David Frum says that Republicans nationwide will long argue about the lessons learned from a (now likely) Scott Brown Senate victory in Massachusetts. Agreed — so let me be the second (after Frum) to join the fray.
David has it wrong. He says that a Brown victory would vindicate so-called RINOs — that political specimen many conservatives deride as “Republicans in Name Only.” David notes that although Brown is “strong on defense and school choice, [and] opposed to the Obama administration’s signature initiatives, he also holds some decidedly non-conservative positions. For example, says David:
Brown “describes himself as pro-choice (subject to reasonable limitations), accepts gay marriage in Massachusetts as settled fact, and told the Boston Herald editorial board [that] he would have voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor.”
But in the eyes of most savvy conservatives, these positions don’t necessarily, or in themselves, make a Republican a so-called RINO. Political context, of course, matters, as most savvy conservatives well recognize. They recognize that, in order to remain politically viable, a politician sometimes must trim his sails and make accommodations with political reality.
They recognize that a Republican running in deep red Texas has a certain freedom of expression and political commitment that a Republican running in deep blue Massachusetts does not. Thus, savvy conservatives are not inclined to lambaste a Republican in Massachusetts for being a “RINO” simply because he smartly bows to the political imperatives of his state or district.
Savvy conservatives recognize that Brown is an intelligent politician who wisely decided not to fight on the Democrat’s preferred turf. They appreciate that Brown’s saying he would have voted to confirm Supreme Court nominee Sonya Sotomayor was a throwaway line designed to neutralize left-wing opposition, court organized Hispanic groups, and, in general, show open-mindedness and inclusiveness.
What, after all, did Brown have to lose? The Senate already had confirmed Sotomayor’s appointment to the court; and conservative Republicans had long ago moved on to other court appointments and other issues.
Ditto with regard to so-called gay marriage. What Frum does not report is that Brown opposes it (though he supports “civil unions”). But why fight this issue again in Massachusetts when, as Brown rightly notes, it is now “settled law”? (In 2003, the Mass. State Supreme Court declared a “right” to homosexual marriage.)
Why should Brown allow the hard Left — which is very strong in Massachusetts — to try and paint him as a closed-minded right-wing bogeyman — especially when polls show that state residents are evenly split on the issue of “gay marriage”?
Savvy conservatives rightly sense that Brown is with them on the social issues, but has made a prudential political decision to downplay them and to fight on more politically hospitable ground.
That’s why Brown champions interrogating terrorists for actionable intelligence — he doesn’t believe terrorists are mere common criminals who are entitled to be read their Miranda rights. That’s why he’s been a staunch opponent of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi healthcare plan, which promises to effect a government takeover of one-sixth of the American economy.
In short, conservatives know that Brown is no “RINO” because when it matters most, and on the issues that are most visible and pressing, he is with them. Bona fide “RINOs,” by contrast, seem to take delight in sticking their thumb in the eyes of conservatives. They seem to enjoy abandoning the GOP on key issues and key votes, and at the most inopportune times.
Sen. Specter, for instance, was one of just three Republican Senators who voted for the Democrats’ $780-billion pork-infested “stimulus bill” — and their votes were decisive.
Indeed, without these three Republican votes, the Dems’ pork-infested “stimulus bill” would have been defeated. But if Republicans can’t oppose a massive expansion of government and unprecedented wasteful government spending, then what good are they?
David is right about the need for a stylistically inclusive, optimistic, and forward-looking Republican Party. But if he thinks this is the exclusive province of so-called RINOs, then he is dead wrong. Ronald Reagan, after all, was certainly no “RINO”; yet, he was the 20th century’s most inclusive, optimistic, and forward-looking Republican.
David insists that “the Scott Brown who may rescue the country from Obamacare is not a talk radio conservative.” Well, yes and no. I’m not sure which talk radio show hosts David has in mind.
Does David mean Dennis Prager? Prager, of course, is a very thoughtful and religiously conservative Jew, whose show sounds more like a lively graduate school seminar than a political rantfest.
Does David mean Bill Bennett? Bennett, of course, has a doctorate in political philosophy and also is relatively mild mannered and scholarly.
Or perhaps David means G. Gordon Liddy? Liddy is more prone to political pyrotechnics than either Prager or Bennett. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the sharpest knives in the drawer; and, like Prager and Bennett, Liddy can be quite informative and educational.
In short, there are talk radio hosts and then there are talk radio hosts. You simply can’t tar all talk radio show hosts as one and the same because they’re not. Nor does the caricature of talk radio typically resemble the reality of talk radio.
David is right about one thing: “It would be a travesty if Brown’s victory is seized upon as a victory for anger, paranoia, and ideological extremism.”
Yes, it would be. But the “anger, paranoia and extremism” may not be stemming from conservatives disillusioned with so-called RINOS; it may be originating with so-called RINOs prejudiced against conservatives whom they perceive — and not always without merit, I must admit — as uncouth and intellectually lacking.