07 December 2009

A Conservative Who Gets It

In posts here and in comments elsewhere I've said frequently that one of the keys of weaning voters away from the American Bipolarchy is to overcome the hysterical fear of one party that compels them to vote for the other, despite mounting reservations, as the lesser of two evils, or to avert an imagined worst-case scenario. Other people are having the same idea. W. James Antle III is an associate editor of The American Spectator, a conservative monthly, but in the new American Conservative he publishes an article called "Hope and Fear," which the editor subtitles, "Democratic dominance is not the end of the world."

Antle opens by noting that the sky has not fallen since President Obama took office. While anticipating disillusionment on the "left," he suggests that "the persistence of the status quo [despite Obama] should also be disillusioning for another group: conservatives who believe that the Republic cannot survive Republican electoral setbacks."

His crucial insight is that "Conservative activists have not needed a GOP majority in Congress to slow down, or even stop, Obama's agenda. Town hall uprisings and other protests that put pressure on Blue Dog Democrats have been enough." The conservative or anti-statist grass roots has generated enough of the appearance of mass opposition to Obama to scare relatively conservative Democrats into caution or outright obstruction. As Antle notes, "the reason the Democratic supermajorities have been so ineffectual is that they are too dependent on ideologically suspect members whose constituents' underlying political sympathies are for the other party." That last comment may betray a Bipolarchy bias, but he makes an important point: in order to seize Congress, the Democrats broadened their appeal to win red-state voters but in doing so compromised their supposedly rightful "liberal" character.

Antle wants conservatives to note the fact that they did not need the Republican party to thwart as much of the Obama agenda as they have so far. He also wants to warn them that depending on the Republicans to save them from Obama is not a good idea. For one thing, Antle fairly admits that "virtually all the socialism now stalking the land [as Sean Hannity calls it] began under the Bush administration. So did the tidal wave of red ink ready to break over taxpayers' heads." While Antle claims that Obama has made things worse yet, he notes, as have many Democrats, liberals, progressives, libertarians, independents, etc., that the Republican party's radio cheerleaders "were often Big Government's biggest cheerleaders" when the GOP held power.

Believing that conservatives flourish in opposition rather than as the party of government, Antle worries that they'll lose focus if they channel their oppositional energy into retaking Congress for the Republicans. He thinks that the GOP can't do it without making the same kinds of compromises as Democrats have, leading to an ideologically compromised party on one hand and a renewed, potentially self-defeating dependence on Republicans on the other.

Contemplating the late struggle in New York's 23rd Congressional District, Antle thinks that conservatives did the right thing by rejecting the Republican nominee even if that meant a Democratic victory. He doesn't idealize Doug Hoffman, the Conservative party nominee ("he had no real knowledge of the district he was running to represent"), but in general he argues that "conservatives can only prevail on a handful of issues in the House, and if a Republican is not willing to take the right side in those fights, the grassroots should be just as pleased to see his seat fall to a Democrat."

Antle doesn't endorse supporting third-party candidates in general, nor does he oppose the idea. But he makes an important argument against Bipolarchy thinking by dismissing "the usual warnings that the sky would fall if a Democrat won an election" when conservatives repudiate Republicans. Looking to the other right-wing phenomenon of this year, he closes by writing, "The Tea Party movement will accomplish nothing if it becomes an appendage of the Republican Party." He goes further, hinting that "putting Republicans back in control might not be an improvement over a hamstrung Democratic majority." He returns to the core argument in his last sentence: "Conservatives should fight Washington's overreach no matter which party is in power, rather than being distracted from their principles by nightmare scenarios of Democratic dominance or sweet promises of Republican utopias." Principled people -- people of any principle -- should make the same distinction between their principles and the parties that claim to embody them.

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