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The sauce for Nixon’s goose becomes the sauce for Clinton’s gander. Cheers for Nixon’s special prosecutorial nemesis Archibald Cox makes it difficult to credibly smear special prosecutor Starr as he uses Cox’s precedents to impeach Clinton. If you make tactics your philosophy rather than points on a map to your philosophical destination, whether you understand it or not, whether you like it or not, that warming sensation you feel is the fire you have lit beneath your own political posterior.
Conservatism and liberalism are historically philosophies that revolve around principles. For better or worse, the idea of more or less government, a right to privacy or right to life, military strength or the lack thereof and much more, all can be connected directly to a specific approach to government. Politicians who support one or another of these philosophies are readily identifiable. To simply say the names Goldwater, Reagan, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, McGovern and so on is to quickly identify someone associated with a specific approach to public policy on one side of the track or the other. Your principles can and will be the subject of disagreement with your opposites, but they will never embarrass you into the role of appearing as someone who will “say anything” just to accomplish the objective of the moment.
ON THE SURFACE the ideology of tactics has a glittering appeal, so stunningly attractive, so easy, that modern liberals — and even some conservatives — have found it impossible to resist.
How does it work?
First, you need a hot political topic. Any subject will do. Then find the easy and opposite answer to whatever your opponent is doing or saying. Any opposite answer will do, the more extreme the better. You get lots of media coverage and damage can in fact be done to your opponent.
In the short term, the use of tactics as ideology almost always works. Nixon was forced to resign. Reagan brought perilously low. Bork was kept off the Court and Thomas was smeared. Scooter Libby was convicted. Only when the passage of time shows you up do people begin to finally catch on. Say, they realize as they learn about Bill Clinton and Paula Jones and Bill and Kathleen Willey and Bill and another woman and yet another and another, didn’t liberals insist “women tell the truth” and demand men should be kept out of office for these kind of offenses? Didn’t the fans of Valerie Plame indignantly insist CIA agents should absolutely have their identities protected at all costs? So what’s wrong with the idea of CIA agents destroying tapes of themselves questioning terrorists? Shouldn’t they be protected from Karl Rove and Scooter Libby-like members of Congress who might abuse their office by leaking the tapes to the New York Times or CBS? And so on.
Over time this approach has, doubtless unintentionally, helped highlight conservative principles for no other reason than that they remain consistent. If a conservative believes in a strong national security — peace through strength — then his or her approach to Iraq is refreshingly predictable. Stable. If conservatives oppose activist judges — they believe it no matter who is nominating judges. If they love Bush nominees for their presumed adherence to conservative principles of judging, they have no fear in opposing a Bush appointment of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court for precisely the same reason — they believed she would not do so. If, on the other hand, conservatives campaign for limited government and against government waste — then, elected, proceed to gorge on earmarks and pork, anger and a conservative backlash is sure to follow, making a 2006-style electoral defeat predictable.
This explains, in part, the popularity of talk radio. Conservative hosts present themselves as reliable champions of a governing philosophy. Discussing tactics… they are not all about the latest tactic.
This also explains why someone like 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry flip-flops. His famous comment about his vote on an Iraq War appropriation, that he was actually against it before he was for it, is not simply vintage Kerry but vintage tactical ideology. If he really felt comfortable publicly defending his liberalism he would have voted against it — and voted against it again. So too does it explain why Hillary does her tactical dance on licenses for illegal immigrants.
LEAVE IT TO BILL AND HILLARY Clinton to make the most of tactics as ideology. They spent eight years in the White House establishing themselves as the veritable King and Queen of Tactics. What, after all was Bill Clinton’s famous “triangulation” all about if not governing by tactic? One of the lesser noted aspects of the Clinton years when they departed the White House was the permanent impression husband and wife made with the public about their willingness to say — and do — anything to gain and retain power. From triangulation and the so-called “third way” to the signing of a Newt Gingrich welfare reform bill to the conjuring of a “vast right wing conspiracy” — each and every one of these were nothing more than Clintonian adherence to the ideology of tactics. This, of course, is exactly what was at the heart of Bill Clinton’s recent statement in Iowa that he was opposed to the Iraq War right from the start, when the record, much of it on videotape, clearly says the opposite. His description of his position on Iraq was just one more tactic in a decade and a half long parade of Clinton tactics, this one designed to get votes for his wife.
So comes now candidate Hillary Clinton and her losing poll numbers to two opposition Democrats — two guys who insist on campaigning on out-and-out modern liberal principles of class envy and variants of pacifism, two of the pillars of the usually much hidden liberal ideology. Her response? To stand on her platform of tactics as ideology: Obama said he wanted to be president in kindergarten, Obama as Muslim, Obama as drug dealer, Billy Sheehan as unauthorized spokesman etc. etc. etc.
Hillary Clinton is finally being called to account for the accumulated sins of all those liberals who abandoned a vigorous public defense of liberalism as they found it post-McGovern. She is not responsible for the ideology of tactics, nor is her husband. But they are both individually — not to mention collectively — its most famous believers and ferocious practitioners as everyone from Paula Jones to Barack Obama has discovered..
Die-hard liberals in America have finally become fed up with the game. Nixon and Reagan are dead. Thomas is on the Court to stay. Special prosecutors are blessedly a relic (mostly) of the past, they could care less about sexual harassment and it is time, from their MoveOn.org perch, to just say it flat out: we’re mad as hell about this kind of game-playing from our liberal leaders and we’re not going to take it anymore. Thus Obama and Edwards surge.
The ideology of tactics is taking a beating in Iowa as we head into the Christmas break. And so is Hillary Clinton.
The King and Queen of the ideology of tactics, it is suddenly realized with a collective gasp by the media, have no philosophically principled clothes. Slowly it begins to dawn. Maybe — just maybe — the Iowa caucuses and the 2008 primary season are signaling something significant.
The end of an era.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
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