Assessing Last Week's Column

Last week’s column urging conservatives to vote in November ("No Thanks, We’re Stupid") brought forth a cataract of e-mails. Initially they ran about 6-1 disagreeing with me. By Friday, when the floodtide had subsided to a trickle, the disapproval level had reduced to about 3-2. Clearly, I didn’t quite make the sale.

Most of the responses fell into three large categories: 1) There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Rinocrats and Democans, 2) like children, congressmen have to be punished when they misbehave (by letting them lose), or they won’t learn their lesson and will become spoiled brats, and, 3) I’m simply not going to vote for politicians who are corrupt and haven’t kept their policy promises.

The remainder of the responses pointed out either: 4) I was a hypocrite because a few weeks earlier I had called for Hastert to resign ("Republican Integrity"), and now I was calling for voters to hold their noses and vote Republican, or 5) perhaps I had ended my snit with Hastert and was back on the reservation.

Of the three major responses, the weakest is the Rinocrat charge that there is not a dime’s worth of difference. I won’t repeat in detail the arguments about Pelosi, taxes, national security, impeachment, etc., as they have been made constantly — and cogently — by Republicans and many conservatives for the last month.

But there are demonstrable differences, which is why most of us, most of the time, chose the lesser rather than the greater evil. I would only argue, e.g. that for those conservatives (such as me) who want secure borders and no amnesty, the House Republican majority is the only group of politicians who will be able to block that next year — if they are a majority. And that is a positive good — not a lesser evil.

 The second argument — parental discipline is needed for congressmen — is, I think, an unuseful metaphor. If you don’t discipline your children, they are likely to grow up spoiled; if you do discipline them, they have to stay home and learn their lesson — and are then likely to grow up much better.

But if you discipline a congressional majority, it just disappears. The surviving minority is just as likely to learn from the punishment that they should behave more like the Democrat winners. That is where the me-too Republicans of the 1940s through 1970s came from. After FDR, there weren’t enough conservative voters around, so Republican congressmen became more liberal in an effort to get re-elected. That didn’t begin to change until Reagan in 1980.

I will concede that following such a punishment we may well get more solidly conservative candidates we can vote for in future Republican primaries. But they will have to take on either surviving Republican incumbents or incumbent Democrats — both of which are usually hard to defeat because of the power of incumbency.

It may take several years to regain a majority in the House any more conservative than the one we currently have. Some people may think it worth the wait, but I think the damage likely to be done in the interregnum is not worth it. I suppose reasonable people can differ on this. But I’m strongly inclined to believe that if, after this near-death experience, the Republican majority is re-elected on Nov. 7, they will be powerfully motivated to act more conservatively in 2007 (and they will have learned their lesson while still being a majority — and thus will be immediately more useful to conservative voters).

I can’t argue with the moral absolutists. If they are aware of the policy consequences, but simply refuse to associate with (by voting for) policy-backsliding politicians, that is a principled position. They are made of sterner stuff than I.

I want each new Congress to be as conservative as then politically possible. I will freely associate with lesser evils — for the greater public good. Perhaps I am too promiscuous with the political company I will keep. But a life in politics convinces me that incremental improvement — or, at times, even not losing ground — is better than radical reversal.

 Numbers four and five, above, reflect a misunderstanding (or a poor explanation by me in that column) of my intentions. I have nothing against Mr. Hastert personally. He is a good man, and we always got along well when I worked for Newt. But I was — and am — convinced that removing Hastert that first week after the Foley story broke was not only the right thing to do, but also would have maximized the Republican chances of holding the majority. The precipitous fall in the polls started at exactly that moment and may only now have bottomed out (if it has, as I hope).

Prompt action by the rank-and-file Republican congressmen (who had no knowledge of the negligence in the Speaker’s office going back years in failing to stop Foley), would have been both a clear ethical statement and would have reduced the newsworthiness of the following three weeks of bad Foley news.

But whether or not it was advisable to dismiss the man in charge when something went badly wrong, there is no justification for defeating the party that alone carries the flag of conservative hopes.

For while they didn’t carry that flag as far as they should have these last few years, I dread seeing the flag removed from the field.

The Democrats are more radically liberal and irresponsible than they have been at any time since 1933. The damage they will do to every aspect of federal action over the next two, four or six years will be substantial — perhaps grave. For me, defeating that danger is the highest priority. After the election, beating up backsliding Republicans will be a task I will return to with relish.