No More Profiles in Caution
The Republican Party must break with its long-established cautious instincts and make a bold stand for first principles of freedom and constitutional limitations on government — from full repeal of Obamacare to rolling back multitrillion-dollar deficits. This is not so much reproach of past Republican conduct as it is recognition of new opportunities.
The post-World War II conservative movement was born in the shadows of towering liberalism. As a result, when conservatism intermittently gained political power via the Republican Party, there were practical limits to how much liberalism they could plausibly try to dismantle. I know — I was there with the Goldwater campaign and with the Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich governing efforts.
For example, in 1982, Reagan’s Department of Education (where I was deputy assistant secretary for public affairs) tried to dismantle the Department of Education. But we could not find even one Republican member of the House Education and Labor Committee to introduce our bill.
A dozen years later, when Speaker Gingrich (for whom I was press secretary) again proposed killing the Department of Education, the opposition (even among Republicans) was so powerful across the country that further effort became futile.
There has been a strong national presumption of legitimacy for most of the statist programs, policies and rulings introduced by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Baines Johnson and the Supreme Court. To challenge them drew sneering ridicule, not just from the usual liberal suspects, but from most mainstream Republican voters.
Creeping statism simply had become normative. A politician who, for example, called for strict adherence to the 10th Amendment was marginalized and rejected as a crank by both American politics and American culture.
As a result, Reagan, Gingrich and the conservatives who supported them could, by and large, only slow down the growth of government. The only major reversal of statist policy we gained was the 1996 reform of welfare — and that only after two vetoes by President Clinton.
Thus, Republican congressmen, senators and governors — even staunch, principled conservatives — developed the instinct to propose only modestly less statist policies than Democrats did (as, for example, George W. Bush’s Medicare Part D subsidies for drugs). And we did so for the very practical reason that to do more assured overwhelming opposition by the broad center of the country, which took for granted that the structures and programs of government that had existed since they were born were normal, not unconstitutionally statist.
But the financial panic and economic collapse of 2008 and Washington’s shocking new proposals, laws, deficits and debt have changed the consciousness of a broad majority of the nation. The incurring of trillions of dollars of national debt in the past year has, almost simultaneously across the nation, induced a common revulsion: How dare Washington indebt and impoverish our grandchildren?
All the following acts have suddenly awakened Americans to their Constitution: (1) The nationalization of car companies and banks; (2) the subordination of the car companies’ legal bondholders to union bosses; (3) the creation of trillion-dollar slush funds (the stimulus package) used for, among other purposes, the corrupt purchase of congressional votes; (4) the mandating of individual health insurance purchase against the will of Americans; (5) the attempt to have Obamacare “deemed” to have been enacted, rather than actually publicly voted on by Congress.
Amazingly, spontaneously, Americans are educating themselves about the details of our Constitution. Last week, I participated in a town hall meeting organized by Sirius Radio network with a large live audience and call-ins from state legislators across the country to discuss the merits of invoking an Article V constitutional convention (much more on that in a later column). Many members of the audience — regular people from all over the country — held up their pocket Constitutions, which they keep with them.
Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion — every action has a reaction equal in magnitude and opposite in direction — also applies to the political physics of the body politic. The suddenness and radical magnitude of actions in Washington these past 18 months has induced an equal and equally radical reaction.
It is in this context that I urge the Republican Party to abandon its — until now — justifiable instinct to be cautious and limited in its call for traditional American freedoms and constitutional limitations on government.
Throughout my political life, such caution has been the smart and necessary political practice for the Republican Party — even under Reagan. But now, such caution not only misses an historic opportunity, but such caution is suddenly the single best way for the Republicans to lose in November by failing to be seen as the vehicle for an angry public’s re-seizure of its freedoms.
The unnoticed Fabian creep of statism these past 80 years — the slow boiling of the frogs of freedom — has suddenly been noticed by countless millions of us freedom-loving frogs. The frogs are jumping out of the pot and are ready to overturn the pots — and the pot handlers.
Everything is on the table to be considered for rollback. It didn’t start with President Obama, but it may begin to end with him.
He has awakened the American people to our heritage of freedom, and the people are getting ready to grab back our freedom by the handful.
Here’s a tip to Republican senators: Be bold and explicit. The president’s nominee for the Supreme Court should be defeated by filibuster exclusively because he (or she) will inevitably vote to uphold as constitutional the unconstitutional health care insurance purchase mandate.