WASHINGTON — If every voting-age American read the first seven chapters of Hugh Hewitt‘s book If It’s Not Close, They Can’t Cheat, Bush would be running away with this election easily. Hewitt presents the best case for the reelection of George W. Bush that I have seen.
“The Democratic Party,” Hewitt contends, “has lost its collective will and collective ability to take the national security of the United States seriously. This is not treasonous or unpatriotic behavior, just selfish and stupid behavior.” He then explains how the pacifist wing of the Democratic Party is too strong, and to back it up he quotes in total House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s response to President Bush’s 2004 State of the Union speech. The speech reads like it was penned by Joan Blades of MoveOn.org. Pelosi complains of “alienating our allies” — i.e., France and Germany — and about “no-bid contracts for politically connected firms like Halliburton.” She hopes that with the aid of France and Germany we can “end the sense of American occupation [in Iraq] and bring troops home safely when their mission is over.” If that’s the best the Democrats have to offer, then they need to be kept out of the White House for a very long time.
Hewitt’s book also contains devastating chapters on Howard Dean and, of course, John Kerry. Hewitt recounts in detail Kerry’s history of poor judgment on national security matters. It is hard to read If It’s Not Close without coming away thinking that if the Massachusetts Senator wins, our foreign policy will be Jimmy Carter redux.
Hewitt also has useful chapters on understanding party politics and suggestions about where to send campaign donations. He notes that parties are about winning majorities and that requires building a big tent with more liberal Republicans like Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe, and Lincoln Chaffee.
However, it is in the chapter titled “There Aren’t Enough Targets That You Have to Shoot at Your Friends?” that Hewitt displays some of the shortsightedness typical of “party animals.” He quotes a Washington Post piece by Dana Milbank that examined conservative discontent (including an article by yours truly) over Bush’s spending, and then grumbles, “the self-anointed spokesmen for the conservative cause dutifully lined up to take a whack at the president in the pages of the Washington Post, proving once again that in the nation’s capital, it isn’t about winning or even moving in the right direction; it is about being noticed.”
After lambasting us for “selfish grandstanding,” Hewitt exhorts us to follow Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of fellow Republicans.” As much as I admire Ronald Reagan, I don’t consider that to be one of the smarter things he ever said. And it is certainly not one we should take too seriously given that Reagan committed the most egregious violation of it by mounting a primary challenge to sitting President Ford in 1976. Indeed, Reagan’s challenge to Ford shows the healthy and often essential role that intra-party criticism can play: moving the party in the proper direction and thereby improving its future prospects.
HEWITT OVERLOOKS THE VERY constructive role such criticism plays in keeping politicians who are sympathetic to conservative ideals in office. Consider that conservatives criticized Bush for excessive spending, steel tariffs, and not front-loading his tax cuts in 2001 (he didn’t fully phase them in until mid-2003.) It is all but irrefutable that those policies have slowed the recovery, giving the Democrats one of their best talking points in this election, namely, that Bush is the first President to lose jobs in his first term since Herbert Hoover. Can there be any doubt that Bush would be running away with the election right now if the economy were booming? Indeed, perhaps if the Administration had listened more too such criticisms, it would have pursued better policies.
Furthermore, Hewitt’s exhortation is applied selectively. Nowhere in the book does he mention the damage that Republican politicians have done to the Republican Party. So he emphasizes the importance of electing Republican majorities who will confirm strict construction judges, criticizes Stephen Moore’s group Club for Growth for backing a primary challenge to Arlen Specter, but never mentions that Specter helped keep conservative Jeff Sessions from the bench. He claims that the resources spent against Specter would have been better spent against Tom Daschle in South Dakota, but he never notes the role GOP Governor and Congressman Bill Janklow played in getting Daschle elected in the first place. (Rumor has it Janklow may endorse Daschle this time around against John Thune.) Apparently, if you are a Republican elected official, the Eleventh Commandment doesn’t apply.
A majority party is more likely to stay in the majority if it tolerates a certain amount of internal dissent. Can it be coincidence that the Democrats are headed toward prolonged minority status and never allow a speaker at their conventions who is pro-life? Such dissent helps prevent the party from making too many mistakes. However, such dissent also means tolerating public criticism of party officials and occasionally mounting primary challenges to those Republicans who stray a little too far from the reservation.
Hewitt is right that an effective national security policy means a Bush reelection. But it is because the Bush Administration didn’t take conservative criticism of its domestic policies more seriously that Bush’s reelection is in some doubt.