“The tax issue is finished. Over. Completed. That’s behind us.”
-- Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell
“The hard fact is that nothing could have arrested what actually happened…"
-- British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on the Nazi invasion of Austria
“Our affairs have come to such a pass that there is no escape without running risks.”
So said a resolute Winston Churchill as, still out of favor with his own Conservative government, he stood up in the House of Commons in March of 1938 to protest the government’s passive response to the occupation and annexation of Austria by Adolf Hitler’s Germany. Or, as it is known to history, the “Anschluss.”
Churchill was rebuffed by his party’s leadership, which had less and less patience with him by the day. Indeed, Sir Alexander Cadogan, the British Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office and a devout believer in appeasement, wrote to the like-minded British Ambassador to Berlin that he, Cadogan, had “almost” wished Hitler “would swallow Austria and get it over.” He added:
“Thank goodness Austria’s out of the way. I can’t help thinking we were very badly informed about that country.… We should evidently have been very wrong to try to prevent Anschluss against the wishes of a very considerable proportion of the (Austrian) population. After all, it wasn’t our business: We had no particular feelings for the Austrians: We only forbade Anschluss to spite Germany.”
No one -- to be abundantly clear -- is comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler. Idiocy.
What does stand out in looking back at this particular lesson of history is the story of what human beings do when confronted with what they perceive as overwhelming opposition. When they look at a political situation and see -- hopelessness. Causing them to act with timidity.
In 1938 there were many -- almost the entire senior leadership of the British government -- who responded to Hitler’s aggressiveness by advocating a policy of appeasement. They had appeased his repeated violations of the Treaty of Versailles, appeased his re-arming of Germany, would appease his Anschluss with Austria and would later appease his takeover of Czechoslovakia. Webster’s defines appeasement as “to yield to the demands of in a conciliatory effort, sometimes at the expense of one’s principles.”
It was the chief feature of British foreign policy in the 1930s -- and an infamous failure. Prime Ministers Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, conservatives both, repeatedly misjudged the man they were dealing with. They looked at their adversary and saw a man whose only objective was his stated one of the moment. When his real goal was the Nazi domination of all of Europe -- and the world beyond. The Thousand Year Reich.
It is safe to say that there is an impression abroad in the world of American conservatives that the urge with House and Senate GOP leaders Speaker John Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell has been to approach President Obama one objective at a time. Today the fiscal cliff, yesterday Obamacare or an executive order on immigration or a trillion-dollar stimulus, and tomorrow the debt ceiling increase and so on and on.
This column titled "The Education of John Boehner" by the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore does nothing but re-enforce the impression. Moore begins his piece this way:
What stunned House Speaker John Boehner more than anything else during his prolonged closed-door budget negotiations with Barack Obama was this revelation: "At one point several weeks ago," Mr. Boehner says, "the president said to me, 'We don't have a spending problem.'"
What this article reveals is a Speaker Boehner who had not -- perhaps still has not -- taken the full measure of his adversary.
Hence the conservative discord that flared during Boehner’s re-election as House Speaker.
The belief -- it is perhaps more accurate to describe it as an article of conservative faith than a “belief” -- in many conservative quarters is that President Obama is exactly a man of his word. His stated objective is to transform America -- and that is exactly what he and his liberal allies on Capitol Hill and in the media are all about.
To believe otherwise, to use more benign examples than history’s most infamous dictator, is to believe Steve Jobs was all about a hobby when building a computer in his garage. Or that Henry Ford just wanted to be the only guy in America who drove an automobile while everybody else was stuck with a horse and carriage.
Which is to say, it is a fool’s errand to treat with Mr. Obama on any issue as a stand-alone. And one ignores at one’s peril the issues raised by liberals who happen not to be occupying the literal president’s chair in the Oval Office.
It is no accident that the other day in the New York Times, as the nation awaited news on a fiscal cliff deal, Georgetown law professor Louis Michael Seidman took to the op-ed pages of America’s liberal bible to say:
As the nation teeters at the edge of fiscal chaos, observers are reaching the conclusion that the American system of government is broken. But almost no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions.
You read that right. A liberal professor of constitutional law regards the Constitution -- the very document then-State Senator Obama once derided as a document of “negative rights” as “downright evil.” This is, of course, along the same line of thought as expressed by no less than liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who told Egyptians last year that she wouldn’t recommend the U.S. Constitution as a guide to establishing an Egyptian democracy. And don’t forget this gem, also from the Times, which has Washington University of St. Louis professor David Law doing a study on the Constitution that compares it to “Windows 3.1” Meaning: antiquated. Out of date. Irrelevant.
One can only see stories like this one in the Washington Post that report Vice President Biden’s gun control panel is considering “universal” gun registration to understand the liberal assault on the Second Amendment is gearing up yet again.
When taken together, from the Obama stimulus to Obamacare to the just-made nomination of Nebraska’s cranky dove, the anti-Israel Chuck Hagel, as Secretary of Defense, there are conservatives aplenty who see anything and everything Obama does as part and parcel a of long-term strategy to not simply “transform” America but to irrevocably make it a country that was never imagined in the wildest imaginings of its founding fathers.
To make of it a “post-Constitutional” America as Mark Levin discusses in his book Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America. A nation where Americans are gradually confronted with a reality that strips them over time of their most fundamental rights, leading them step-by-step to life in a country that has been deliberately, willfully bankrupted, riven by class and racial warfare.
This palpable concern that Republican leaders are repeatedly demonstrating a clueless inability to understand what it means to deal with President Obama is what is driving the not-so-behind the-scenes alarm with the fiscal cliff deal.
The idea expressed by columnist George Will on ABC’s This Week is on its surface interesting. Said Will in this exchange with liberal ex-Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich:
GEORGE WILL: In this sense, I think people will look back on this deal as where liberalism passed an apogee and went into decline for the following reason. In the Bush tax rates were passed in two tranches, 2001 and 2003. In 2001, only 28 Democratic members of the House voted for them. In 2003, only 7 did. And they did it to make for only 10 years, they were to expire.
Under this deal, 172 House Democrats voted to make the Bush rates permanent for all but 0.5 percent of American taxpayers. What that means is, is that they can no longer tax the middle class. And we have here an endangered species...
ROBERT REICH: He's pointing to me. I don't know why.
WILL: I'll tell you why. There are only about three liberals in the country -- and you're one -- who aren't actively hostile to arithmetic. And therefore, you know that you cannot fund a state that liberals want, the entitlement state, without taxing the middle class at least. And now you've given up that -- with the locking-in as permanent law the Bush tax rates, that's off the table.
Our colleague Quin Hillyer made a version of this same argument in another television appearance here.
In the middle of the fiscal cliff debate this was Bill Kristol’s view as well when he said:
“My view is get the tax issue off the table, it's the weakest one for the Republicans right now. Let the president own it and we'll have a bunch of other debates next year.”
Well, the fiscal cliff debate is over -- and deal in hand, the GOP awakens… surprise, surprise… to Pelosi, Van Hollen and Durbin, three substantial Democrats, flatly demanding more tax increases. The tax issue is decidedly not off the table.
Which brings us back to the idea of a Conservative Anschluss Moment.
There is quite apparently a stark disagreement among conservatives about dealing with President Obama.
It’s safe to say that many look to learn something from Ronald Reagan’s wisdom about how to deal with the Soviet Union, as expressed in this exchange with ABC’s Sam Donaldson at his first press conference:
Donaldson: Mr. President, what do you see as the long-range intentions of the Soviet Union? Do you think, for instance, the Kremlin is bent on world domination that might lead to a continuation of the cold war, or do you think that under other circumstances detente is possible?
The President: Well, so far detente's been a one-way street that the Soviet Union has used to pursue its own aims. I don't have to think of an answer as to what I think their intentions are; they have repeated it. I know of no leader of the Soviet Union since the revolution, and including the present leadership, that has not more than once repeated in the various Communist congresses they hold their determination that their goal must be the promotion of world revolution and a one-world Socialist or Communist state, whichever word you want to use.
Now, as long as they do that and as long as they, at the same time, have openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to attain that, and that is moral, not immoral, and we operate on a different set of standards, I think when you do business with them, even at a detente, you keep that in mind.
Say again, to update, there are conservatives who believe when you do business with Barack Obama you keep in mind that he and his liberal allies are operating with, to use Reagan’s words, “a different set of standards.”
They believe the President has no intention of cutting spending, and has every intention of reserving unto himself the right to ignore and evade when not undercutting the Constitution. And if, along the way, he can stiff Israel and allow Iran to get nuclear weapons -- thus further diminishing America’s role in the world -- he will do that as well. All with America’s best interests at heart, he will insist.
Leaving on January 20th of 2017 with America a country well in the grip of what Levin calls the “dark forces of utopian tyranny."
What do conservatives do? How do they respond?
In a nutshell, that is the difference that emerged in the heat over the fiscal cliff.
Thus far, Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell have given the impression that when dealing with President Obama they are dealing only with the issue at hand. An issue totally unrelated to every other issue.
Others saw the fiscal cliff negotiations as part and parcel of dealing with a man -- President Obama -- with a plan. They believed that events are proceeding down the road without a single thought to a long-term conservative strategy of how to deal with this president and his frequently expressed goal of “transforming” America.
Some saw the fiscal cliff deal as a fiscal cliff deal.
Others saw the fiscal cliff deal as the Conservative Anschluss Moment.
The problem ahead?
There will be many more such problems ahead for conservatives. Disguised as debates over the debt ceiling, immigration policy, health care, climate change, Supreme Court nominees, and more. Will the response from conservatives be one of Churchillian vigor, imagination, and a willingness to risk? Or will it be the equivalent of the Chamberlain approach to the Austrian Anschluss -- simply protesting while passively accepting.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles,” wrote the legendary strategist Sun Tzu.
At this moment, it seems that conservatives may know neither President Obama’s mind -- or their own.
The clock ticks.
It's time -- past time -- to fight.
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