Monday, February 8, 2010

As Pure As The Driven Snow

Have you ever picked up newly-driven snow, and compared it to a sheet of white paper? If not, you'd be surprised how impure driven snow really is. I purposely chose the picture to point that out. Ivory Snow took its name from that driven snow. It had a very famous series of ads and commercials featuring one Marilyn Chambers. Very pretty, very pure, and Marilyn was considered very pure herself, right up until it turned out she was a porn-flick star.

OK, you say. He's gone nuts and has started fixating on porn stars and laundry detergent. This is a fringe, right-wing sleaze site after all. Sorry to disappoint, but that's not at all where I'm going with this post. The Republican National Committee recently rejected a "purity test" for vetting future candidates, and I applaud their decision. Though many will think it's a rejection of conservative viewpoints, or of Ronald Reagan's rule-of-thumb, I assure you that the RINOs haven't regained their control of the Republican National Committee.

Political naifs, all with good intentions I'm sure, tried to impose a purity test (in the form of but not the substance of Reagan's "80% rule") on the Republican Party, and the people who knew better defeated the move. Sometimes, cooler heads need to prevail, and those who believe that purity tests will ever work are going to do severe damage to the Republican Party. It is more than acceptable for genuine causes outside the party to have their own internal rules, and to attempt to make them part of the platform of major political parties. It is equally important to recognize that real politics and successful political parties are built in part on reasonable compromises.

Even the great Ronald Reagan himself espoused the "Eleventh Commandment (thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Repubican)," but couldn't always be "pure" enough to adhere to it. He was donwright dismissive of Nelson Rockefeller and the "old guard" of the Republican Party. As for the "eighty percent rule," he routinely ignored it when political necessity called for it. He knew that guidelines and platforms are general rules of thumb, made most effective by their observance, but occasionally by their exceptions.

Ronald Reagan had a marvelous way of understanding conventional wisdom, and he most certainly understood the principle that "the perfect is the enemy of the good." A party platform which opposes abortion, for instance, should guide the candidate. But if that same candidate then found it necessary to argue for returning the issue to the power of the states, getting it out of the federal arena, he would appear to be deviating from the platform. But in fact, he would be setting the stage for abolishing abortion or greatly restricting it since the public will is clearly to eliminate "abortion on demand." That is more likely to happen at the state level than the federal. Has that candidate "abandoned principle," or actually advanced it with a sensible political compromise? In other words, is he pure enough on abortion?

Liberals in the mainstream media were quick to pick up on this misunderstanding of the issue. They essentially accused Reagan of political hypocrisy and the proponents of the purity move as ignorant fools. They got the best of both worlds--attack a great president and mock the right at the same time. But as Mr. Reagan said, "the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they're ignorant, it's just that they know so much that isn't so." So why hand them the ammunition to shoot us with?

Unfortunately, the same can be said of some of our conservative friends. The Tea Party movement has its own agenda, much of which I agree with. But until it has a platform of its own and an agreed-upon leadership, I don't want it to control the Republican Party now, or perhaps ever. The very nature of the movement is a wonderful example of the people getting their message out to the politicians. But the moment it starts to attempt to dominate the actual political parties, I begin to have my doubts that it is still a popular movement with many points of view, most of which are common sense, conservative, or both. It will at that point have become a form of political party of its own, and that road leads to disaster for the Republican Party in particular, and the nation in general. You can't win the game if you lose sight of the ball.

Reagan was never able to get his social welfare cuts to go along with tax cuts. As a result, and facing a Democratic Congress, he did the best he could. It produced a new deficit, but it also produced the greatest peacetime boom in the economy in American history. Still, to emphasize my point, it didn't mean he didn't understand the Laffer Curve (the so-called trickle-down theory), he was just unable to get any of it done without compromise. Obama's "trickle-up" agenda shows what happens when a President doesn't understand the Laffer Curve and has large Democratic majorities to advance the damage done by his policies. Unlike Reagan (and contrary to his own words), he is unwilling to compromise. Speech: "I'll listen to the Republicans." Private message to the Democrats: "Ignore the Republicans, full speed ahead."

We have discussed the future of the Republican Party on this site almost since its beginning. One of the things we have suggested multiple times is that a political party needs a platform that it can stand on which doesn't build its own termites into the wood. Tea Party members, staunch conservatives, moderates and candidates can all rally around a platform that states the general principles of the party without agreeing that each candidate (or the party itself) must adhere 100% to rigid rules that prohibit reasonable compromise. A platform that is more "wish list" than bludgeon is called for. That leaves the local parties and movement activists free to hold their local candidates' feet to the fire without attempting to make it a "one size fits all" rigid purity test.

I guarantee you that the Republicans in Topeka have an entirely different view of purity from those in San Diego. A national purity test will accomplish chaos and/or defeat. An eighty-percent rule cannot be either firm or national, unless one small segment of the electorate gets control of the party, and that is a guarantee of defeat. Acceptance of general principles does not squelch our ability to continue to try to convince the majority of the rightness of our own specific agendas. A party that is perfectly pure by the standards of a small minority will remain a small vocal minority party while contemporaneously damaging the ability of the movement activists to get their agendas listened to over the broad spectrum of the American electorate. Each time the Republican Party goes down to defeat as the result of purity tests, it enables the RINOs to point fingers and say "see, conservative views just cost us another election."

Even Andrew Price and I don't agree on everything, and we couldn't produce a "purity test" that both could adhere to. But we agree on general conservative principles, and the necessity of the Republican Party to show national unity in the face of the leftist goals of the Democrats. Barry Goldwater's campaign in 1964 was a prime example of what I'm talking about. His principles were excellent, but his unwillingness to bend on anything the traditional Republicans proposed resulted in a landslide defeat and the re-emergence of the Nixon/Rockefeller/Ford wing of the party.

Ronald Reagan agreed with Goldwater's agenda, but changed the game entirely by including moderates and moderate-liberals in his efforts. He warned that the Ford presidency was the direct result of conservatives being too rigid. The hangover from Goldwater still kept him from defeating Ford in the primaries, but he won the ultimate victory after four years of Carter. Goldwater ideology combined with Reagan willingness to compromise produced a Republican landslide for the presidency by Reagan's second term. Reagan remained throughout the remainder of his life a conservative, but he was not "a lamb without blemish or spot." Anyone who believes that Reagan was a purist has a bad case of selective memory loss.

When viewing the political candidates and parties we will be faced with in the next two election cycles, I remind every conservative of the Bibilical admonition: "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." St. Paul and St. Peter couldn't even agree on whether gentiles could ever become Christians because they were not Jews. So which of those two saints fails the "purity test?" And if one of them fails, does that mean his words should not be listened to, or that his stature should be reduced by the proportion of his failure?

For all these reasons, and many more, I believe the Republican National Committee made exactly the right decision. Now it's time for them to start preparing those general principles which will evolve into the national Republican platform. If the principles are too liberal, they will fail. If the principles are moderate-conservative, they will succeed. But if they are entirely "pure," it will be a disaster of epic proportions. The left knows that and encourages it, even as it derides purity in order to whip up the ultraconservatives and Tea Party members. It's time for conservatives to wake up to the same reality.

The next time you view the driven snow, enjoy its beauty, but don't count on its purity.

24 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

A superb post, Hawk. I totally agree, the key is broad ranging priciples. Politics is often the art of the possible

AndrewPrice said...

Hmm. I concur and I dissent, to use legaleze. I agree that any sort of purity test is bad for two reasons: (1) it gives the media a powerful weapon to distort the party message, and there are better ways to deal with candidates who aren't really Republicans, and (2) I am a firm believer in local control, and I don't care much for the national leaders telling the locals who they can or cannot chose as their representatives.

That said, I put a couple of caveats on that. First, there is no room in any political party for people who are disloyal to the party. I fully understand that disagreements about policy are natural, especially in politics, but I will not accept politicians who slander their own party in the process. This was the problem with Spectre -- he not only voted against us, but he would then accuse the rest of the party of being extreme or out of touch. That's the unacceptable part.

Secondly, by local control, I mean a primary vote -- not a backroom deal by a handful of party leaders.

With regard to the Tea Party, I must disagree. I absolutely want these people to surge into the Republican Party (as I understand they are doing) and bring with them their middle-class, small business, small government, fiscally responsible, quasi-libertarian views. I think the party needs to shake off the big business, big government types. And the only way to do that is if the Tea Party masses swarm the party.

That said, I add another caveat. Mixed among the Tea Partiers, unfortunately, are some serious opportunists. I won't name names, but these people are selling the public a bill of goods by pretending to be outsiders, when they are in this for personal gain or to support various lobbys with which they are associated. Those people need to be shown the door. At the same time, the crazies need to be left out too -- the ones who start every debate with "we need to repeal the following Amendments to the Constitution..." But beyond those groups, heck yeah I want the Tea Party to take over the Republican Party.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. As Jed said, superb post.

Individualist said...

LawhawkSF

Good Post! I agree with you that we do not need a purity test. However I will ask for a loyalty test be applied. Essentially what this means is that when we Republicans finally get power back and decide on one or two key points of our agenda to pass we support it. That after having discussed the strategy for doing this in private and decided it is our President's Agenda or our Leadership's agenda we move forward with it. That individual members of our own party be the ones to compromise and allow us to get our agenda through.

There were so many Rino's during Bush's eight years that turned on us from the Gang of 14 accepting filibusters for judicial appointments, to the passage of Social Security reform, to the creation of the TSA.

If the Democrats know they can get a few of our own members to go against the party then this spinning wheel will keep coming around and around. You'll get rank and file conservative fed up and looking for ships to invade in Boston Harbor. I understand they are elected officials with their own duties but that still does not mean we can never have party solidarity does it. It is why we get eaten alive when we get in power.

Just my two cents.

LawHawkSF said...

Tennessee: Agreed. Where there are political parties, there are political movements. They serve separate purposes, and often work well together. But only parties get presidents and Congresses elected, and the cooperation must flow both directions.

CrispyRice said...

Well said, LawHawk!

And good food for thought, Andrew.

Writer X said...

I would just like Republicans to come together and support each other on the big issues: illegal immigration, energy, national security, taxes, etc. I don't need anyone to sign purity declarations or wear purity rings or whatever. I don't mind wiggle room and negotiation on the smaller issues; it's the bigger issues that concern me. And if a politician can't act like a grown-up and do what his constituents ask him to do, then he shouldn't get elected or be re-elected. And rightly so.

I think this whole thing with the purity tests has been like an annoying fly that should just be swatted away. Republicans need a lot less talk and a lot more action.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: I think we agree, but let me clarify my point of view. I think there is room within the party for multiple points of view and plenty of lively debate. What I think we're agreeing on is that Republican "officials" and Republican candidates should steer clear of slandering each other or the party. Once having gained in some way or another the imprimatur of the party, open agitation against the party or its chosen candidates is unacceptable. Your choice of Arlen Specter was pitch-perfect.

I also think we're defining our terms differently. I support the Tea Party movement, and would love to see it persuade the Republican leadership that the time to change has come. But I also want it to retain its feisty independence, and not become just another part of the establishment. I want the Tea Party to be active participants in the Republican Party, I don't want to see them take it over.

In its current state, and if it gets too close to acting like the voice of a political party, the opportunities for demagoguery are just too plentiful if played by a smart but dishonest politician. In its current wonderfully unprofessional and spontaneous form and free-wheeling expression of opinion without settling on candidates and issue-specific "platforms," the Tea Party movement serves a vital American function--open, and frequently lively debate. Things can be said that would be far too controversial for an insider politician.

That said, I think our possible disagreement is more apparent than real. For me, Tea Party masses swarming the party just sounds too much like the French masses storming the Bastille.

LawHawkSF said...

Individualist: I agree that loyalty "oaths" akin to Reagan's Eleventh Commandment are appropriate. But I still want to limit it to candidates and officials of the party. As long as someone is not an official Republican spokesperson, I want them free to speak their minds fully, and name names if necessary. Once that "R" goes officially with the person making the statements, then the Eleventh Commandment applies.

Politicians of both parties have to keep their pledges to make elections an open matter for everyone who cares to participate. My post for tomorrow focuses on just one example of how that is not often the case (Illinois).

LawHawkSF said...

Crispy: Thanks for the kind words, and I also feel that Andrew makes some very good points.

LawHawkSF said...

WriterX: That is right on the money. Elected officials should do what their constituents want, or be able to explain carefully and convincingly why they oppose the public will. If they can't, they deserve to lose at the next election cycle.

Statements of general principles work well, and candidates can be compared to those principles by the electorate during debates and interviews. It's another reason why I join Andrew wholeheartedly in opposing nomination by party bosses.

Tennessee Jed said...

Come on Andrew, man up and name names;-) we're all friends here. I am in agreement with previous statements about reforming the Republican Party. Third party movements won't do anything but elect Democrats.

I do feel I need to have my own core set of principles and owe it to myself to do what little I can to get the Republicans who best exemplify those principles backed by the party. Electability does play a part, though. Which is another reason I want to get the top Republican National Party as close to my core principles as possible. Being honest, it still takes money to get elected.

I absolutely agree with statements made about disloyalty. Colin Powell comes to mind.

With all that said, I forgot to thank you Hawk for the Marilyn Chambers thought. I can only surmise it is only because this is a family site that you didn't secure "the" ivory label in question or, perhaps, a still publicity shot from "behind the green door."

In case, I don't happen to post anymore comments before departure, I'll see you guys in a few weeks.

LawHawkSF said...

Tennessee: You just gave me an idea. We Republicans could do our own version of the eco-freak movement, and call it "Behind the Green Door." Of course, Marilyn is getting a little long in the tooth to be the star.

Individualist said...

LawhawkSF

Considering it is the "EnviroGreen" Movement I don't think Marylin's age would be a factor. After all they want to push us back to dark ages when it comes to energy.

LawHawkSF said...

Indi: And from my viewpoint, Boxer and Feinstein are about the same age as Marilyn. So I'm used to it.

BevfromNYC said...

Excellent post as usual. And the comments are all excellent. I have nothing to add.

Tenn - We will miss you, but have a good trip!

FYI - Sadly Marilyn Chambers is no longer of this earthly realm as of April 2009. Maybe we can find some other Ivory Snow turned porn star to represent our emerging Green Door movement...

This just in - Rep. John Murtha (D/PA) passed away today at the age of 77.

LawHawkSF said...

Bev: I missed that news. She has shuffled off this mortal coil. Adieu, Marilyn.

Andrew and I both caught the Murtha news about the same time this morning. I won't speak ill of the dead (for a day or two), but I can't say I'll miss him.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Me? Name names? Never. Plus, I suspect you already know some of the people I'm talking about. LOL! I've learned it's hard to get anything past you! :-)

Have a great trip, we will miss your comments and your insight!


Lawhawk, I think we probably do agree, even if we're using different words. I agree that the Tea Party movement needs to remain a lively threat hanging over the party rather than becoming the party, BUT I also know that unless the Tea Party people invade the party (viva la France! ;-)) then the party is likely to back-slide because the same people who made the mistakes over the past 8-10 years are all still in place.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: Can we just say infiltrate rather than invade? It's less scary. LOL

LawHawkSF said...

Tennessee: I almost forgot to wish you a fond aloha. Don't forget to practice saying humuhumunukunukuapua'a.

HamiltonsGhost said...

Lawhawk--I think Libertarians are a good example of a political philosophy which has done a good job of adapting its movement so as to influence the parties (particularly the Republicans). The hardcore movement libertarians have a party of their own, but most work within the existing structures. They are more liberal on social issues, but work closely with Republicans on their agenda to get government back down to manageable size.

LawHawkSF said...

HamiltonsGhost: That's a good example with a long history. The libertarians have made a strong impression on the Republican Party, and yet have retained their separate identity (even their own party, for the purists). They have influenced the thinking of Republicans who want to downsize governments as well as the more liberal-moderate Republicans who can win in states which are not very conservative.

By maintaining that independence, they enhance their own power as valued contributors without having to surrender their movement to either political party, or attempt to take them over. Strong influence, no direct political ties.

I consider that as a fairly good guide to how I classify the Tea Party movement, though I also view the Tea Party as having far broader appeal than the libertarians, and less specific ideology.

StanH said...

Great post Lawhawk! If we can produce a great leader, this will crystallize the conservatives into a cohesive unbeatable team, as Reagan achieved. Even though he had a hostile House & Senate, Tip O’Neal Speaker, Robert Byrd Majority Leader, he moved his agenda because he had “We the People.” Once again a de facto parliamentary system and a “vote of confidence.” This is what the liberals believed they had in Barry…whoops!

LawHawkSF said...

StanH: So much truth to what you said. Tip O'Neil and Reagan were quite good friends--a couple of Irish kindred spirits. O'Neil compromised on more than one Democratic plan simply because he liked and admired the president despite disagreeing with him on nearly everything.

As for Obama, "whoops" doesn't even begin to describe it.

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