “ranks.” While we don’t have a leader like Reagan, conservatives do have the raw numbers – we are clearly the majority even at this late hour. That means that when we turn out, as in 2010, we can impact politics. But to do this consistently means spending time, treasure and energy on the local, county and state level, becoming active and vocal in the politics and operation of the Party – and in our culture and churches.
If conservatives don’t stay engaged year to year, then the wrong mechanics working under the hood of our national life will monkey with the engine every time.
On the national level, conservatives have to turn their attention to removing the Republican House and Senate leadership – all of them.
We have extremely pathetic and unprincipled leadership, especially in the House. The “bill of particulars” is long, starting with the majority status squandered from 2001-2006; their mindless pandering since 2010 even after conservatives handed them back that which they could not win for themselves; right up to this past week with the House leadership shamefully – and very aggressively – pressing the Republican majority to support and implement several key items on the far left’s agenda while attacking genuine conservatives who opposed them. The Senate’s inability to craft a message for the 2012 elections and win a working majority is by itself reason enough to replace that leadership.
Conservatives have to bring all of their energy to removing this enfeebled, inarticulate and clumsy leadership with primary challenges; and if the individual leaders can’t be defeated in a primary, then conservatives must be prepared for serious collective soul searching prior to the general election – to lose one seat to change leadership, or to revert to the “lesser of two evils” strategy?
How’s that working out for us?
The first test for this could actually be at the state level; Virginia’s establishment class has just concocted and passed the most disingenuous, and pork laden tax increase in Virginia history – under the guise of a transportation bill. It’s an eye-popping $6+ billion dollar tax bill over five years that that will actually only provide marginal new resources to transportation (while the actual money already is being collected for road maintenance and construction through the gas tax is being used largely for everything but transportation).
The Governor of Virginia – who ran as a “conservative” of course – cannot be removed as he only serves one term. But Virginia’s entire House of Delegates is up for election in November of 2013.
Conservatives have an opportunity to send a clear and empathic message by challenging every delegate, including and especially the Republican House Speaker, who voted for this huge pork barrel tax increase that runs counter to their own Party Pledge, and the campaign promises most of them campaigned on.
(Even worse, this whole tax package was first sprung on unsuspecting citizens with only a few weeks of consideration or public input – in keeping with the new tradition established by Nancy Pelosi’s “we have to pass the bill to learn what’s in it” school of legislation.)
If these delegates and the Speaker can’t be defeated in a primary, then the dilemma for conservatives is, again, can these delegates be supported in a general election?
This is a hard pill for many to swallow. The political risk is high for conservatives and the choice is tough – but the risks to our nation and the Commonwealth are even higher if we can’t count on honest, principled leadership that will keep its word to the people who put them in office. If they can’t do the minimum, what would make us believe they will ever do the maximum – and defend the Constitution?
The question of genuine conservatives is simple; are you in or out?
Mike Giere has written extensively on politics, foreign policy, and issues of faith. He is a former candidate for the US House; worked for Ronald Reagan in 76 & 80; and served in both the Reagan and Bush (41) Administrations.