Inclusiveness Shouldn’t Require Us to Let You Govern by Your Principles in Our Name
… I’m reminded of a documentary that debuted at the Rhode Island International Film Festival in August. HouseQuake documented the Democratic Party’s takeover of the House in the 2006 midterm elections, showing that Democrats ran candidates with conservative views on issues such as abortion, gun control and gay rights.
In the film, Rahm Emanuel, who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006 and is now President Obama’s chief of staff, said he didn’t care about ideology — he only cared about picking up 15 House seats.
So, for the Democrat takeover, voters in certain regions elected conservatives and ended up with far-left leaders in the most powerful positions. If one applies a mirror-image principle, as Republican “moderates” would seem to encourage, then Northeastern conservatives should vote for local liberals within their party in order to ensure that real conservatives at the national level have the opportunity to govern. I’m not sure the mirror image applies, though.
Conservatism and liberalism are fundamentally different in their alignment with power. Liberals think government should control just about everything, so getting the levers of power in the hands of their allies is, in fact, the goal. Conservatives don’t believe most of those levers should exist in the first place. Getting them into the hands of heretofore conservative politicians results in a coin toss as to whether that particular elected official will turn the machine off or become corrupted by it. The evidence of the Aughts — which saw a massive expansion of government that only appears modest by comparison to what’s happened since the Democrats took total control — suggests that the latter tendency will ultimately prevail.
No, conservatism requires a long-term project of persuasion. We have to stop the downward slide as much as possible, but we’ll ultimately fail unless we build up an understanding of the proper roles of government from the bottom up. Pragmatism in local politics, of the scale that Rhode Island liberals like Chafee and Avedisian suggest, is therefore counterproductive.
The same approach applies to the question of “to social issue, or not to social issue”:
Avedisian said social issues are not the most pressing concern right now. With the state unemployment rate at 12.7 percent, Rhode Islanders want to hear about “building jobs here in Rhode Island and building an economy that will encourage people to stay here after college,” he said.
To the extent that the electorate will prove to consist of single-issue voters on the economy, why should the Republican Party allow the liberal side to slip in an uninterrupted win on social issues, in the meantime, rather than counterbalance that inclination or even slip in a conservative win or two? If the economy really is “the most pressing concern,” why wouldn’t a liberal like Avedisian compromise on social issues in order to maintain the historically conservative base of Republican support? And if the concern is that the Democrats will run on a fiscally conservative, socially moderate, platform, then what can the RIGOP offer in opposition beyond than the opportunity to pursue the same policies from an ineffectual minority position?
I’ve enunciated my view on these things before: The economy is certainly the most pressing issue, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the most profound or important for the long-term health of our state and nation. Indeed, the economy is mechanical, meaning that the correct policies will yield a recovery. There’s a delay, to be sure, especially in a state that has a lot of work to do to overcome a record of false starts, but economic policy operates more like a switch than does social policy, for which the metaphor of a barrier against erosion is more appropriate.
That is to say that ceasing to state the case on social issues in order to concentrate on the economy is to engage in battle at the gate only to find the thing worth fighting for stolen through the window.