Posted on | January 13, 2013 | 32 Comments
Guest Post by Warner Todd Huston
In a recent item at The Fix Blog, Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza focused on the apparent waning power of the Republican Party among the center right coalition. Cillizza makes some good points, of course, but I do have at least one warning to our side over the points Cillizza makes.
Cillizza’s focus is on the recent departure from the Senate of South Carolina’s Jim DeMint who abruptly left a high profile political career to take the top spot leading the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Cillizza doesn’t mention it, but DeMint wasn’t just any old faceless senator. He had made himself an important voice in conservative circles even going so far as to become a major national player in elections whereby candidates would make a pilgrimage to his offices to seek his endorsement.
So, when DeMint left the power of the Senate behind, it was a big shock to conservatives who had hoped he’d continue to be a major conservative voice inside Washington.
Anyway, Cillizza quotes DeMint as saying that the “election taught conservatives that we can no longer entrust political parties to carry our message.” This, DeMint explained, is why he left politics proper to sign on as head of the Heritage Foundation. He felt he was going to a place where he could do far more for conservatism than he could while wrapped in the straitjacket of elected office.
As we wrote at the time, DeMint’s decision to walk away from the Senate–long considered the pinnacle of power and influence in American politics–was, in and of itself, a potent symbol of the broader shift away from traditional political parties and toward outside interest groups.
And, DeMint’s opinion piece represents a broader sentiment within the conservative movement, that its establishment leaders simply lack the ability to point a way out of the political wilderness.
Yes, this rings true. Such as it is.
But why do we conservatives feel this way?
It isn’t because there is any lack of conservative talk in Washington, really. In actuality, an increasing number of Senators and Representatives on the GOP side of the aisle pay fealty to conservatism. It is inarguable that the center right in Congress has grown more rightward over the last 30 years in both rhetoric and often in votes.
But the problem is, Democrats have gone even further to the left than Republicans have gone right. This drags the final outcomes of the political debate too often to the extreme left and too many Republicans feel it is their job to “compromise” and arrive at that vaunted middle ground with the increasingly far left Democrat Party.
It is a myth, of course, that compromise is good merely because agreement was reached. There were compromises for decades upon decades that kept slavery in existence, after all. Principles are principles for a reason and today we have Democrats that care nothing for America, its traditions or its mores and with that Republicans simply should never compromise.
But, with all that said, here is the thing. It is far easier to be a member of Americans for Tax Reform and concern yourselfonly about your one, pet issue: taxes. It is easier to be a member of Americans for Prosperity and worry yourself only over budgetary issues or the occasional other single issue that you work on there. It is easier to be a member of the Heritage Foundation and worry only about advocating strictly for your conservative principles on whatever issue is at hand. It is easier to do all of this than to have to go to Congress and actually work with an enemy that wants to materially damage this country (I’m looking at you Barack Obama) and be forced to record an actual, meaningful vote on issues that affect your constituents–people you are accountable to for those votes.
See what I am saying? It is easier to stand with Heritage, AFP, or ATR and be staunch in your positions than it is to have to get down in the weeds and actually govern.
That is and has always been the biggest problem with the right. It is easy to plant your feet, throw out your hands, and say “here but no farther” than it is to actually do the messy work of governing. Easier to stand outside the system and carp about what should be than to actually take the reins in your hands and do the guiding from the driver’s seat.
So, now we get to my real reason for writing this. Are we excluding ourselves from any possibility of pulling the levers of power by running off to Heritage or AFP, et al and abandoning party politics?
One has to say yes and one also has to keep this in mind going forward.
Now, I won’t try to claim that I am smart enough to determine how to meld the two needs; that of advocating good policy along with getting said policy enacted. But we must not run from elected office and party politics merely because it is so hard to get our ideas enacted in the messy world of Washington D.C.
It would be a self-defeating mistake to think we can win solely by advocacy alone. All the organizations I mentioned above are important and worthy groups (and I have worked with all of them and will do so in the future). But they just can’t get the job done without politicians who agree with their issues and vote their way.
Finally, remember this: if elected officials don’t feel they will get support from a group, they have no reason at all to cater to that group. If all we do is advocate, but we don’t then move to support, we will be talking ourselves blue in the face–or red in the face, as the case may be–and we won’t win a single vote if no politicians are beholden to us for any material, real world support.