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Ralph Nader Ponders if Barack Obama Will be an "Uncle Sam" or "Uncle Tom" | Main | "Breaking News Alert:" Robocalls in California/Western States Sought to Depress Republican Vote
November 05, 2008

Changed Thread: Still More Recriminations and General Animus


This thread got off track from its intended humorous purpose. I've changed the DOW Jones thread to be the humorous one.

This one I guess is for rancor.

One topic I'm curious about is the proper mix of boosterism and realism.

If I can be so bold to offer a criticism of Republicans on the internet -- and I do so knowing that such are my readers (and hence my salary) so I offer this critique with trepidation and respect. But I offer it all the same, because I think it's important:

Conservatives have long had a healthy distrust of the media and the establishment take on things. However, there is a point where skepticism -- healthy and rational -- becomes denialism, a simple unwillingness to confront anything resembling objective reality in favor of a more "optimistic," but less realistic, take on the world.

A lot of what the media claims is bullshit. But we can't stop discriminating entirely and decide everything they claim is bullshit, either.

The proliferation of various internet-driven conspiracies is one example of this. Some conspiracies -- such as Obama's fundraising scam -- are real. Others -- the whole rathole of the Kenyan birth -- aren't based on any evidence at all, just wishful thinking.

We also have to be more willing to take a hard look at our assumptions, programs, messages, and candidates. I knocked on Bart and JackStraw for lighting up Sarah Palin last night, but I think now I shouldn't have; she is/was a flawed candidate -- a good candidate, but her shaky interviews hurt her badly, and perhaps she cannot recover from them even for 2012 -- and there should not be a conservatively-correct code for political speech.

The media savaged her. That doesn't mean, however, she didn't screw up on her own. As Nixon said, "I gave them the knife and they twisted it with relish." She did give them the knife, however. (Or perhaps McCain did, by agreeing to the interviews before she was quite ready, etc. I don't know where to assign the ultimate fault, but I know there is someone to blame here.)

Don't get me wrong: Sarah Palin is my current favorite politician. But I do fear her brand has been (unfairly) damaged beyond repair. If she can repair it-- I'm a Palinista. But if she can't -- I want to win. I'll accept a nominee in 2012 I don't like as much as Palin if they can deliver what's most important to me -- a plausible shot at winning.

Another problem is the misplaced faith in "running on principle." Principles are important -- but if principles can't be articulated in such a fashion as to persuade a majority of the public (or close to a majority, so the point is a net wash or close to it), it's a principle that either needs to be reexamined, or at least strongly deemphasized. We can't fight for all "principles" with equal vigor. I don't have any particular principle in mind here (social cons always assume they're the ones being eyed, which doesn't happen to be true in this case), but I do know that "principle" isn't enough.

Gingrich didn't run on mere principle in 1994. He ran on six promises which had been poll-tested and commanded a great deal of public support.

Did they reflect conservative principles? In the main, yes. But it was not merely a randomly-selected list of promises. They were popular promises, not merely principled ones.

One thing everyone has to remember: Any candidate or any movement gets elected for a slate of popular policy points. They can then implement their less-popular policy points -- but such points get "smuggled in," as it were, packed up with the issues that actually win elections.

Not many were thinking of national security or terrorism in 2000, for example -- but the nation got Bush's less-well-known foreign policy when they elected him for his main planks of leadership, bipartisanship, and "compassionate conservatism."

There are issues a party leads with and gets elected on, and then there are issues a party doesn't particularly advertise and doesn't actually receive a popular mandate for, but implements (to some degree anyhow) nevertheless when it's elected on the strength of its lead issues.

Social cons and capitalist cons and national-security cons all need to keep this in mind. We all do. The candidate who most strongly professes an allegiance to your key issues may not in fact be the one most likely to be elected, and hence the one most likely to actually deliver (to some degree) on those issues.

There is no issue that's more important than a political winner -- because only a political winner has any chance at all to actually push an agenda.

A political loser gets to start a PAC.

The Democrats grasped this in 1992 -- and in 2008. We recognized it ourselves in 2000 -- George W. Bush, whatever his flaws, was a political winner. (In 2000, I was a bit torn, because I recognized the character and sacrifice of McCain and thought he deserved the nomination --but that George W. Bush was a political winner who could unite the base and therefore must be our nominee).

I happen to believe that Fred Thompson or Mitt Romney might well have turned out to have been better candidates than John McCain. (I would put my man Giuliani into this mix as well -- but for the fact he committed deliberate political suicide by stating without caveat or walkback "I'm pro-choice," thus demonstrating an inexcusable and fatal lack of savvy himself. At the point he said this, I wrote him off as a plausible political, despite having supported him my entire adult life -- he was the first politician I supported, ever. I didn't get on the Reagan bandwagon (still a nominal Democrat during that period) but was one of the first on the Giuliani bandwagon. With two words he demolished his chances of uniting the conservative base, and with that my enthusiasm for his candidacy.)

I am chagrined that so many members of our party demonstrated a lack of political savvy by voting for a somewhat implausible candidate, Mike Huckabee, rather than focusing on more plausible socially-right candidates. Resulting in the nomination of a man who, while possessing many fine qualities, was less of a social con than any of the plausible alternatives.

Giuliani was I thought the best candidate on my main issue, terrorism and the war (and also the best, I thought, for my next issue, fiscal conservatism). He had one minor flaw, though: he couldn't win the crucial religious con base and therefore could not win the election.

Huckabee was a mirror-image. He might have been the dream candidate for some religious cons... except he couldn't win many beyond that large, but not nearly majoritarian, segment.

Because we couldn't seem to agree collectively on a candidate we could all live with (and I cite myself as an offender in that regard, pushing Giuliani well beyond his expiration date), we got backed into a candidate that really excited a small segment of the party.

And of course we got President Elect Barack Hussein Obama.

Even if you don't buy that slam on Huckabee, if we're going to win, we have to be, as a party, savvier. Maybe I'm wrong about the political viability of Huck vs. Romney vs. Thompson vs. McCain. But the general point remains: Voting purely for "principle," without any eye towards who can actually win, is a mug's game.

Note: To clarify, I certainly do not suggest throwing the pro-life issue under the bus. Even if it's not my issue, I recognize it as a key part of our issues.

The issue animates 40% of the country, and 90% of Republicans. Therefore, it's crucial our candidates be pro-life (at least in the main, or at least against Roe v. Wade or judicial lawmaking in this arena).

My suggestion is more nuanced. It is this: One cannot lead with this issue, as Huckabee did. 40% is a big number, but it cannot be overlooked that 40% is less than 51%.

A candidate less forward-leaning, less publicly strident, on the pro-life plank -- rather soft-spoken about it, as George W. Bush was in 2000 -- has a chance to advance the pro-life position.

A candidate who leads with this 40% issue does not have such a chance.

My problem with Huckabee was not that he was a social con or a religious man. George W. Bush was a social con and a religious man and I was as strong and enthusiastic supporter of his -- and not just as the lesser of several evils. I affirmatively liked him.

No, my problem with Huckabee is that he was leading on the issue, and seeking support on social issues which had an outside chance of winning him the nomination and no chance at all of winning the general election.

My problem, in short, was that he was a guaranteed loser, and simply drew attention and votes away from candidates who could win.

The pro-life plank, and traditional moral issues planks, are critical. But they are not lead issues.

Savvy is what we need. I'm tired of hearing this or that principle compels us to do decidedly unproductive things.

The Constitution, it is often said, is not a suicide-pact. And neither are any of our principles.

No principle ever gets advanced by a losing candidate... except, perhaps, in the long view, the Goldwater Phoenix Arising as Reagan sort of view.

But bear in mind that took sixteen years.

If you advocate the Goldwater Option, be prepared for the Goldwater 16 year exile as well.

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posted by Ace at 06:59 PM

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