Red Hot Anger
A widespread conservative backlash has been slowly gaining steam since the latter years of George W. Bush’s administration. Sure, conservatives are angry about what Obama and his radical academic pals are trying to do to this country. Sure, we’re mad that the mainstream media was more interested in fluffing his pillows than doing their job and reporting the truth. And, certainly, we’re mad at the strides Pelosi and Reid have taken in the House and Senate to endanger our fiscal future and constrain our personal liberties.
But more than any of that, conservatives are furious with the GOP. We resent that they began turning their backs on the principle of limited, transparent, accountable government almost as soon as they won a majority back in 1994. We are frustrated that they insist on running weak, “moderate” candidates as though the New York Times was really a good source of political strategy.
The anger that has been simmering below the surface has started to boil over in unpredictable ways. We’ve got tea parties and town halls and Glenn Beck and Doug Hoffman and conservatives are starting to really work up a full head of steam. We feel like it’s time to even the score and make the GOP pay. Hell, we can do it without them!
There’s more than enough energy being generated by all this anger, but what are we going to do with it?
Let me tell you what the Democrats are hoping we do with it. They are reading the vitriolic posts and the calls to destroy the GOP and they are grinning and sighing in relief. Because they know that the only thing that can save them now is uncontrolled conservative anger. They are counting on it.
They need us to sound angry. They need us to alienate moderate voters who don’t live their lives reading conservative blogs and checking the Drudge Report at 15-minute intervals. But most importantly of all, they need us to turn on the GOP in destructive ways. Right now, you see, the far right is the far left’s best hope.
I know that conservatives like to vote their conscience, and the idea of a party offends a lot of people. George Washington hated parties too, so if you feel that way you’re in good company. Unfortunately, what you or I or George Washington likes or doesn’t like is not the issue. Reality doesn’t change just because we wish it would, and the only true freedom of action comes through understanding things as they really are.
My dad used to tell a story to his freshman classes in college. He would ask them: “Who is more free? The young kid, not a care in the world, daydreaming about the moon? Or the scientist stuck in his lab, hunchbacked over his equations?” Well, certainly the kid feels more free. But no matter how much the child pretends they can journey to the moon, no amount of wishing will make it so. A sound understanding of the way the rules of physics really work is what actually got us there.
So to everyone who tells me something like “vote for the right person no matter his party,” I have this response:
Each and every single one of the votes that was cast for a conservative Blue Dog Democrat in the 2008 election was a vote for Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker of the House.
You want another, more frightening example? If Harry Reid decides it’s worth it–and giving the polls in Nevada he very well might–he’s going to use the reconciliation process to ram the health care proposal through by a simple majority without the chance of a Republican filibuster.
Why can Harry Reid do this? Because he’s the Senate Majority Leader.
Why is he the Senate Majority Leader? Because there are more Democrats in the Senate than Republicans.
You can’t get a more conservative Democratic Senator than Ben Nelson of Nebraska. He has supported the mission in Iraq, voted to lower taxes, and he’s a member of Democrats for Life of America. But here’s an undeniable fact: a vote for Ben Nelson was a vote to give Harry Reid the option of ramming this disastrous health care bill down our throats.
So please don’t tell me that parties don’t matter just because you think they are awful and they shouldn’t. The fact is that they do indeed matter. It doesn’t mean our only recourse is to blindly vote for whatever the GOP sends our way, but it does mean that there are costs to blindly voting as if party doesn’t matter. It’s up to us to find a better way.
Anger is a simple emotion, and it leads to simple actions. We like simple actions. There’s no need for self-restraint or patience in waiting for the right time. Just go and do. On the other side, we don’t like complexity or doubt. We avoid cognitive dissonance without even realizing that’s what we’re doing.
That’s why the third party solution resonates with so many people: it’s intellectually and morally simplistic. Easy.
The real solution, however, is a lot trickier because it involves doing two contradictory things at once. We need to take control of our party back without destroying it.
The art to taking control of the party back is–as I quoted in my last article–all about the threat of force rather than the application of force. Using force on the GOP hurts the GOP. So the less we can use, the better. But if our threats are not credible, then we’re going to end up having to follow through more often. It’s the same principle of deterrence that works in international relations — if the other guy knows you will follow through with retaliation, he’s not going to mess with you to begin with. And sometimes that means you have demonstrate that you’re not just blowing hot air.
That’s what NY-23 is all about. The state GOP ran a liberal, and national Republicans like Newt Gingrich and Michael Steele fell in line behind her. Even many conservative leaders deferred to party politics and waited to endorse Hoffman until after Scozzafava left. That makes me think the lesson has not yet been learned.
So we need to find more minimally-destructive ways to let the GOP know we mean business. And that means less ranting and railing about “the party” and more specific, targeted attacks. We need to pick out the individual Republicans — and the individual grievances. You want to bring some fear to the GOP? Stop going after them as a group and start going after the individuals who have done us wrong. Like Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, for example, for her role helping Obamacare get out of committee and giving it a pretext of bipartisanship.
But the tone has to be civil and upbeat. It needs to take place in a greater context. We need reformers, not a mob. Our job is to clean house and rebuild a coalition at the same time. The only way to do this is to get down to core ideals (individual liberty and limited government), translate those ideals into specific policy objectives (everything from auditing the fed to banning earmarks), emphasize their relevance to current political realities (the private sector and free market will lead the way out of the recession) and integrate punishing liberal Republicans as simply one aspect of this comprehensive agenda for re-founding America.
What I’m describing is not an easy solution. It’s threading a needle. It’s a job that calls for cool heads and and steady hands. For self-control. Only when fire is controlled can the energy be harnessed for creation instead of destruction. Unleashing our pent-up frustration might make us feel better, but what conservatives, the GOP, and the nation need right now is constructive energy.
Robert Wallace is classical liberal studying economics in graduate school. He and his wife work as business analysis consultants, and they live as undercover conservatives with their two small children in a socialist bastion of a college town. He has been writing for America’s Right since December 2008.