A great deal of ink has been spilled on many a page analyzing the Harriet Miers nomination debacle. Liberal pundits quickly called it the “crack up” of the conservative movement; Rush Limbaugh corrected the Left by explaining that this was instead a “crack down,” and still others called the whole situation “inevitable.” And while pundits from the left and the right will concede this is a victory for conservatives, they also agree that the extent of the victory remains unclear.
But while much has been made of the actual fight, it is usually painted in terms of regret that it came to this point and seemingly with little thought to how this momentum might be harnessed to ensure conservative victories in the future. Some conservative columnists have even lamented that Miers’ nod publicly exposed a growing list of reasons conservatives are unhappy with the current administration. And who says that that is a bad thing?
On the face of things, the scenario surrounding Miers seems pretty straight forward and has a limited scope: President Bush went to market to spend his “political capital” on this nomination. When he got to the register he flashed his Stealth Express Card, but was promptly told that this card was not honored at this location and that he had overdrawn on his other credit accounts. He had no choice but to put Miers back on her shelf and begin paying down his debt to conservatives.
But I believe that there is much more conservatives can gain from this experience besides simply dodging another bullet. To properly apply this new found knowledge we must first recognize how we got here, which begins with taking a moment to realize how we won: by unwaveringly standing on principle without apology or compromise, clearly articulating a message that second-best was not good enough and by rejecting the modern Republican Party’s cult of personality for a return to integrity.
This is important to realize because it is not a hard game plan to articulate or follow. In fact, it worked so well that we witnessed for the first time in a very long while a large swath of the conservative movement—neo-cons, paleo-cons, social and fiscal conservatives, alike—standing shoulder-to-shoulder to get the train back on its track.
This is unquestionably a good thing and not a single conservative should feel bad that it happened. Especially when you consider that like the Republican Revolution of ’94, it was social conservatives conducting this ride on the rails.
And it is this realization that brings us to our first challenge: maintaining the eternal vigilance needed to prevent future derailments. In 1994, conservatives gave Republicans charge of the U.S. House and Senate for the first time in 40 years based upon the promise of limited government, elimination of government waste and unconstitutional programs, elimination of activist courts—especially among the Supremes and a return to the traditional American values that first made our country great.
This was great on paper and we even saw some early successes while we were keeping watch. But 11 years later, much of the contract with America remains unfulfilled. The movement made the mistake of believing that we could trust our elected officials to do it on their own without our help and supervision. That’s not to say we were wrong to offer that trust or that our elected officials are evil men who don’t deserve our trust, but it does belie how our form of government is supposed to operate.
We are a Constitutional Republic, where we the people are the sovereigns and the elected officials serve at our pleasure. Put another way, we are the CEO’s and they are the management team. That’s why the reaction to Miers by conservatives was a good thing. We reassumed our rightful roles as the head of the company and reigned in a management team that had taken far too much leeway. If there is a downside, it is that we acted as absentee owners for too long.
To that end, we should actually thank the Bush administration for giving us this “teaching moment,” because it precipitated a long overdue reckoning that has returned players back to their proper roles. But Miers’ withdrawal is only half the victory.
It is our job to make sure that this hope becomes a reality. Propelling the conservative agenda is not something that can be entrusted to “others;” this goes against the very nature of conservatism, which is based upon self-responsibility. That is not to say we can or should do it alone. But as Ronald Reagan repeatedly demonstrated and this affair has reminded us: true leadership is having the courage to speak the truth, to lead by example and seek what is in the best interest of our country no matter what the polls say, what “conventional wisdom” advises and whether or not the “inside-the-beltway” crowd will respect us in the morning.
In the end, the Miers “conflict” has helped to better prepare us for making the conservative agenda prosper in the future. We know that our game plan—based on principle, integrity and objective truth—will work. And we now recognize that the ultimate responsibility for enacting this strategy rests upon our shoulders. Each and every one of us, not “somebody else.” Which leaves us with the final question that needs to be answered if we are truly to succeed: Are we willing to rise to this challenge?