Monday, May 22, 2006

Viguerie: Right Diagnosis, Wrong Prescription

My friend of two decades, Richard Viguerie, published a provocative piece in yesterday's Washington Post "Outlook" section. There, on page B1, under the headline Bush's Base Betrayal,Richard argues that perhaps conservatives should stay home in November to punish President Bush and the GOP for its apostasy. And just for good measure, perhaps conservatives should be prepared to have the GOP lose control of the White House in 2008, too.

Let us hope that's Richard's musings are nothing more than that -- musings. Because were conservatives to follow his advice and stay home in November, it would be as egregious an example of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face as ever has been witnessed in American politics.

Are conservatives happy with the GOP? No, they are not. In recent months, as Richard correctly notes, the President's approval ratings have been diving -- largely driven by the increasing disaffection of base GOP voters. In the span of just one month, he notes, disapproval of the President's job performance among Republican voters virtually doubled, from 16 to 30 percent.

Richard's list of the President's "betrayals" is long and varied, and is not, to be sure, without merit. Conservative Republicans who voted for George W. Bush for President in 2000 certainly had no reason to expect that his Administration would lead the charge for a new Medicare prescription drug benefit that will be the largest expansion of the welfare state since the days of LBJ and the Great Society; nor did they have reason to believe he would sign the McCain-Feingold/Shays-Meehan Incumbent Protection Act (referred to by the mainstream media as "campaign finance reform"); nor did they have reason to believe he would increase federal spending so much that he made Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter look like pikers.

But I believe Richard goes too far when he cites the President's No Child Left Behind act and the President's failure to veto a single bill as "betrayals" by the President. Anyone who paid attention during the campaign of 2000 could have reasonably surmised that a President Bush would work to enact a major federal education reform -- and that this, in his eyes, would mean working with Ted Kennedy. And why would any Republican voter in 2000 have had the reasonable expectation that he should veto bills coming to him from a House and Senate controlled by fellow Republicans?

Then there are the twin prizes totally unmentioned by Richard: to wit, John Roberts and Samuel Alito. In Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justice Alito, the President has placed on the Supreme Court of the United States two solidly conservative legal intellects, who can be counted on to influence American jurisprudence for the next quarter century. No small feat, that.

And don't forget the tax cuts passed in 2001, 2003, and just last week. By enacting tax cuts on a "temporary" basis, there's a built-in guarantee for the future -- for what President and Congress in 2010 or later wants to be responsible for letting them phase out, and foist another massive tax increase on the American public?

But I quibble. On the larger point -- that many conservatives feel disappointed and even betrayed -- Richard is quite correct. They feel embarrassed by their support for an Administration that so seriously screwed up the response to a hurricane that they found themselves longing for the days of Bill Clinton's FEMA director; they feel let down by the President's failure, so far, to push for a constitutional amendment defending traditional marriage; they were shocked when the President nominated his personal lawyer for a seat on the Supreme Court, despite her obvious lack of qualification; they feel just as confused about what's going on in Iraq as do their liberal friends.

Suggesting Richard has the diagnosis right, however, is not the same as saying Richard has the prescription right. Sometimes, the proposed cure is worse than the disease.

Suppose millions of conservatives were to follow Richard's proposed prescription, and stayed home in November: the result could well be GOP losses so great that Democrats retake control of either the House or the Senate or both. Of course, this is precisely the effect Richard desires.

But note the first problem with this "solution": If President Bush is the "problem," shouldn't it be President Bush who pays the price? Why should the political retribution be aimed at anywhere other than at President Bush?

The second -- and larger -- problem with Richard's proposed solution, of course, is that the REAL pain of the "solution" would be inflicted on Americans of all shapes and sizes -- and, most especially, on conservatives themselves.

In the last 26 years, Democrats have had control of the White House and the House and the Senate for precisely two years -- from January 1993 through January 1995. During that short two-year period, they: foisted on the nation the largest tax increase in American history; tried to nationalize the world's best health care system, and turn it into an American version of Britain's National Health Service; enacted a "crime bill" that had the government spending money on midnight basketball and dance classes for criminals; banned so-called "assault weapons" that were defined by nothing more than cosmetics, and enacted other "gun control" restrictions so severe even the Democrats who still hold office don't any longer discuss; overturned the Reagan "Mexico City" policy; implemented the infamous "don't ask, don't tell" policy overturning centuries of tradition in the armed forces; allowed women into combat units for the first time; gutted the Beck decision protecting workers' rights to control the use of their own union dues; and implemented Executive Orders that had conservatives wailing and gnashing their teeth. I'm sure I've left out a laundry list of other liberal policies, but I'm getting on in years, and memory no longer serves as it once did.

Of course, the nation's response was to throw the bums out the first chance they got. There can be no doubt that Republicans never would have taken control of the House of Representatives for the first time in four decades if Democrats hadn't had the chance to over-reach during those crucial two years.

Not coincidentally, it was during those two years that the conservative movement -- decimated at the grass-roots level by 12 years of GOP control of the White House -- was able to rebuild and reassert itself.

(The movement's response to Ronald Reagan's election in 1980 was, "Thank God! Now that we've finally got a true conservative in the White House, I don't need to write a check any longer to the American Conservative Union!" And the movement's response to George H.W. Bush's presidency was "No, thank you." To use the American Conservative Union as an example, on the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, ACU had some 1.5 million donors; by the time George H.W. Bush left office twelve years later, that number was down to 30,000. But within two years of Bill Clinton's inauguration, ACU donor rolls were surging back to the million-plus level. Coincidence? I think not.)

Isn't there another way to square the circle? Must conservatives be willing to tolerate at least two years of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, Education Chairman George Miller, Energy and Commerce Chairman Dingell (again!), and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman? Must we be willing to give up conservative leaders like Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, Jim Talent in Missouri, and George Allen in Virginia, just to prove a point?

Like C.S. Lewis's insight that every choice made represents movement either one step closer to or one step further away from God, I view individual election contests as bringing the nation one step closer to or one step further from conservative governance.

A perfect example can be found in the contest for the U.S. Senate currently being waged in New Jersey between Republican Tom Kean Jr. and Democrat Bob Menendez. Is Kean as conservative as I? Of course not. Few political leaders are. And fewer still are the political leaders in New Jersey who are as conservative as I. But is Tom Kean Jr. more conservative than Bob Menendez? Of course he is. If for no other reason than the certainty of my belief that Kean will vote for Republican Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader, I strongly back him over Menendez.

Some conservatives in New Jersey disagree. These are the same people who, last year, denied their support to Bret Schundler, ostensibly based on their belief that he wasn't conservative "enough" for them. They cast their primary ballots instead for Steve Lonegan, a man who never had any chance of winning a statewide general election, to prove a point. In so doing, they denied themselves the best chance they've had in decades to have a conservative take the Governor's Mansion. And now they are paying the price: New Democrat Governor Jon Corzine is proposing massive tax increases to the Democrat-controlled legislature.

Perhaps national conservatives should look at what's happening in New Jersey right now if they want a preview of what could happen to the nation in 2007 if they follow Richard's prescription.


Post a Comment

<< Home