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May 02, 2009

The Politics of Fear

“Never frighten a little man. He'll kill you.”

- Robert A. Heinlein

So it has come to this.

It took no more than the loss of an election for the Right to abandon any claim to being better than those we like to call Moonbats. A mere one hundred days out of power, and we are panicked; willing to do anything - no matter how wrong, no matter how detestable - to control the terms of the debate:

When I was in college, I studied Southern Long Fist Kung Fu for more than a year and my teacher told me something that I never forgot. He said that when you’re being attacked, the aggressor sets the rules and if you want to survive, you have to play by those rules. In other words, if your opponent is trying to cut your head off with a sword while you’re trying not to hurt him, chances are that you’re going to end up dead. This is a lesson that conservatives can and should apply to politics.

Too often today, liberals are using below-the-belt tactics against conservatives and paying no price whatsoever. Meanwhile, those on the right like to pat themselves on the back for being above it all. This is like a boxer priding himself on never taking off his gloves while his opponent nearly beats him to death with his bare firsts. But in the end, there’s not much to be said for lovable losers. Conservatives should realize that fair play isn’t going to pay any dividends.

... On college campuses, conservative speakers often need bodyguards to give a speech. Conservatives are shouted down and attacked — and nothing serious ever seems to happen to the fascists who engage in these thuggish tactics. So why shouldn’t conservative groups do the exact same thing to every liberal speaker who comes to the college? Go on stage, lock arms, and shout him down — then sue the university if they’re given so much as an hour’s detention more than the protesting liberal students.

Is this really what we believe? Has one defeat so frightened us that we've lost faith in our own ideals? How have we so forgotten ourselves?

There was once a party I wanted to belong to. I didn't agree with every plank of the party platform, but it was Ronald Reagan's big tent that attracted me to the party and the GOP's wise policy of uniting factions with disparate beliefs around a solid core of central tenets that kept me solidly voting Republican for 30 years.

That party is dying, eaten away from the inside by extremists who want to impose the kind of rigid ideological conformity and political litmus tests that would have been anathema to The Gipper (himself a former Democrat):

Somehow Republicans have lost common ground – Reagan invoked the Big Tent constantly as a way of collecting libertarian conservatives, national security conservatives, economic conservatives and social conservatives under one banner. But the spirit of outreach and inclusiveness has been drummed out of the GOP – disagreement is seen as disloyalty, and the search for heretics has become a hobby. Libertarians are losing any logical reason to affiliate with the GOP, while centrist Republicans are seen as suspect almost by definition. When Senators like Olympia Snowe or John McCain win re-election with over 70% of the vote, they are considered sell-outs rather than successes. I’ve debated conservatives on TV who were rooting for Norm Coleman to lose, because they considered him insufficiently conservative. This road leads not just to political disaster, but party suicide. Republicans who have won statewide in the Northeast tend to be centrist on social issues, especially on a woman’s right to chose and gay civil rights. Republicans must welcome social moderates into the big tent of the GOP, focus on finding common ground and not treat them as second class citizens. Remember: In a place where everyone thinks alike, nobody is thinking very much.

Instead of confidently standing tall, why are we are stooping to the lowest common denominator? Are we really so weak that we can't win unless we act like those we despise?

The party I joined in 1979 believed in vigorous competition and free speech. It conceived of America as a meritocracy where the rule of just and moral laws allowed superior ideas, products, and workers to rise to the top most of the time. Not all of the time, mind you. But most of the time. Conservatives understood something very important: even the fairest process cannot guarantee ideal outcomes.

But we believed that in an imperfect world, the surest path to success and prosperity was adherence to a fair set of laws that allows people to compete freely for what they want. The rules didn't guarantee we would win all of the time. They just provided a free marketplace in which we had a chance to sell our ideas, our products, and our labor.

So why, all of a sudden, have we lost faith in our ability to compete? Why are we so afraid of losing? Why, despite our previous opposition to anti-democratic proposals like the Fairness Doctrine, are we elevating a desired outcome over a just process? Is it really so calamitous to be forced to allow the other half of America a seat in the halls of power?


Our own history can provide valuable perspective on our present difficulties. Over the last half century or so, Republicans have controlled the White House by a 3-2 margin. But more importantly, over the last half century there has been only one case in which the same party held the White House three terms in a row. Why are conservatives feeding the frankly hysterical notion that a typical and not unexpected turnover of power justifies the abandonment of our principles?

If you want to know why we just lost, look no farther than those who think winning demands that we cheat on rules we have promoted for decades. We lost because a good number of Americans no longer trust us to uphold the principles we espouse: limited government, free enterprise, and fiscal conservatism. We have shown ourselves all too willing to promote expediency over principle and we have paid the price.

Look no farther than those who erupt in outrage when our opponents employ thuggish tactics and character assassination and then recommend we adopt methods we all know are wrong. When we have ground the principles of common decency to dust beneath our own feet, by what right will we complain when one of our own is attacked?

What, precisely, is the goal here?

Do we really want a one-party state where one half of the citizenry has no voice in their own government? How long can a government "of the People, by the People, and for the People" last when fully half of the governed are never again allowed access to Congress or the White House? Are a few weasel words and the loss of a single election sufficient justification for betraying every principle conservatives have held dear?

If so, this is no longer a party I can defend, for it has become morally and intellectually bankrupt. I'm sorry, but I am bigger than that. I have faith in the ideas that brought me into the conservative fold, and I don't need to cheat to defend them.

If the Republican party becomes a party of opportunists and moral relativists, then we will truly have lost our way. But worse, we will have betrayed everything that made us worth supporting. We don't need to fight dirty. We need to fight more competently.

And if we can't beat the likes of Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthew on our own terms, than perhaps we deserve to lose. Step up, conservatives, and stop allowing yourselves to be ruled by fear. Stop being the party of little men and become the party of great ideas once more.

We're supposed to be better than this.

Posted by Cassandra at May 2, 2009 12:15 PM

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Yep. I held my nose and registered for a party for the first time to vote for Fred in the primary. I held my nose and voted for McCain, because I suspected Obama would be exactly like the way he is acting. (And McCain was no prize winning pony, but he wouldn't be trying to "remake" America).

If the republicans stand for increased federal government and dirty tricks, well gosh, why on earth would I want to be part of that? I guess it's back to voting for random 3rd parties.

Posted by: silvermine at May 2, 2009 02:14 PM

I want to be better than this, too. But I worry that I have no representation in government. I've never been in a situation where my president makes fun of me, demeans my beliefs, and acts like those who voted for someone else are not worthy of notice.

I started a new hobby on January 20, which was to write an email every day to the comment line at the White House. I heckled them for being such poor winners and criticized the unending self-congratulatory blather that has not ceased to this day. I said that a leader doesn't blame the previous administration for everything, but takes the hand he was dealt (and struggled mightily to have dealt to him) and grows a pair and takes the bad with the good.

After a few days they changed the email address for comments for some stupid reason and said they'd had to purge the others. Now I heckle them only when I have time.

But, I received an email from My President about a week ago in response to my communications to the White House. The text follows:

Dear (My name here):

Thank you for your recent note, and for sharing your thoughts with me. Your kind words echo the messages of millions of Americans who have welcomed me and my family to the White
House with an outpouring of goodwill.

On January 20th, Americans spoke with one voice, choosing hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. Our Nation faces serious challenges, but we will overcome them if
our imagination is joined to common purpose.

Now is our time to work together, reaffirm our enduring spirit, and choose our better history. With your help, we will renew our Nation's promise to carry forth the great gift of freedom to future generations, as our forebears have delivered it to us.


Barack Obama

This guarantees to me that he entirely misses the point, and hears only what he wants to hear. I am not among the millions who wish him well. I wish him safety, but I hope his plans end up like the Hindenberg! I didn't "speak with one voice" for him - I went to the voting booth with my heels dug in, screaming "NO!!!"

I don't think America needs to be remade. I think it needs to be protected from him and his friends! I don't join in a common purpose that punishes individual initiative and rewards the desire to be cared for by a big, overarching government.

I want my country back!

How can we be heard if we continue meekly sucking hind t!t? On the other hand, when we peaceably assemble at our TEA Parties, they send jackasses like the CNN reporter to find some stupid outlier carrying a picture of Obama with a Hitler mustache (who, if the truth were known, was probably a plant) and misrepresent what we are doing. What would they report if we learned how to make a papier-mâché Obama head presented ourselves like the protesters of the last eight years?

I want to be better than that. But I also want to recognize my country in four years time, and strive to have Mr. Obama return to the private sector, if there is one left. How will we accomplish this if we don't learn some new skills?

Posted by: MathMom at May 2, 2009 03:27 PM

I guess it depends on whether you believe the end justifies the means, MathMom. Maybe I'm naive, but I don't think you do.

By John's reasoning, winning is so important that it justifies doing whatever our opponents do to us.

Even if it is clearly and manifestly wrong.

Even if it violates what we say we believe. If you think this, then how are we any different than the far Left? Why should people like silvermine vote for us, rather than the other side?

Will demonstrating that expediency is our governing principle convince America to entrust the reins of government to us in 2012? Do we tell our children, when the other team cheats, to throw out the rule book - to do anything so long as they win?

Wow. It's hard to do the right thing. That doesn't change the fact that principles don't matter a damn unless you live them. Even when it's difficult.

Have faith. And don't buy into the crap argument that if you can't fight dirty you can't fight at all (or that you can't possibly win unless you cheat).

Posted by: Cassandra at May 2, 2009 03:51 PM

I think what the GOP does not matter. Best to act sane, be honest, and not confuse the public by acting like Democrats.

Trying the tactics of the left will only ensure the swift and complete suppression of all dissent.

Every level of government and policing is poised to stomp on conservatives while overlooking all activities of the left.

Don't believe it? Read the words of your AG and DHS.

The Dems have such majorities that what they do will matter. All they lack is total control of the Supreme Court. And that will come soon.

So the key question is whether the Democrats will ever again allow the free elections which might end their control. The omens are not good.

Posted by: K at May 2, 2009 04:17 PM

the key question is whether the Democrats will ever again allow the free elections which might end their control.

That is why we have a 2nd Amendment.

A core tenet of American law is that government rules by consent of the governed. If that were to happen, I know quite a few Democrats who would be just as quick to oppose them (just as if the fears of the Left had come true and der BusHitler had refused to hand over control of the White House, there are many of us who would not have allowed this to happen).

Have faith - both in the rule of law and in your fellow citizens. Despite the posturing of the bozos on both sides, in the end they derive their authority from our willing consent.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 2, 2009 04:30 PM

If we have no moral compass - and people who perceive no limits on their own conduct, so long as it leads them where they want to go, and where they want to take us, where they believe we should want to go, have none to speak of - we have no business trying to govern others, for we are constitutionally unable to govern ourselves.

Perhaps if we are able to listen to sounds above and beyond those of the shrill voices of the innumerable political consultants who appear everywhere on our television screens - I'm getting older and slower, unable to operate the remote fast enough to avoid all of them all of the time - we will rediscover the real "we's" of the world, The People, and find in them more of the moral fiber, more of the commitment to true, conservative principles, more of the passion for good, not larger, government, than we can today believe exists, but that we know, in times past, got us through.

We can only hope.

Posted by: Everyman at May 2, 2009 04:51 PM

You are right about the core tenet:

i.e. consent of the governed.

But what if that consent not be known? What if it is ignored while a large part of the public is apathetic, paralysed by uncertainty, or misled by propaganda?

The honest election problem is this:

I have virtually - and almost literally - no way of knowing if an election is honest. And you don't either. We may have strong suspicions but that proves nothing.

Everything I will hear about vote counts comes via the media. They just repeat the count announced by government workers.

Electoral disputes are decided by another set of government workers called Judges. They examine whatever they care to examine and bestow the blessing of office upon one candidate or another.

The Second? What of it? Owning a gun means nothing if you can't see the target. Just as laws against burglary would fail when all the police were burglars.

The trend everywhere is toward central control. In vote counting, in census counts - O is only temporarily frustrated there, in ownership of banks and industry, in education, in the vehicles you may drive and the food and appliances you buy.

We have leaders who want to decide who will be your physician and what care you can receive. And soon it will be whether YOUR child can attend college.

Or if those they dislike can speak on radio.

Ways are already sought to govern the internet and cable programming content.

And the decayed and insolvent old media will be "saved" with funds from Washington and print what they are told.

The state governments who take poisoned money today will find they have acquired a partner. Partners who behave like Mafioso.

Think we are in a depression or recession? It isn't either for the government or in metropolitan D.C.

The 1930s were great days for government growth and for tyranny around the world. And those happy days are here again.

Posted by: K at May 2, 2009 05:44 PM

"Meanwhile, those on the right like to pat themselves on the back for being above it all. This is like a boxer priding himself on never taking off his gloves while his opponent nearly beats him to death with his bare firsts."

It is because the left likes to demonize a justified punitive response by saying we are stooping to the level of the agressor. Keep repeating that to those you want to subject to your no less agressive and totally skewed tactics and you will win every time.

I am so not above that.

Posted by: Cricket at May 2, 2009 06:17 PM

Does it ever occur to anyone that if all we need to rationalize lying or forcibly preventing people we disagree with from speaking in public is to be able to point to a few jerks on the other side who have done these things at one time or another, then we have no more principles than the worst (not all, but the very worst) people on the other side?

What other people say about us is not the test of whether we are right or wrong. The test is whether we can look in the mirror every morning and still tell ourselves we have an honest bone in our bodies?

Or as I said when I was 21 years old and my boss put his hand on my ass and murmured, "How long have you been living apart from your husband? Do you really believe he's not cheating on you?":

"I have zero control over what other people do. But I have absolute control over what I do. And at the end of the day, I have to be able to live with myself."

Posted by: The Fool on the Hill at May 2, 2009 06:34 PM

I am sorry but the Republicans have been trying so hard to put everybody under the Big Tent that we ended up with a Liberal-Lite version of the party. Inclusiveness was not drummed out of the GOP, it was turned into overinclusiveness that makes it impossible to have a solid core. Very often it is impossible to guess who is speaking on the issues, republican or democrat, unless you see the name and the letter behind it. I firmly believe it is time to fold the Big Tent, get back to the solid conservative core, become more discriminate on who we invite in and start anew.

Posted by: olga at May 2, 2009 07:05 PM

I think that would be instructive.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 2, 2009 07:11 PM

You mean...STANDARDS?


Posted by: Cricket at May 2, 2009 07:28 PM

Inclusiveness, in and of itself, is not a virtue.

On the other hand, I'm not sure exclusiveness is much help when trying to gather enough votes to win a national election.

As I recall, Ronald Reagan won by enticing Reagan Democrats (yep - "unreal conservatives") over from the other side. They voted for him because on balance, the issues where they agreed with him were more important to them than finding an ideal candidate with whom they agreed 100%.

George Bush won by enticing a considerable number of Democrats over to the Republican ticket. Again, these folks didn't agree with everything he stood for, but they figured he was better for the country than Al Gore or John Kerry.

But perhaps the party would be "purer" today if they had employed a strict litmus test to prospective voters? That way, we could have rejected the votes of the ideologically impure and put a Democrat in the White House for 16 more years.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 2, 2009 08:09 PM

Wow, I sympathize with your stand and probably agree with everything you said in this post at least 99%. That said, would you really be all that upset if someone was to unearth damning information against some of those in the MSM who specialize in trashing conservatives? Not talking about revenge here, more a matter of shining a light on hypocrisy. Not advocating playing "dirty," but I think conservatives need to start playing a little rougher. I suppose sports analogies are in order, as in "nice guys finish last." On a side note, for many years, not knowing the origin of that quote, I assumed it referred to sex.

Posted by: Suds46 at May 2, 2009 09:04 PM

I think conservatives need to start playing a little rougher

If what you mean by this is that we need to be more aggressive and assertive in our rebuttals, absolutely. I have my doubts about doing 'opposition research' on media figures for two reasons:

1. I think the 'tu quoque' point I made on another post applies here as well. That's why it's a logical fallacy: if someone who has ulterior motives or has been a hypocrite in the past says something true, do you refute their arguments by saying, "Well you're not exactly perfect yourself"? (Well no kidding - it's a rare person who has never done anything in their whole life that can be attacked. But what does that have to do with the truth or falsity of what they are arguing?)

Nothing, really.

2. This sort of thing gets out of hand very quickly. It's really a form of intimidation - you're trying to frighten them into never saying anything you don't like by threatening to dig into their personal history. And who is usually hurt by this?

Their families. I don't think we need to go there.

If we have good arguments, we should make them. If we don't have good arguments... well, maybe we need to work harder. Several folks in the blogosphere have dug up all kinds of dirt on Olbermann. But that didn't help us with the kind of person who finds Olbermann persuasive.

I think what hurts us most is not being able to defend our principles in an articulate and persuasive manner. We are appealing to intellect rather than sympathy and that is a harder case to make.

I got the impression - several times - that John McCain didn't even understand, much less believe, the arguments for a lot of the stands he took. Sarah Palin - though I wasn't as big a fan as many on the right - was far more persuasive in making a coherent argument for conservative ideas. She, at least, seemed to understand and be able to express WHY we believe our philosophy of government is better - HOW it will help America become more prosperous. That's the value proposition and if we can't sell it, how can we expect people to vote for us?

The other hurdle we face as conservatives (and why I believe going for the jugular will ALWAYS hurt us far more than it hurts the Left) is that our own insistence on individual responsibility and accountability makes it easy to cast conservatives as "mean" or "uncaring". We have no "goody bags" to hand out. All we promise is to keep government off your back so you can go out and get your own goody bag :p

Posted by: Cassandra at May 2, 2009 10:00 PM

Conservatives need to stick to their principles, but I worry that it may be too late. Conservatives don't have the megaphone of the media. I pray we can make a comeback in the 2010 midterm elections, but I'm afraid too many people are more concerned about unimportant things (who is winning on American Idol, the latest celebrity gossip, Congress being more concerned about the BCS than the massive debt they are saddling the nation with...) and they aren't paying attention while our nation and our freedoms are being stolen from us. We have the President strong-arming private businesses, coercing them into doing what he (the government) wants them to do. That's not a free market: that's fascism...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at May 2, 2009 11:17 PM

We have the President strong-arming private businesses, coercing them into doing what he (the government) wants them to do.

Shame on you, Miss Ladybug. Those evil rich folk do not need anyone defending them. It's about time they got their comeuppance (and we got our 'fair share' of their take home pay!).


Posted by: Cassandra at May 2, 2009 11:50 PM

There I go again... Attempting to think for myself...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at May 3, 2009 12:25 AM

We have to distinguish between styles that make us queasy, on the one hand, and actions that we know to be wrong, on the other. A silly squeamishness is an excellent way to get creamed in a fight for no good reason. At the same time, descending to your enemy's real moral level is a good way to lose the fight before it even starts, by losing yourself.

I'm no pacifist. Gandhi may have been admirable, but his tactics worked only because he was up against some very self-restrained Brits. A Gandhi in North Korea would just disappear without a trace. So in most situations I favor fighting back with real violence and next to no self-doubt. But I wouldn't be willing, for instance, to line up an ethnic group and march them into the gas chambers, even though I knew it would give me a terrific tactical advantage.

How does this translate to a political fight in 21st Century America? I wouldn't disrupt a speech because I deplored the message of the speaker, but I might go a lot farther than most polite conservatives do in standing outside with placards. And I'd hire good armed guards for the next speech by a conservative.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 3, 2009 10:23 AM

I might go a lot farther than most polite conservatives do in standing outside with placards. And I'd hire good armed guards for the next speech by a conservative.

I think that's a great example of being more aggressive while staying within the law (and our principles).

I also don't have any problem with conservatives forcefully protesting wimpy administrators who won't enforce the law, to say nothing of their own university policies. The real irony here is that much of what the reality based community uses to discourage conservative speakers easily falls under the rubric of hate speech.

Which begs the question... why are colleges allowing it?

Posted by: Cassandra at May 3, 2009 12:27 PM

"Which begs the question... why are colleges allowing it?"

Wrong question.

Why are they teaching it? That's the question that needs to be answered.

Posted by: DL Sly at May 3, 2009 12:50 PM

Good point. Even back when I was in school, I had profs offering extra credit if we showed up for certain talks (but not others). I complained to my history prof about this.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 3, 2009 12:54 PM

this is what I was talking about (from Washignton Times, H/T Jonn at Thisainthell:

“You can’t beat something with nothing, and the other side has something. I don’t like it, but they have it, and we have to be respectful and mindful of that,” Mr. Bush said.

The former president’s brother, often mentioned as a potential candidate in 2012, said President Obama’s message of hope and change during the 2008 campaign clearly resonated with Americans.

“So our ideas need to be forward looking and relevant. I felt like there was a lot of nostalgia and the good old days in the [Republican] messaging. I mean, it’s great, but it doesn’t draw people toward your cause,” Mr. Bush said.

“From the conservative side, it’s time for us to listen first, to learn a little bit, to upgrade our message a little bit, to not be nostalgic about the past because, you know, things do ebb and flow.”

yeah, let's become even more Liberal-Lite, then we will win...

Posted by: olga at May 4, 2009 11:06 AM

Much of the befuddlement, resentment and dismay being expressed by the right is a result of their insistence on seeing the political landscape as a matter of right to left, forgetting that the one dimensional line with which political positions are measured fails to take into account that in reality there is another dimension, the vertical axis.
If it's any consolation, the "other side" of the political spectrum does the same, and the two political parties do all that they can to disuade their components from thinking much about it.

Posted by: doug l at May 6, 2009 12:59 AM

Well, I'm befuddled. What in the world is this 'vertical axis'? Seriously. Example/definition, please.

Posted by: PCR at May 6, 2009 01:40 AM