My colleague Matthew Walther, in a post taking off on my take off of a Pete Wehner attack on Ted Cruz, has unleashed a short if lengthy paragraphed assault on mixed metaphors, “single fragment paragraphs,” single sentences and…Conservatism.
Well, OK, to be fair, Matthew doesn’t see it that way. Then again, neither did a whole host of others who spent entire careers in American and British politics managing the country Left while proclaiming they were Right. (Although in fairness to those folks, I’ll concede they too were probably opposed to mixed metaphors, single fragment paragraphs and single sentences. Long paragraphs are essential in the world if one’s political ideas require a lot of on-the-one-hand-this-on-the-other-hand-that.)
C’est la vie. Matthew appears to have signed up as the latest acolyte of Gerald Ford and Edward Heath. Yikes! Say it ain’t that, Matt!
But it’s not too late to help Matthew retrieve his political soul from the clutch of, as Margaret Thatcher might say, the “wets.” I could write endlessly in one long paragraph or a series of very long paragraphs about this, but unlike Matthew I suspect that retaining attention in a world of nano-second attention spans would cause readership problems. Alas, while not my choice, short attention spans are a 21st century thing, especially when writing long form. NPR for readers we hope not to be.
But what the heck. Thus challenged, I’ll do my best.
Ronald Reagan and his supporters were repeatedly presented with Matthew Walther-like arguments in the 1960’s and 1970’s. As noted in my column nearby, Reagan himself recalled the labeling of conservatives as, among other things, “Neanderthals.” To wit: This, that and the other Prominent and Well-Regarded Republican said Ronald Reagan and his supporters were extremists. Not only were Reagan and his supporters wrong on substance, they were wrong on tactics. Reagan’s view of the world, not to mention his tactics — like proposing the abolition of the Department of Education or a military build up to beat the Soviet Union into oblivion — were wrong and worse, they couldn’t win because they would turn off voters. Reagan’s ideas and tactics were depicted as Somewhere South of Nuts. The idea that President Ford should have received Solzhenitsyn in the Ford Oval Office was too inflammatory. It would upset the Soviets — bad tactics. Believing the Cold War could be won outright as opposed to understanding the existence of the Soviet Union was eternal was not simply just bizarre, it was extreme. Dangerous substantively and politically a loser. In fact, Gerald Ford himself told the Times — in 1980! — that there was no way Reagan could win because, well, you know, Reagan was just too extreme. And, of course, the GOP Establishment also knew that tax cuts would sink the American economy. Voodoo economics, proclaimed candidate and GOP Establishment champion G.H.W.Bush in those 1980 primaries. There was a reason that Jimmy Carter’s senior aides were publicly salivating for the chance to run against Reagan in 1980. They thought he was the very embodiment of a GOP death wish.
This (break for another long paragraph) was what is known as The Conventional Wisdom. All The Right People knew these things and believed them. People with names like Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, George H.W. Bush, Howard Baker, John Anderson, Bob Dole, a young Mitt Romney (in his anti-Reagan phase), and, well, many paragraphs of names in the GOP Establishment of the day. The fact that all these learned, good and decent souls (and they were in fact all three) turned out to be wildly wrong should serve the members of successive generations, such as Matthew Walther, as a historical tutorial. In other words (paragraph continues) just because All the Right People (sorry for those caps but we need to keep the paragraph going so people will be sure to read and…..zzzzzzzzzzzzzz……oops! Sorry.) Where was I?...Right…
Just because All the Right People thought The Same Thing….didn’t mean they were right. See: Vietnam and The Best and The Brightest.
The point that Matthew Walther misses is that just because all sorts of nominally prominent and well respected people believe X, most assuredly this doesn’t make them right. The difference between Reagan and all the aforementioned was his ability to understand that prominent as his friends were, and many of them were his friends, they simply had it wrong.
He understood that particularly in Washington, not to mention in the elite echelons in the Republican Party, there was a serious pressure for group think. That more than frequently not only were prominent people dead wrong — but worse they had an entire surrounding chorus assuring they were right.
Ted Cruz was right.
The chorus was — and is — wrong. Perhaps Matthew has forgotten Ted Cruz’s appearance at The American Spectator dinner. Cruz said that when he was told by his GOP critics that they just disagreed with his tactics. He asked for theirs. And the sound that came back was the sound of critics chirping. This kind of thing is typical of the GOP Establishment — and has been for decades. Frequently it goes by the name “pragmatism.” In the recent past “compassionate conservatism” was used with the idea that this would somehow attract support. In fact, this idea lost the popular vote to Al Gore, scraped into the White House with 537 Florida votes and a helping hand from the Supreme Court, barely survived re-election in 2004 and finally left the White House with its champion at 35% in the polls and his would-be successor thrashed.
Case in point at the moment? The Cruz critics insisted repeatedly that the focus should be not on the shutdown, as they phrased it, but on Obamacare.
So why are we about to have some of these same people — and I’m not laying this at the door of all the people Matthew mentioned in his piece — tell America the Big Issue is…. immigration?
They insisted it was Obamacare.
So….leave immigration alone. Obamacare — the reason for the Cruz filibuster — is in fact even more of an issue now then it was in October. So…..stick with it. Don’t let the Obama White House and Washington Group Think dictate the agenda. Stick to principle.
This — “this” meaning suddenly switching from Obamacare to immigration — is no surprise. This is exactly what’s wrong with the GOP Establishment. As Speaker Boehner is now out there saying when he advises “There’s no sense picking a fight we can’t win.” Not to be obvious, if one doesn’t pick a fight one will never win. Or, alternatively, abandon principle — and win. GOP Establishment convictions are as strong as a twig in a hurricane. Which is why they lose or win close elections that shouldn’t be close in the first place.
Near as I can tell, Matthew — one smart and talented guy — doesn’t seem to notice this history. Much less is he calling these people out. Pete Wehner, in fact, is an active supporter of this repeatedly losing idea that is both bad policy and bad politics. The Bush 43 White House — of which Pete was a part — insisted on leading the GOP down this road to a political dead end yet again. And the GOP is still paying the price – that price being called the Age of Obama.
Come back to the conservative future, Matthew Walther. Come b…aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!
It’s not too late.