March 29, 2010
This evening, Republicans in Staunton will be holding their biennial mass meeting, open to any resident who pledges to support party candidates and principles, and tomorrow evening the Augusta County Republicans will be doing the same. Two years ago, I ran for chairman of the Staunton GOP, and lost decisively to the incumbent. In spite of high tensions before and during that mass meeting, everything went fairly smoothly. In part as a reflection of the preceding turmoil on the committee, however, that event was coordinated and chaired by outsiders, and it was understood that there were strict limits on what could be said.
In contrast, the Augusta County GOP mass meeting two weeks later was a disaster, or as I later called it, a "Meeting of Mass Destruction." Fortunately, the leaders of both local units -- Anne Taetzsch (now Fitzgerald) in Staunton, and Bill Shirley in Augusta County -- have since wised up to the machinations of the "grassroots" faction behind the scenes, and they have each striven to begin the process of rebuilding the party. For that, they both deserve praise and recognition.
For the record, however, I would like to point out that at the last mass meeting, there was simply no way I could explain my reasons for running in the confines of a three-minute speech. There were many rumors and confusion about what had transpired in the local party since early 2007, and I wish I could have cleared up all of that. But all I could do (without creating the kind of commotion that later transpired in Augusta County, where the real contest was) was highlight my emphasis on party unity and appealing to independent voters as the only way to win elections, while my opponent emphasized energizing the party's conservative "base." I consider the election of Bob McDonnell as governor last year as sufficient vindication for my approach. 'Nuff said.
With the recent passage of the Democrats' health care bill and a looming constitutional crisis as a backdrop, this is clearly a moment of truth for the party that professes to uphold individual liberty and personal morality. Will we stand unified against the common threat of left-wing hegemony, or will we go back to tearing each other apart? It's a good opportunity to draw some lessons of the recent past, taking account of the opportunities that were missed under the presidential administration of George W. Bush, and take a look at the alternative future paths that we face.
One year ago, I cited a controversial article by David Frum in Newsweek, which focused on how loud pundits such as Rush Limbaugh were undermining the Republican Party's potential appeal. (See "Frum flap update," below.) In the same article, Frum also laid out the essential elements of a more forward-thinking conservative reform agenda, of which the following excerpts are particularly relevant:
We need to put free-market health-care reform, not tax cuts, at the core of our economic message.
We need to modulate our social conservatism (not jettison -- modulate).
We need an environmental message. ... as a party of property owners we should be taking those values more seriously.
Above all, we need to take governing seriously again.
There are strong parallels between what Frum urges and the agenda I proposed for President Bush's second term in November 2004, hoping -- in vain -- that Bush would take advantage of his fleeting "Window of opportunity for reform":
Tragically, about the only major policy initiative in the second Bush administration was privatizing Social Security. It was poorly conceived, poorly justified, and poorly handled on Capitol Hill. Result: premature failure, squandered "political capital," and the loss of political momentum. Soon came Terry Schiavo, Hurricane Katrina, Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, and a needlessly bloody mess in Iraq. In retrospect, all modesty aside, my words of warning in January 2005 look pretty darned accurate:
If the GOP mobilizes its vast human resources in an effective manner and makes clear the connection between problems and proposed solutions, they can accomplish something truly historic during Bush's second term. However, if they sound the battle cry without having a clear strategy -- such as the Republicans in the Virginia legislature who were outmaneuvered by Governor Warner last year -- it will be like Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. Obviously, playing it safe and just tinkering with minor reforms is a very tempting option, but the underlying structural problems in our economy will get worse and worse unless something serious is done, and the Republicans would get blamed. So it's a question of either taking a calculated risk of losing in 2006 in order to achieve a monumental change in public policy on par with FDR's New Deal, or else clinging to power for the next two or three elections while frittering away the support of the conservative activists, thus setting the stage for a renewed march toward socialism under the Democrats.
Speaking of David Frum, Bruce Bartlett issued an apology and clarification for stating that AEI had "muzzled" its scholars. (See Thursday's post.) As pointed out by Mark Schmitt at the American Prospect (hat tip to Bruce), however, Frum was no mild-mannered compromiser but one who aggressively and passionately engaged in debate with his leftist adversaries -- including Schmitt himself! Schmitt warns that conservatives will suffer dearly for allowing themselves to become "intellectually bankrupt."
Updated update: An even better take on Frum was written by Christopher Buckley at thedailybeast.com (hat tip to Bruce, again). He invokes his father, William F. Buckley, the esteemed (and reviled) intellectual conservative without peer:
The point ... was that WFB was tolerant of different views. It wasn't a case of Godfatherly "I keep my friends close, my enemies closer." It was a case of intellectual security and self-confidence. He wasn't worried that hanging out with the enemy was going to corrupt his principles.
Little by little, stalwart Republicans across the Old Dominion and perhaps around the U.S.A. are coming to realize what an awful mistake they made by letting the populist "grassroots" faction take over the party under the false pretense of "true conservative principles." In actuality, what has happened is that irregular, unethical, and coercive means have been used to divert the Grand Old Party from its historical commitment to fiscal prudence and, thereby, on the road to electoral catastrophe. The prime example of this deviation is Richard Viguerie, who champions the populist faction and keeps threatening to defect from the party. As I wrote on April 5, "Any party that relies upon such unreliable people as the foundation of its electoral hopes is doomed."
It is becoming clearer all the time, moreover, that there is a strong connection between the dirty "Mayberry Machiavellian" politics (Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, Tom DeLay) and bad public policy. The recent tell-all book by Allen Raymond, How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative goes a long way toward explaining why the GOP just isn't as "grand" as it used to be. It's a cautionary tale of someone who was too innocent to know any better than to commit various dirty campaign tricks, but not innocent enough to avoid prosecution and conviction. The problem is that the standard of party loyalty means that no one wants to point out the crookedness.
I strive to keep an open mind about the Tea Party folks, knowing that they're a mixed bag, but I wish they would make more of an effort to clean up their act by shunning the nuts and rogues in their midst. A Tea Party activist named Dale Robertson, who runs TeaParty.org, has denied accusations that one of his members shouted racist slurs on Capitol Hill last weekend, but someone discovered a photo from last year in which he was holding a sign that read "Congress = Slaveowner, Taxpayer = Niggar." See washingtonindependent.com; hat tip to Doug Mataconis. I have no idea what to make of this, but I think it should be on the record.
Because the incumbent candidate, Anne Taetzsch Fitzgerald, withdrew from the race because of a family emergency, there was only one candidate who had filed a notice of intent by the specified deadline (March 15), and so Alex Davis was elected by acclamation to be Chairman of the Staunton Republican Committee. Former Augusta County GOP Chairman Kurt Michael chaired the mass meeting, assisted by Joy Jackson as secretary. The credentials committee announced that 49 participants had been certified. The nominations committee announced that they had compiled a list of duly certified delegates to the Republican Sixth District convention (including me, presumably), and of members of the Staunton Republican Committee (not me). With no other business, the meeting adjourned after only ten minutes. One of the two candidates for the Republican Sixth District chair then spoke: Trixie Averill. She expressed pleasure in seeing all the new faces, which she said is essential for growing the party.* She then talked about how even though the Republican candidate in our (Sixth) district, Bob Goodlatte, probably won't face serious opposition this fall, there are sure to be tight races in the Fifth and Ninth Districts, where Democratic incumbents Tom Perriello and Richard Boucher will be fighting for their political lives after voting for Obamacare. There are several Republicans vying for the nomination in both those districts, but Averill said that the party will come together for the fall race. I hope so.
Ms. Averill circulated a campaign statement in which she stated she had been endorsed by Gov. Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, Sixth District Chairman Fred Anderson, Sen. Emmett Hanger, Del. Steve Landes, Del. Ben Cline, and former Del. Chris Saxman, among other elected officials and activists.
* On a personal note, it was an odd feeling to attend a Staunton Republican meeting at which I only recognized a few faces. Over the past four years, there has been a virtually complete wiping clean of the slate, as old members have been replaced. Why? You'd have to have first-hand experience to understand. I would be very surprised if any of the committee members as it presently stands served on the committee as of four years ago. The grassroots in action!