It’s been common among my colleagues on the Right to deride House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as “RINOs,” or “Republicans In Name Only.’ Weak, cowardly leaders who are practically supine before the Democrats, even after taking back the House in the Tea party wave of 2010. And the complaints are understandable: conservatives won a big election then and, since the House represents the people directly, arguably represent a majority of the nation. So why is the debt still going up, why is spending still increasing, and why (among other things) are we still stuck with the albatross of Obamacare? When are we ever going to fight? Throwing up our hands in the air in exasperation, we decide it’s the Washington Republican Establishment that doesn’t want really want reform and we focus our ire on Boehner and McConnell, even hitting the latter with a primary challenger.
“Not so hasty!”, as Tolkien’s Treebeard might say.
At National Review, Charles Cooke (no squish, himself) argues that tactics matter, that passing the continuing resolution last fall and the recent debt-ceiling increase were both wise, and that Boehner and McConnell are playing a smart long game:
“I’d be willing to risk losing the Senate if we could keep America,” Mitch McConnell’s primary challenger, Matt Bevin, told Glenn Beck this morning. What an astonishingly incoherent and misguided sentence that is. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” asks the King James Bible. A fair question, yes, but politics is a different game altogether, and, in this case, the alternative isn’t an otherworldly victory or spiritual advancement but simply more loss. The question for Bevin must be “for what shall it profit a man if he shall lose another debt-ceiling fight and lose his party’s shot at the Senate as well?” And the answer is “not at all.” If this is what we are to expect from the revolution — a host of nihilistic, suicidal, performance artists who would rather be outside of the control room screaming than inside and in charge — then give me the cynical calculations of a Mitch McConnell any day of the week.
“Any time, you and I question the schemes of the do-gooders,” Ronald Reagan complained in 1964, “we’re denounced as being opposed to their humanitarian goals. It seems impossible to legitimately debate their solutions with the assumption that all of us share the desire to help the less fortunate. They tell us we’re always ‘against,’ never ‘for’ anything.” Could this sentiment not be applied currently to some slices of the Right? After all, pretty much every single Republican agrees on the question of Obamacare. Pretty much every single Republican agrees on taxes and spending and the size of government. Pretty much every single Republican agrees on the debt. They disagree, however, on tactics. And tactics matter. Make no mistake: For all the bluster, the Democratic party and the wider progressive movement is absolutely terrified of Obamacare, which has been a liability for almost five years now, and which is not going away. As I noted yesterday, the majority of the elections this year are going to yield fights between a candidate who wants to repeal the law completely and a candidate who is critical of it in at least one way. There is nothing that the president would like more at this moment than to play last October over again — to paint the GOP as an extreme, risk-taking, rump party holding the country hostage. McConnell and Boehner were right to recognize that handing him that opportunity this year would have been a disaster.
I largely agree, though I believe the “Establishment” could have been more aggressive in the recent debt-ceiling argument by, for example, demanding that insurance companies not get a guaranteed bailout in the event they lose money over Obamacare. That would at least have forced the Democrats to go on record as being in favor of giving public money to one of the most hated industries in the nation.
But, overall, I think Cooke is right. It’s not a cop-out to say we only control one-half of one branch of the government; it’s simply an acknowledgement of reality and that, therefore, our options are limited. While it’s satisfying to give in to the urge to fight-fight-fight at every instance, it profits neither conservatism, the Republican Party, or the nation –to which our ultimate responsibility lies– to fight battles we’re sure to lose, such as the “defund Obamacare” effort of last fall. The will to fight is important, but knowing when to strike is equally so, if the goal is to win.
Politics is an art that requires patience, a willingness to move in increments, rather than having it all now. It’s an art the Left practiced to take over the Democratic Party after the 1960s, and it’s served them well. Populist, Tea Party conservatives have done less well at it, perhaps because of a powerful “Jacksonian” strain in our political DNA — we’re “hasty,” in other words, and we mustn’t in our impatience let the Democrats off the hook they’ve caught themselves on before November’s elections.
If so, then perhaps Cooke is right, and we should praise McConnell and Boehner, rather than throw rotten tomatoes at them.
You may call me RINO, now.
Addendum: To answer the almost-inevitable “Well, Fahrquar, when are we gonna fight? It’ll be more of the same shite after we take over the Senate!”, well, that’s nihilism and I’m not a nihilist. Yes, it’s possible the Beltway Establishment would rather accommodate itself to the expanded progressive “new normal,” but, for now, I’m willing to give them some leash and work like the dickens to give the Republicans the Senate — while electing the most conservative candidates possible, at the same time. Then we test them. With both chambers, they’ll have no excuse for not passing reform budgets, repealing and replacing Obamacare, and fixing entitlements. Place the onus on Obama, let him threaten vetoes: momentum will be on our side and, in the required compromises, we’ll have a much better chance of winning the incremental game.
And if the leadership balks, then we break out the pitchforks and torches.