Political Hay

The Conservative Revolt: Principles and Leverage

Grover, Reagan, an angry GOP base, and a demand for Fiscal Cliff TV negotiations.

By 12.6.12

Send to Kindle

"No retreat, no surrender."
-- Bruce Springsteen 

The Fiscal Cliff.

It all comes down to principles.

And leverage. 

Not to mention an abrupt campaign to depose Speaker John Boehner, as now reported last night by the Daily Caller. An idea discussed in this very space only days ago.

Grover Norquist understands this. Brent Bozell understands this. The Heritage Foundation understands this. Ditto Rush, Sean and Mark. And in truth -- millions of conservatives get it in their bones.

John Boehner does not understand this.

No one understood the role of principles and leverage better than Ronald Reagan. So before we talk the Cliff, let's talk principles and leverage in Geneva.

It was November 23, 1983.

The issue at hand: the Cold War negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union over medium range nuclear missiles.

The locale: Geneva, Switzerland.

The Soviets' objective, according to the New York Times and the media of the day? Stopping Reagan's deployment of 572 American Tomahawk Cruise and Pershing missiles to Europe.

Reagan's objective, assured the Times: to deploy those missiles as a response to Soviet missiles that were already targeting Europe.

The Soviets were totally confident they could pressure Reagan into backing down. Just as they had pressured American presidents of both parties for decades. After all, went the hysterical cry, this was about nuclear war and the annihilation of mankind. Surely Reagan would see the light!

Besides, went the Soviet thinking, they had leverage over Reagan. Or so they thought.

The Soviets had the backing of the European peace movement, not so-slyly financed by the Kremlin. In October, as the November deployment date approached, some 2 million people had protested Reagan in massive two-day demonstrations across Europe.

In America, not only were protesters in the streets depicting Reagan as a warmonger, the media was on Reagan's case, filling the airwaves and print media with the fear of nuclear war. The issue of a "nuclear freeze" was initiated by liberal activists and politicians (including then-Delaware Senator Joe Biden) to try and halt Reagan's deployment in its tracks. Right on cue, a group of liberal scientists held a much publicized meeting in Washington to focus on the terrors of a "nuclear winter" -- which is to say the end of life on earth that would result in the aftermath of a nuclear attack.

ABC television jumped into the fray, airing a documentary-style drama called The Day After, about a nuclear attack on the heartland of America -- Lawrence, Kansas, where several American nuclear missile silos were presumably located. Over 100 million people watched the show, which aired literally days before Reagan's real-life deployment of missiles to Europe. The mainstream media of the day went crazy.

Reagan never blinked. He had his own leverage -- and he knew it.

The first Tomahawk cruise missiles had already arrived in Margaret Thatcher's Great Britain on November 14 -- and the Iron Lady was pleased, even as a group of British peace activists had camped out at Greenham Common to much media fanfare. Greenham Common being, of course, the site of the Tomahawk deployment.

On November 23, the Pershing II missiles arrived in West Germany.

With that, on the very same day, the Soviet delegation of arms negotiators gathered their papers and, with intense, dramatic media coverage , ostentatiously walked out of the Geneva talks.

In Washington, the alarmed White House press corps demanded an answer from Reagan.

Who responded politely and simply: "They'll come back."

They did, of course. And the rest, as they say, was history.

Now.

What does any of this have to do with the fiscal cliff?

With Grover Norquist? With wobbly Capitol Hill Republicans? With Brent Bozell?

And with a House GOP leadership that seems more determined to punish conservative members than stand up for conservative principle? (As noted here by Erick Erickson over at Red State and here in Politico.)

Plenty and everything.

What Grover Norquist -- and conservative leaders like Brent Bozell and the Heritage Foundation -- are doing day and night is exactly what Ronald Reagan did with the supposedly invulnerable Soviet Union. This is the very backbone of talk radio.

And what is that? Standing up for principle -- and using leverage to do it.

Ever since the beginning of the Cold War in 1946, American presidents had been increasingly fixated on specific confrontations with the Soviets. The names echo down through history. Names like Berlin, Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, the Congo, and so on and on.

Over time, as the Russians gained the atomic bomb, these constant confrontations slowly morphed into an on-going and increasingly complicated demand for arms control negotiations. No American President could get by demands for a summit with his opposite number. Arms control negotiations became a bureaucratic mainstay all by themselves, launching a veritable diplomatic and national security legion of mandarin-like "experts" schooled in the high-stakes obscurities of "throw weights" and "long range," "short range," and "intermediate range" missiles. It became almost a priestly calling.

Reagan, watching all this over the years, had become appalled. He had another view, a view which he expressed to his first national security adviser Richard Allen shortly after becoming president. Reagan's view was as simple as it was clear: "We win, they lose." By which Reagan did not mean winning a specific set of negotiations. What Reagan meant was he that wanted to win the Cold War -- period. He was determined to do what no American president had ever dreamed of doing. What all of his liberal critics thought irrational, impossible, dangerous and even outright wrong.

He would use principles and leverage to win the Cold War.

How did Reagan go about achieving this goal? Years later, out of office, he explained his strategy this way as he discussed a speech he had delivered in 1982 to the British Parliament: 

But I think the real story of 1982 is that we began applying conservatism to foreign affairs.

When I came into office, I believed there had been mistakes in our policy toward the Soviets in particular. I wanted to do some things differently, like speaking the truth about them for a change, rather than hiding reality behind the niceties of diplomacy.… I even (in March of 1983) called them an evil empire. That woke everybody up.

This speech before the British Parliament examined the West's concepts of democracy and its attitude toward communism and is probably one of the most important speeches I gave as president. What eventually flowed from it became known as the Reagan Doctrine, which was our often controversial policy of supporting those fighting for freedom and against communism wherever we found them….

This address also fit into my plan of speaking my mind about communism. In retrospect, I am amazed that our national leaders had not philosophically and intellectually taken on the principles of Marxist-Leninism. We were always too worried we would offend the Soviets if we struck at anything so basic. Well, so what? Marxist-Leninist thought is an empty cupboard. Everyone knew it by the 1980's, but no one was saying it. I decided to articulate a few of these things. 

Grover Norquist, as with Reagan himself, has spent a professional lifetime "articulating a few of these things" as it applies to tax policy. Likewise Bozell, Heritage, talk radio hosts. As with Reagan and the Soviets, in the case of Grover he knows the vital importance of relating the Obama tactic of the moment to the underlying philosophy and intellectual principles that are driving the Obama administration. And how to use leverage.

Hence, Grover has put out a call for the Republicans to demand that the negotiations over the Fiscal Cliff be televised for all to see. Leverage.

Hence Brent has issued this statement, as reported in the Hill:

I will make it my mission to ensure that every conservative donor to the Republican Party that I have worked with for the last three decades -- and there are many and they have given tens of millions to Republican causes -- gives not one penny more to the Republican Party or any member of Congress that votes for tax increases.

Cutting off the funding for Republicans in the House and Senate who vote for tax increases? That's leverage. And don't think Mr. Bozell is not capable of doing exactly what he says.

Bozell also said the following, his statement speaking directly to principle with leverage:

Should America assume that Rep. John Boehner et al. have been misleading the country for more than two years now? It would appear so. It would be impossible to count the times and ways Boehner, Cantor, McCarthy and so many others have told America that tax hikes would kill jobs and cripple the economy. Lo and behold, that's just what they've proposed, $800 billion of them. They aren't taxes, no siree. They are "revenue," and "loopholes" that are closed (which also begs the question: if these are loopholes, why were they open?). The Obama administration now demands double that amount, and why not? The Republican Party has now surrendered its principles, and is in full retreat, the Democrats taste blood, and they're going for it all. I would too.

Sen. Jim DeMint as usual is sounding the clarion call against this fiscal insanity. Others -- the ones who believe in honoring their solemn commitments to their constituents -- will join him in slamming this job destruction agenda. They are, unfortunately, firmly in the minority. It is no coincidence that right before releasing this disastrous proposal, the Speaker of the House orchestrated a purge of conservatives from key positions of power in the Republican Conference. The Republican Party is no longer the party of limited government, with limited spending and limited taxes. It is now officially exactly right behind the Democrats -- on everything. It is time for conservatives to start looking for a new home. There's precious little left for us here.

Hence the Heritage Foundation, where conservative principle lives, has issued this statement on principle headlined:

 House Republicans Cave on Tax Increases and Punt Entitlements

Let's go back to Grover's demand for TV cameras in these negotiations. Transparency.

Remembering that the White House and its media allies insist the President took his views to the people and won -- it is worth recalling that it was Obama's campaign that made a big deal about Mitt Romney's lack of transparency (his tax returns etc., etc.). Not to mention campaigning back in 2008 on the demand for transparency in government.

So OK. Fair enough. That's leverage.

What could be more transparent than televising all the negotiations on the Fiscal Cliff? Says Grover, as reported here in Politico

"It's the president who is threatening to raise taxes on the middle class if he doesn't stamp his feet and get his way," Norquist said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "He should get into a room with C-Span cameras there and negotiate. Let's have it in front of C-Span cameras. And if the Republicans are being reasonable, we'll see that. If they're not, we'll see that. Gotta have cameras in that room."

Say again: "Gotta have cameras in that room."

Again to Reagan and those arms negotiations in Geneva, not to mention three years later when Reagan himself walked out of the Reykjavik summit with Gorbachev.

Ronald Reagan was always clear-eyed about the people he was negotiating with in these Cold War episodes. He knew what was driving them philosophically and intellectually -- and he believed passionately that what the Soviets had been doing since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was not only politically unsound but morally wrong. Evil.

And so, while liberals jeered and laughed when they weren't horrified or infuriated, Reagan talked about how the Soviets "reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime; to lie; to cheat " and called them out as an "Evil Empire" destined for the "ash heap of history." He did all of this while taking action -- building up the nation's defenses from the devastation of the Carter years, moving forward with a 600-ship Navy and the Strategic Defense Initiative.

In so doing, in combining an open on-going insistence on talking principle while using the leverage of the American military and high technology -- as Margaret Thatcher later noted at Reagan's funeral, Ronald Reagan "won the Cold War without firing a shot."

Who now is doing the equivalent of what Reagan did with the Soviets in these closed door negotiations with the President's negotiators on the fiscal cliff? Who is looking across the table and, in Reagan's words, "philosophically and intellectually" taking on the principles of redistribution in which Obama so clearly believes? What leverage are they using to get to the goal?

Or are GOP leaders too worried they would offend the President and his media allies if they, again using Reagan's words, "struck at anything so basic." Well, so what? Who cares if they offend the President and his liberal media allies? Redistributionist thought -- socialist thought -- is every bit the empty cupboard today as it was when Reagan was president.

But we don't know what's happening beyond the thus far caving statements from the House GOP. Precisely because the doors are closed.

So let's recall some of those who were demanding transparency when the issue involved had anything to do with Mitt Romney.

President Obama: The demand for transparency started with Obama himself, as here on July 9, 2012, when he demanded that Romney be "an open book" on his finances.

The Obama Campaign: On July 10, 2012, the Obama campaign posted this web ad hitting Romney for a lack of transparency. In the cutsie style of web ads with appropriate accompanying music, the ad featured a cast that included CNN's Wolf Blitzer, ABC's Brian Ross hitting Romney for not being transparent with his tax returns. Notably the ad ended with graphics that read:

How long can Romney keep information on his investments in overseas tax havens a secret? And why did he do it in the first place? Time will tell.

Notably the ad ends with this: "Obama Biden Truth Team."

• New York Times: On August 16, 2012, the Times editorial page editor's blog, bylined by David Firestone, ran a column about Romney's lack of transparency titled "Just Trust Me." Firestone, in the traditional liberal snarky style, wrote that Romney "deigned to answer questions about his tax returns today." Wrote Firestone: "At some level, Mr. Romney doesn't seem to understand that voters don't automatically trust the assurances and promises of politicians." Firestone also said why Romney had to be transparent: 

A long tradition of American political scandal has made voters wary of any candidate's assertion of honesty. It's especially important for Mr. Romney to practice transparency given his history of using obscure and extensive tax shelters--unavailable to the wage-earning public.

• Washington Post: In a June 9, 2012 editorial titled "Mr. Romney's Secret Bundlers," the Post's editorial board demanded to know of Romney: "Why would he hide his roster of key supporters?"

• Chuck Todd, NBC News: On the June 12, 2012 edition of his MSNBC show The Daily Rundown (as reported, with video and audio, at NewsBusters, Todd jumped on the Romney-isn't-transparent bandwagon saying: "…if he wins in November, Romney could very well be the least transparent president in a generation."

Andrew Sullivan: On July 17, 2012, Andrew Sullivan wrote a column in the Daily Beast headed "When Candidate Romney Was Transparent" comparing Mitt Romney unfavorably to his presidential candidate father George Romney on the issue of transparency.

Paul Krugman: On November 2, 2012, the New York Times columnist wrote a column titled "Dewey, Cheatham and Howe for Romney" in which he complained about "Wall Street's hard turn away from Obama toward Romney." One of Krugman's demands was for more transparency on Wall Street and he wrote that the fight for liberals comes because "more transparent markets are not good for the Masters of the Universe."

Natalie Morales, NBC News: On August 16, 2012, Morales (as reported with video by NewsBusters) did an interview with Ann Romney, saying in her voice over: "A lot of people still are asking why not be transparent and release more than the 2010 and the estimates for 2011."

One could go on endlessly with liberal demands for Romney to be transparent this past year, but you get the gist.

So. Isn't it time to take some advice from Ronald Reagan? What, after all, was Reagan really talking about when he said:

"I am amazed that our national leaders had not philosophically and intellectually taken on the principles of Marxist-Leninism. We were always too worried we would offend the Soviets if we struck at anything so basic. Well, so what?"

What Reagan was talking about was -- leverage! Taking what the Soviets considered to be their strength -- their philosophical and intellectual principles -- and turning those endlessly repeated views against them. Reagan was about ripping off the mask that was used to hide the face of the Evil Empire. And he didn't give a damn if it offended the Soviets much less if it horrified his own liberal critics.

So?

So it's time for the GOP to use their leverage with Obama. Leverage provided, as noted above, by both Obama himself and his media allies.

Demand the negotiations halt until the cameras are in the room. Demand the same transparency with these negotiations that Obama, the New York Times, Washington Post, and all the rest demanded of Romney.

And let's not forget the leverage that is the debt ceiling.

Let's see the House GOP start talking relentlessly, in Reagan-style, about the underpinnings of what Obama is demanding. Connect the dots just as Reagan connected the dots between a specific -- negotiations in Geneva, a summit in Reykjavik, the barring of the Soviet Ambassador's once privileged access to the State Department etc., etc., etc. -- and the bedrock reason they are being done. In the Cold War case, a quest for world domination; in the Fiscal Cliff case, the re-making of America into a socialist country.

Stop everything right now. 

Until these negotiations are moved in front of the cameras.

Demand that they stop cold -- and be 100 percent transparent. The American people were told Romney wasn't transparent -- and they voted for Obama.

This has the added advantage of not being a demand about taxes for millionaires.

Once in front of the cameras, re-start. With somebody -- Paul Ryan? -- assigned the Reagan task of relating specific aspects of the negotiation to the overall as Reagan himself did repeatedly with the Soviets.

Use principle. Use leverage.

Grover gets it. Brent Bozell gets it. The Heritage Foundation gets. Rush and Sean and Mark and their millions of listeners get it.

It's time for the House GOP leadership to get it.

Or there will be another use of conservative principle and leverage in 2014.

You could call it The Conservative Revolt.

Or cleaning the House.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.