By David Beilstein
MY blog entry entitled Gut Shot focused on Ramesh Ponnuru’s article in the print version of the latest issue of National Review, documenting the weakness of the GOP as a political party. In Ponnuru’s article, he defends Mitt Romney’s candidacy by saying it was the Republican Party that dashed Romney’s presidential chances, and not Romney, whom failed the GOP.
Despite being a libertarian, prone to the vigorous slinging of arrows at the Republican Party and mainstream Republicans for fun, I concur with Ponnuru’s analysis. My agreement, then, is partly because Ponnuru documents his position with empirical evidence, and also, because Romney ran a better campaign than many recent presidential contenders. Given the other GOP hopefuls, it is hard to imagine any of them deconstructing President Obama so thoroughly in the first debate. And it is harder still, imagining any of them articulating policy as ably as Romney did. While Romney articulated policies bereft of explanatory classical liberal might, his explanation of Obama’s failed policies the last four years was precise and cogent.
It is easy to blame Romney when one focuses on the historical data, data that under normal circumstances, predicted an Obama reelection defeat. A closer peek-a-boo into the fire, however, reveals more nuanced realities. Romney did better than both House and Senate Republican candidates. Given Romney and a majority of those candidates lost anyway, whether moderate, socially conservative, fiscal conservative, etc., is pristine evidence it was the GOP in the aggregate, voters rejected on Nov. 6.
President Obama is often accused of speaking in platitudes, and he does. But little attention is given in conservative circles, that national candidates in the GOP do as well. Those platitudes may contain traditional American themes, but they sail over the detailed concerns large swaths of the American public face in modern America. Of concern too, is how GOP candidates do not maintain a consistent ideological theme year-to-year, creating political issues by simply running on them. Take for instance the contraceptive issue. Exit polls indicated this was a highly effective attack against Republicans and Romney. No Republican candidate ran a campaign based upon making it harder for women to purchase contraceptives. Would contraceptives be harder for women to purchase under a Romney administration? No. But Democrats ran on that premise, repeating it widely and often.
That is because Democratic candidates are much better at creating an issue out of thin air. Think about it, Romney created more jobs than Obama could dream about; Romney was, is, a far more generous person publicly and privately, yet Obama got those votes.
Effective political campaigns are won not simply on the issues at hand – but the issues created during the election cycle. While there are social “conservatives” running around with no business running for national office – eegads! Rick Santorum comes to mind – Democrats are Houdini-like in creating the impression Republicans are authoritarian prigs, ready and willing to dispatch all individual freedoms.
And, yes, there are too many social conservatives who have confused conservatism with authoritarianism. Still, Republicans refuse – or cannot – take a tyrannical authoritarian like NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, and make him the face of the Democratic Party. There are tens of thousands of men and women in New York City who cannot buy a sizeable cup of soda because of that jerk. And, despite all that, Republicans have been inept at using the pernicious legislation against smoking, Big Gulp sodas, trans-fat; the amount of water in a person’s toilet, as hinge upon which to throttle Democratic Party statism.
Are we men and women, or animals? Cats and dogs have less rules enforced upon them do Americans. Ugh.
In the late Ralph Ellison’s perennial novel Invisible Man, 1953, the narrator, having fallen into a manhole in Harlem, has his eyes awakened to the corrupting and individual destroying realities of communism. He has been betrayed, as the goals of the Brotherhood have not been good for the individual or the Negro community. The Brotherhood is, and has been, about conformity – about the survival no matter the plight of individual men and women, of itself. In the blackness of a manhole, the narrator concludes, “Now I know men are different and that all of life is divided and that only in division is there true health.”
Later on, in the same paragraph, Ellison’s fictional narrator sums up an anthem of individual liberty, “Whence all the passion for conformity anyway? – diversity is the word. Let man keep his many parts and you’ll have no tyrant states.”
Edmund Burke, the father of classical liberalism, could not have agreed more – from which we get the concept of Burkean islands of separation. Diversity has become a four-letter word in Republican/conservative circles. But be careful, it depends what kind of diversity is being elucidated. Our U.S. Constitution preserves a diversity of men and women; that is its central protection.
Diversity, then, atrophies the power of the state to enforce conformity on the individual.
Sadly, when has the Republican Party last echoed such individualistic sentiments – broadly and consistently? Truth be told, they cannot. For the cultural conservative anthem invigorating much of the popular GOP and its base has been rooted solely upon cultural uniformity. Weak progressivism, even with good intentions, has little strength against strong progressivism – the kind currently percolating in the Democratic Party. It is men and their individualities; their parts – division mind you, which erode the tyrannical energies of progressivism.
If it is division that bothers the mind – think! The United States government is about division. Purposed division. Separation of powers, enumerated powers made law in the U.S. Constitution; Federalism to ensure state sovereignty? The point: to check power, and power needs conformity. It is the inability to ride this classical liberal formula wherever it leads, while conversely governing in incompetence, that has weakened the Republican Party badly enough it cannot win winnable elections.