Every so often it does a man good to go home again. On Monday night I was privileged to be asked to give a speech to the Mobile (AL) County Republican Executive Committee, which wanted a report from me as a conservative columnist on what I've seen in my two years back in Washington after spending the previous eight home on the Gulf Coast. I decided not to give them a conservative pep talk, but rather a honest report, along with some historical perspective.
What I found, as an outside observer, was a well-organized and active group of people of good will, good heart, and good energy. The experience led me to believe that the grass roots are in better shape than are the party offices and congressional caucuses in Washington. If I could give a speech to those congressional caucuses to report what I saw at the grass roots, I think my speech would be more upbeat -- and I also think the listeners would be more in need of hearing any lessons I could pass on to them than were the listeners in Mobile, who already seem to be full of the wisdom that those on Capitol Hill seem to have lost.
That said, here is the text of the speech I gave Monday night; I'm curious to know if American Spectator readers find that it rings true to their own observations:
IT'S REALLY GOOD to be back home. Back home where you can trust what people say without always trying to figure out what their "angle" is. Home, where people don't obsess every day about Nancy Pelosi's parliamentary tactics or about whether Barack Obama is going to be able to appeal to the guns-and-God voters in Appalachia.
Dadgum, doesn't anybody up there know that summer is time for family and fishing?
That said, I know that this IS an audience that cares about politics, and for the right reasons, because you care about our country. And speaking of politics, I see here one of our favorite politicians, Commissioner Hammer himself, Stephen Nodine.
Now I'm gonna tell a story about Stephen that he's probably sick of me telling, but it's just so prototypically Nodine that I can't resist.
Back when Stephen was a city councilman, the biggest possum you've ever seen in your life decided to die in the middle of my street right in front of my house. I mean, this critter was big, and it was ugly -- and as my wife Tresy and I soon found out, dead possums stink worse than dead, rotting fish. I mean, after just one day you could smell the thing a block away.
Our neighbors tried calling all sorts of city services to get the possum removed -- Sanitation Department, Streets Department, you name it. But nothing worked, and the blasted thing sat there for three, solid, smelly days.
So I picked up the phone and called our councilman himself, telling Mr. Nodine that his civil servants were falling down on their jobs and creating a health hazard.
Well, I've gotta say I was expecting some city workers to get there within another day after my call. But the city workers didn't come. Instead, some blond-haired city councilman came by with a shovel or something, probably swinging the shovel like a golf club, and scooped up the possum himself, and drove off. Who knew that being a councilman entailed giving a whole new meaning to "playing possum"?
Seriously, I've been grateful to Stephen ever since. But I can only tell the story down here, because if I tell it up in D.C., they'll get the wrong idea.
If they heard about it in Washington, almost half of the Republicans in Congress would try to insert spending earmarks for their own particular districts for local possum removal. Just pass the possum pork, and put out the press releases.
What's worse, probably 95 percent of the Democrats in Congress would see that and want to up the ante by creating a fully nationalized program of possum removal. Then they would offer an amendment to mandate Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements for all contracted possum removal, just to make the union bosses happy. And then they'd pass another amendment waiving the national "class action fairness act" in this instance so the trial lawyers could sue car manufacturers for building the vehicles that run over the poor creatures...
ACTUALLY, I EXAGGERATE only a little. The way things are in Washington these days, it's not hard to imagine spending for possum pork on top of the various bridges to nowhere... to go along with farm payments to Manhattan millionaires, and subsidies for ethanol that drives up both food and gas prices while actually harming, not helping, the environment ... and so many other priorities of the loony left that we're almost already in the left's idea of big-government paradise right here and right now.
I'm sorry to admit, there's not much I can say right now to lift your spirits in the short run. Look, I lived in Washington, D.C. for five years in the 1980s...and five years in the '90s....and yet in my adult lifetime I have never seen things as bad in Washington as they are today. The politics is meaner, less principled, less public-spirited, less conscientious, less honest, and also far more flat-out incompetent and clueless than I have ever seen it.
And it's not like the Republicans are free from blame. Look, the Republicans in Congress have been screwing up lots of things since 1998. And the Bush White House has just as often been a hindrance as a help since Day One of its existence. It still stuns me that a Republican president and Republican Congress could have overseen domestic discretionary spending rising at more than double the inflation rate for six straight years...and a reckless expansion of Medicare...and a vast expansion of the bureaucratic, regulatory state -- all without, for six years at least, a single presidential veto.
I know this is a Republican group tonight, but this record is why conservatives in Washington -- and I am one of them -- insist on making people understand that we self-identify NOT as Republicans ... but specifically as conservatives. Because, unlike down here, conservatives and Republicans are two distinctly different breeds in Washington, or at least in Washington public office. Oh, yes, it IS possible to be both conservative and Republican in Washington still, but it's sort of like being both a hunter and a golfer: any overlap is almost incidental; not UN-likely, mind you, but certainly not automatic either. ...
NOW LET ME INTERRUPT this litany of woes to promise that this speech won't be all doom and gloom. Eventually I'll get to a silver lining, or at least maybe a chrome lighting or something. Oddly enough, that faint light in the dark cloud emanates from the presidential campaign.
In explaining this, let me be clear how odd it is that I am the one saying this. While I actually supported John McCain back in the primaries in the year 2000, I am anything but a big fan of his.
Witness the very first column I wrote this year for The American Spectator online, a column entirely about McCain entitled "Angry Old Man." I detailed numerous examples of what I figuratively called McCain's, quote, "regular muggings of conservatives." And I had even worse things to say about him in numerous blog entries.
On the other hand, in late May I wrote another column on McCain, without contradicting my earlier column a single time, that approvingly called the Arizonan, quote, "the new Barry Goldwater." Sorry to quote myself, but here's what we in journalism call "the nut graph" of the column, quote: "On those issues on which Goldwater was strongest, about which he cared most deeply and on which he was most identifiably conservative, McCain is as strong or stronger than any national leader in the past 20 years." End quote.
I went on to explain that those issues on which Goldwater was strongest were A) national security and overall support for our troops, and B) sincere, tireless and dedicated opposition to outrageous government spending. Likewise with McCain.
I also noted that McCain has proposed the most free-market health care reforms ever forwarded by a party presidential nominee.
Finally, it is true, not some sort of pretense, that John McCain loves this country in the same deep, palpable, gut-level, and dare I say spiritual way that Ronald Reagan did.
As the old saying goes, McCain may be an SOB, but at least he is our SOB.
AND LET IT BE PERFECTLY clear that John McCain can indeed win this election. He can win the election because this is still a center- to center-right country. He can win this election because Barack Obama is so incredibly inexperienced, so callow, so arrogant, and so phenomenally liberal -- the SINGLE most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, according to the respected neutral ratings of the National Journal -- that the great mass of Middle America has good reason and, I think and pray, still enough common sense, to be turned off by the notion of Obama negotiating with the ayatollahs and raising our taxes and regulating mom-and-pop businesses to death.
And McCain can win the election because most Americans still love America and are attracted to somebody who loves it as much as McCain does, who has sacrificed for it so mightily, and who has so bravely exercised independent political judgment on the nation's behalf.
Many Americans, myself included, sometimes can differ with McCain's interpretation of what constitutes the best interests of the nation, but even then we have confidence that he truly is putting his understanding of the national interest ahead of narrow political considerations.
And, as conservatives, we know that on the two great conservative issues, spending and defense, our understanding of the national interest is the same as his...and also that on lots of other issues his instincts are far more like our own than are Obama's.
Now here's where things get a little cloudy. Let's say that McCain's strengths somehow win the day, and that he actually is elected president. If that happens, then as a conservative I expect to be intermittently frustrated by President McCain's issue positions, his bullheadedness, and his personnel choices.
But I also expect to be often inspired by his patriotism and reassured by his flinty, Goldwaterite proclivities as well.
The net result might be no worse than, and maybe a little better than, a holding pattern. Think Gerald Ford or Dwight Eisenhower, only with admirably fiercer opposition to big spending -- and, incredibly importantly, with judicial choices, at all levels of the federal courts, no worse than the annoying Sandra Day O'Connor or Anthony Kennedy and at least occasionally as good as Sam Alito.
I HAVE BEEN particularly critical of McCain on judicial issues, but the simple fact is that McCain's instincts, even if not deep interests, are on the correct side on judges, whereas every single judge nominated by Barack Obama would make O'Connor and Kennedy look like bastions of originalism and strict construction.
I can't stress enough just how important this is. I truly believe the subject of judges today is as important as was the subject of the Constitution itself in 1787 and 1788 when state conventions were deciding whether to ratify the new Constitution and Hamilton, Madison and Jay were writing the Federalist Papers in its favor. The words with which Hamilton began the very first Federalist Paper are exactly appropriate for the battle over the judiciary today. Those opening words (or actually, the opening after an introductory clause addressing the essay to the people of New York) were, and I directly quote:
"The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than...the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force."
The reality is that if on policy overall this country can at least maintain a holding pattern, backed by judges who don't legislate all sorts of trendy and incredibly dangerous tommyrot from the bench, then we as conservatives will have the time to identify and nurture new leaders, and lots of them, who will carry forward this grand experiment of republicanism. (That's small "R" republicanism, and perhaps large "R" Republican as well if good people like you are effective.)
The ranks of such potential leaders are right now not deep enough, but the good news is that they aren't empty. You won't recognize all of them, but without descriptions, let me just give you some names to remember, both from elective office and from the judiciary: Chris Cox. Paul Ryan. Mike Pence. Bobby Jindal. Sarah Palin. Marsha Blackburn. Jeb Hensarling. Jeff Sessions. John Kasich. Rob Portman. Jim DeMint. John Shadegg. Bill Pryor. Allison Eid. Diane Sykes. Brett Kavanaugh. Thad McCotter. John Cornyn. Tom McClintock. Steve Poizner. Steve Scalise. Jeff Fortenberry. Tim Walberg. And, who knows, maybe even (Mobile's U.S. Rep.) Jo Bonner.
THE POINT IS THAT our bench isn't empty. Not by any means. And the fact is that these are still the United States of America. We survived from November 22 of 1963 until January 20 of 1981 with three of the worst presidents in American history in LBJ, Nixon and Carter -- interrupted by one brief, mild if unspectacular interregnum known as Gerald Ford.
That's 15 out of 17 years of horrendously flawed leaders, all while thousands of nuclear warheads were aimed our way by a hostile and expansionist power and while crime and social upheaval marred our own streets.
Even that situation under LBJ, Nixon, and Carter might not be as bad as the combination of a President Obama with a Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid or Leader Hillary Clinton -- I'm not sure we could survive that! -- but our survival during those 17 years certainly tells us we can, by comparison, absolutely thrive under a nobly motivated John McCain even when he is plain wrong and sometimes irascible.
We will survive and thrive because this is, after all, still the nation that just celebrated its birthday while firmly knowing that we still are entitled by the laws of nature and of nature's God... to unalienable rights... secured by the consent of the governed... and guarded by our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
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