I swear I have the winning strategy for a presidential candidate, if he’ll just call me. I have the issues — highly original issue proposals — all ready to go. I can advise somebody on the types of things to do to win Iowa, even though I’ve only visited Iowa once. For various reasons, I know New Hampshire a lot better than the average Joe, although as a native New Orleanian my affinity for the Granite State might seem a little out of place. South Carolina is eminently doable. Finally, defeating Barack Obama will be neither as easy as some conservatives seem to imagine nor as difficult as many Beltway pundits seem to think. It will be a hard task, but I can see the way clear to accomplishing it.
Keeping the mutually reinforcing, Reaganite, conservative coalition together really isn’t as hard as so many people make it out to be. Traditional values are not necessarily at odds with libertarian economic policies or with constitutionally guaranteed liberties. A strong defense in the national interest is neither some sort of “neocon” apostasy nor is it unaffordable.
Communicating American conservative principles isn’t rocket science. (Frank Luntz can tell you that!) But it can’t be done unless the communicator is sincerely and deeply a conservative (in modern terms, which really means a Madisonian liberal). If he isn’t a conservative, he needs to vamoose anyway: He (or she) is “not welcome here no more.”
To be clear, a conservative isn’t an ideologue. Conservatism stands opposed to hard-line ideologies. It’s a philosophy, not an ideology — which is not a “distinction without a difference.” (Please read Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) Conservatism is a philosophy of practical application of timeless principles — with emphasis both on “principles” and on “practical.” Human nature does not readily lend itself to perfection, and our Madisonian Constitution does not readily lend itself to rapid political change without a few compromises along the way. Anybody who demands all or nothing in this system will end up getting nothing — and is not a conservative in the first place, because a conservative recognizes that no man and no man’s political creed is infallible, including his own. Of course some things are non-negotiable. Yet it is profoundly unconservative to fail to make constant attempts to figure out which few things are indeed non-negotiable, and to separate those from the many things that are semi-negotiable-but-worth-fighting-really-hard-for.
Any presidential candidate who doesn’t understand this should get lost. So should any activists who don’t understand these things. Such activists aren’t conservatives; they are radicals.
All of that said, there is nothing wrong with pushing the envelope on policy proposals, or on fighting hard for one’s political desires. It’s not the clarity of, or insistence on, the principles that is wrong; what is wrong is the “my way or the highway” attitude toward implementing those principles.
Here’s why all of this is important: because most voters sense whether candidates, at the core of their beings, understand the differences between principles and mere bullheadedness, between reasonableness and weakness, between clear policy preferences and mere political calculation. The right candidate will embody the better choices from among each of those above options. That candidate will exude those qualities without having to think about them, because he (or she) will genuinely live and breathe those qualities. And if he does, the voters will respond well. They responded to Reagan for just those reasons: because they rightly sensed that he combined firm adherence to principle with a reasonableness in pursuing it — that he was a man who didn’t mind taking some risks for deeply held beliefs, but who wasn’t going to lead us all off a cliff.
It is only such a man who could get away with the policy proposals I will advocate — because nobody else will be able to get beyond the initial conventional-wisdom response that the proposals are just too extreme. What I will propose is no more extreme — actually less extreme — than the Reagan-Kemp-Roth tax cut proposals appeared to be when they were first floated in the late 1970s and in 1980. But only the right candidate can sell them.
Yes, there is a way to enact major tax reforms, improve the financing of entitlements, stimulate the economy, and move towards a balanced budget, all in almost one fell swoop. Only the right candidate can sell it, but it is indeed eminently sellable in a political campaign.
Sorry to leave y’all hanging, in terms of what the actual substance is. But I haven’t been convinced I’ve seen the right candidate yet, although a few of the potential candidates might prove worthy. And if the wrong candidate tries to run with these ideas, they’ll be discredited and become useless. Mystery is therefore needed right now — but take heart, and hope: The answers are out there, and they are achievable.
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