Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Evolve Or Die

by Ned Ryun - February 21st, 2012 - American Spectator

This February marks the three-year anniversary of the Tea Party, and with the 2012 presidential election in full swing, many are wondering whether the Tea Party will be a factor in bringing down the Obama presidency and have the ability to drive real government reform. Others are wondering if the movement has run out of gas at the start of the final lap (as a Ryun, I must periodically make running analogies). In all honesty, the answer is both. The Tea Party is at a crossroads in 2012. One route will slowly take it into relative obscurity and the other can lead it to having an even greater impact than it has had already.

Excellent article with some very useful information about the 3 national groups that are using the Tea Party movement for the personal benefit of the egos who are running them. These national groups are a part of the problem. They are not the movement. In fact they in many ways conflict with the movement. However the chaos that allows these groups to act as if they are movement leaders is one key to the growing negative view that many hold about the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party too.

Democrats have hated the Tea Party movement since its inception. Curiously, Republican Party leadership has also hated the Tea Party movement since the earliest elections the movement participated in, shortly after it started. Unless you understand why, it is hard to understand the problems that Ned Ryun is addressing.

However there is one other complicating factor to the hatred aimed at the Tea Party movement. That factor is the visceral hatred by "social conservatives" of anyone who interferes with their long term hijacking of the "conservative" label. Most "social conservatives" are not conservatives at all. They are totally okay with big government, as long as it does not discriminate against their institutions. That is why they became a key component within the "compassionate conservative" wing that Karl Rove and George W. Bush created to steer the party away from conservative principles. Big government programs, heavy involvement in promoting nation building overseas, expanding the so-called safety net with new wasteful entitlements, Wall Street dominated regulatory suppression of small business and tolerance for tax money funneled to both corporations and Christian charities - these were the basis for social conservative enthusiasm for the "compassionate conservative" concept.

None of the above fits in with true conservative principles. One key problem that both the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party are struggling with is the confused identity of the conservative label. We have several wings in both institutions, fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, libertarians, traditional conservatives, Wall Street, neo-conservatives, Constitutional conservatives, populists and moderates. To varying degrees each group claims the conservative label. Even the moderates claim the label when they argue that being pragmatic compromisers does not mean they are not embracing conservative goals!

The meaning of the term "conservative" has been stretched by the various wings that barely fit the traditional definition, yet each wing uses their view of conservatism to berate the other groups, usually using the meaningless term RINO for those who do not agree with their definition. I think the RINO term has become popular so that groups who don't really know what conservative means can label those who disagree with them and not try and defend the actual differences - because they can't.

One group that has been seriously reviled during the growth of the Tea Party movement has been Republican political consultants. With their need to help the campaigns of many candidates who are not purely conservative, these consultants have long since abandoned conservative principles and embraced pragmatism above all. This allows them to structure a winning campaign for candidates who are focused on the acquisition of power rather than the promotion of principles. Political power is important, but not more important that principles.

This has left the Tea Party movement and a key component of Republican leadership battling for the soul of the Party in a destructive internecine war over the conflict between principle and pragmatism.

This brings us to the key component in Ryun's article that will be such a challenge to pull off. Ryun sums up the need for the change he advocates with his sentence, "If the Tea Party will evolve, and become sustainable with a more concise mission (we're taking over the local city council vs. we just want more freedom) and ability to fundraise, it can and will be a force beyond 2012."

However the question I ask is, "How is this different than the pragmatic quest for power of the consultants who have long since abandoned all but the most superficial support of conservative principles?" Ronald Reagan was a pragmatist, and it is one of the core strengths that made him such a great leader. However he rarely compromised, and on some core principles, he was inflexible. If you doubt that, go back and study the lesson of Reykjavik. Reagan overruled every single advisor he brought with him to that event. All of them were eager to compromise for a short term victory of major value. Only Reagan saw the need for sticking with long term principle. As often as he compromised, Reagan stuck to his principles at the right times.

It is that balance that the Republican Party, and its voters, have lost. We forget the lesson of Reykjavik if we make it an inflexible standard of never compromising. The consultants, like Reagan's advisers, are ever eager to be pragmatic and compromise for power. That is as bad as never compromising. Refusal to compromise has become a serious problem within the Tea Party movement and thus the Republican Party.

What Ryun left out of his article was guidance in how to strike that balance between principles and pragmatism when the goal is (as he states it) "taking over the local city council." I don't see how we can strike an effective balance when the definition of "conservative" principle itself is so confused. When principle is not clear - pragmatism allows for compromise on everything.

For Republicans and the Tea Party movement, the key to our principles is a shared definition of conservative, and right now that does not exist.


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