(Centennial Fellow) One of the peculiarities of American politics is the astonishment that washes over some people when they realize the politicians they elected intend to act like they’ve been elected.
Elections, as the oft-quoted (and just as often forgotten) aphorism goes, have consequences. We are just now starting to see those consequences — just now, that is, providing the previous four years have slipped the mind.
President Barack Obama’s imperious attitude and obdurate implementation of a leftist program — evidenced by the intransigent insistence on marginal tax hikes; his cabinet nominees (i.e, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, Jack Lew); and most recently his theatrical announcement (using fifth graders as polemical landscape) concerning his gun control proposals, some of which he enacted by executive fiat — are the initial consequences of a failure to persuade 50 percent plus 1 percent of voters in the county there’s a wiser path.
Surely there is more, and worse, yet to come, seeing as all this happened before the president was sworn in for a second term.
The one bright spot on this scene is that at least one institution — the House of Representatives — remains obstinately outside the controlling grip of the statists and able, one furtively hopes, to prevent the most egregious intrusions on the life and property of the nation’s citizens.
House Republicans increasingly face internal pressures, though, besieged on one side by an unrealistic expectation of quixotic heroism and on the other by a presumption of the need for appeasement and acquiescence on certain positions.
More than a few conservatives are enraged over the alleged apostasy of elected Republicans in Washington, especially in regards to the failure to stave off tax increases or enact spending cuts during fiscal cliff negotiations.
The insinuation is that the GOP leadership is infected with a lack of principle, making them effectively no better than their Democratic opponents. The fact is, had Milton Friedman been the speaker, William F. Buckley the House majority leader and Barry Goldwater the Senate minority leader, the outcome wouldn’t have been appreciably different.
Columnist Charles Krauthammer made an astute point, as he often does, in a recent piece in stating that “From a single house of Congress you can resist, but you cannot impose.”
A tad sobering, but true. The stark reality is that for the near future, Republicans are limited to presenting conservative programs and applying conservative approaches incrementally to specific issues in a defensive effort to keep the proverbial ball from going too far left and perhaps even position it for delivery in the right direction when the opportunity presents.
The need for tactical prudence, however, doesn’t absolve the GOP of the duties inherent to the opposition.
Republicans do indeed have a duty to present conservative solutions to problems, both existing ones and the ones that are sure to be created by the party that does have the ability to impose. The idea is that in order to be able to implement such beneficial solutions, the prerequisite task is to convince enough of the people your solutions are sound and proper — not as determined by pop culture or the fantasies of Paul Krugman, but by history, empirical evidence and right reason.
Tactically, that’s about as far as it goes. Republicans can (and ought to) talk until they’re blue in the face about the need for spending limits, entitlement reform and tax overhaul; limiting government to its proper and fundamental roles; the virtues of restoring the functionality of the Ninth and Tenth (and Second) amendments; returning responsibility and dollars to the states; curbing the overreach of the EPA, or the harm done to American education by federalizing it; or the harm done to the nation’s poor by the myriad of programs myopically invented to eradicate poverty.
But as long as a party fundamentally opposed to such principles controls the Senate and White House, it’s foolish to expect any of these reforms, however propitious they might be, will be implemented.
The fight, ultimately, is not going to be won in the halls of the current Congress, nor, certainly, the White House. Nor will success be achieved by panicky Republicans abandoning long-held conservative tenets in hope of courting a strain of mass opinion informed far more by Rolling Stone magazine, Comedy Central, and an appeal to license than by the Wall Street Journal, C-SPAN, and inherited wisdom.
Success will be achieved only by patient Republicans convincing those masses of the rightness of conservative ideas ahead of future elections. In which process the Democrats may even help us along by continuing to illustrate the woeful consequences of liberal ideas.