January 8, 2015

Conservatives: Suck it up, you won't find perfection

Not exactly.
Pardon me for the following stream of conscience thoughts on the state of conservatism in the Republican party.

One thing is perfectly clear, as far as the general public is concerned, there are currently two major factions within the Republican party: the establishment wing and the conservative wing. The latter group has been predominantly classified as being aligned with the Tea Party. It's an interesting classification, since there are other identifiable groups that may align to some degree with Republican party that don't get as much attention. There are libertarians, social conservatives, economic conservatives, Republicans In Name Only (socially and/or economically liberal Republicans) for example.

Granted, there are some overlap between these groups, but that's what makes it a political party. If we were aiming for 100% ideological alignment within a party, the country would consist of 300+ million political parties of one.

The fight over Boehner's role as House speaker emphasizes that difference, or rift within the party.
In the end, their rebellion was not enough to unseat Boehner: The speaker won on the first round with 216 votes, 11 more than he needed. But it was far larger than a similar coup attempt against Boehner in 2013. In fact, it was the largest rebellion by a party against its incumbent speaker since the Civil War.
Focusing in on the main ideological rift is too simplistic a way to view politics on the right. Conservatives have described Democrats as an amalgamation of disparate special interest groups, banded together to advance all of their causes through co-operation. We've viewed that formula as a recipe for eventual failure. But you have to hand it to the Democrats, they've managed to do pretty well using that formula for a century.

Conservatives meanwhile can be described as fractious. There's no love lost between the Tea Party (who see the establishment as out-of-touch liberals in Republican clothing)  and the establishment (who see the Tea Party as a fringe element, incapable of winning elections). Because of the notion of the Big Tent, because Republicans (in theory) also encourage vigorous internal debate, it's only natural that there should be a divide within. In fact there should be multiple divisions on multiple issues, at multiple times. That's the sign of a healthy, vigorous party, not afraid to turn over ideas again and again to test for robustness.

But there comes a time when that becomes unhealthy, and when it deters the party from achieving anything. Part of the problem the party has faced became apparent in both 2008 and 2012 when a number of conservative voters stayed home instead of getting out to vote for McCain (a RINO to be sure) and Romney (an establishment Republican and a squishy Romneycare one at that). As bad as either of those two gentlemen may have been as president, they both would have been miles greater than what the country got instead - 8 years of president Obama hubris, inexperience, debt, Obamacare, no Keystone, Benghazi, IRS scandals, VA scandals, etc. No one on the right can realistically argue that all of that would have transpired under either Republican nominee. Some, like the VA scandal may have happened anyway, but the totality of the national failure since 2009 would not have transpired.

While conservatives have been busy blaming the media for Obama's continued job approval rating not completely cratering, they are missing the point. American needn't have suffered through it had conservatives stepped up, held their noses, and voted. Solidarity is not a bad thing. It worked for Democrats, hell, it worked in Poland to kick out the communist leadership. Why be loathe to support a less than perfect candidate? Yes there are better candidates out there than what the GOP has foisted on the public, but they didn't end up as the nominee.

Conversely, it can be argued that this sort of internal discord, in the long run, is a healthy thing for the Republican party.  For one thing, it proves that, unlike the Democratic Party, ideas get debated, rather than everybody just bending to the accepted, politically correct view.  That's a sign of a healthy party.  That in turn means that ideas really get considered.  Thought goes into them, and they are far more likely to have a basis in reason.  It also means that divergent opinions can exist within the same tent.  That reduces the likelihood of the party charging  off on the wrong tangent on some issue.  Overall, it also increases the likelihood that bad ideas get shaken out and that the party emerges from the discord stronger, with more focus and better priorities.

But those things primarily provide differentiation of the Republican party with the modern day Democratic party.  Furthermore, the 'emerging from the discord' doesn't provide a timeline.  What if it takes 25 years?  The country does not have that amount of time to wait for a party capable of solving the majority of what ails America.  Conservatives are going to have to suck it up, we won't find perfection in any single candidate, group or idea.  If you want perfection, you're on the wrong planet (or haven't gotten to Heaven just yet). We have to settle - that's life. Deal with it.    Have the debates, but once the candidates are settled, turn out and vote even if the candidate is less than stellar.  You can always try again next time.

Exit Note:  One concern that I have not addressed is the idea that coalescing around a candidate after the nomination may serve to entrench the existing establishment leadership, which leads to a moribund party.  Perhaps I'll mull that over in a future post.

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