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What's Wrong With Our Republicans? (vanity)
Original to FR | 5/30/05 | Zack Nguyen

Posted on 05/31/2005 5:22:23 AM PDT by Zack Nguyen

We have kept the Republic. - Senator Bob Byrd.

I believe that goodwill will prevail. - Senator John McCain.

Politicians are in politics. They are less self-denying than self-aggrandizing. They are given fame, respect, the best health care in the world; they pass laws governing your life and receive a million perks including a good salary, and someone else--faceless taxpayers, "the folks back home"--gets to pay for the whole thing. This isn't public service, it's more like public command. - Peggy Noonan.

For the last week bloggers, Free Republicans, editorialists and all manner of conservatives have erupted in righteous anger concerning Republican compromises over judges. Many conservatives who have devoted a substantial portion of their lives to seeing Republican majorities in every branch of government have wondered whether it was really worth it. Many have expressed total bewilderment at what makes Republicans incapable of standing firm on basic principle. Some have suggested blackmail of Republican leaders as the culprit. (Hint to the RNC: when your grassroots supporters are so dissatisfied with the performance of their leaders that they resort to blackmail as a serious explanation, you've got severe problems.) All of this is understandable - conservatives are angry and confused. But I think the answers thus far have eluded us. Hence this vanity post, my first in a very long time.

The purpose of this vanity is not to rehash the compromise and determine whether it was a good thing. That has been done very effectively elsewhere. Rather I am writing on what this compromise proves about the character of Republican leadership, and what this means for the mostly volunteer conservative grassroots who labored so heroically to put them in office. If you are one of those who thought the deal was a "good thing" or "the best we could get" or was "just setting up the Democrats for the big fall, baby!" then you may not agree with what is written here. That is fine. I hope you give it due consideration.

I am writing this as one who has been connected in one form or other with conservative politics for the last eight years, and has been given the opportunity to see "up close and personal" how politicans think and act.

Here is my core premise: most grassroots conservatives (like those on FR) overlook the fact that we, as grassroots conservatives, have radically different priorities than the Republican politicians we elect.

This is why we are chronically unsatisfied.

It is no mystery that John McCain has a burning ambition to be President and finally put to death the memories of his 2000 campaign which ended in the white-hot cauldron of South Carolina. For Senator Lindsay Graham it is nothing so personal or complicated - he just likes to be in front of a camera. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are simply leftists - in many parts of the country they couldn't get elected as Democrats.

But what about elected Republicans as a whole? They are not all radical leftists like some northeastern Senators. Some of them claim to be staunch conservatives. Yet this is far from the first time we in the grassroots community have found Republican efforts lacking.

Here are a few truths about Republican officeholders that should help us understand why they act the way they do, which will in turn lead us to some suggestions on long term solutions to the problem.

1. Nine times out of ten, Republican office holders were not grassroots conservatives first. Before they ran for office, most of our elected officials were business owners. Then they ran for local office, eventually finding their way into Congress or the Senate. Most of them have never attended a precinct convention or a county convention. Often they can be found at state conventions, demanding to be added to the delegate list for the national convention. Most of them do this so they can hobnob with top donors, get on television, and go to parties. I know of one Congressman who was actually defeated in his own congressional district when he ran for national delegate. Unfortunately this is a rare occurrence. Most of the time they are elected or placed on the delegate list at-large.

Before they campaigned for their own office, most Republican officeholders never walked blocks for another candidate, handed out voter guides, bused voters to the polls or manned a phone bank. This sets them apart from the voters most responsible for putting them in office. Grassroots volunteers are essential to the process, yet the elected officials in many cases do not really identify with them.

Interestingly, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, hero to grassroots conservatives, once held precinct conventions in his garage before he ran for office.

2. Most Republican officeholders are non-ideological when compared to the grassroots. Most officeholders have a chronically underdeveloped personal ideology, if they have one at all. They don't know what they believe or why they believe it. Because most of them were in business, they are generally in favor of reducing regulation and keeping taxes low. Perhaps they think that free trade is a good thing. That is about the extent of their ideology and worldview, if it can be called that. That their beliefs on issues might be connected to a philosophical, moral (and yes, even theological) worldview hardly enters their minds. "It's not about morality," some think, "just good common sense." If they are Christians, more than likely they have never been taught that their faith has any connection to what they advocate as an elected official. (This goes double for evangelicals - our pastors leave our elected officials out in the cold without a roadmap.)

Then they get to Washington and are overwhelmed by the complexity of the political process, the huge gulf in viewpoint between those they meet in Washington and their constituents back home, and the seething opposition that exists for their "commonsense" principles. They have nothing foundational to fall back on. Thus they adopt a defensive posture, take few firm positions on anything, send pork back home, and refuse to think ahead any further than the next election, or more than likely the next committee vote.

Having a vision to radically alter America's relationship to government and restore sanity to our culture (at least where government intrudes upon it) is an alien idea. They more or less assume that their job is to make sure the budget adds up right and that government helps business rather than hurts it.

3. Most Republican officeholders do not view their position as a calling, whereas many grassroots conservatives (especially Christian ones) do. Grassroots conservatives take time out of extremely busy and successful lives to help their country. For them it is a calling. They do it for ideological reasons. The lifelong friendships and memories are an outgrowth of their zeal and passion for conservative ideals. That is why they sacrifice their precious time for the greater conservative cause.

But zeal for a cause is not often rewarded in Washington, and elected officials learn that quickly.

4. The corporate lobby doesn't like intractable social conflicts. Cut and paste here for an article on the business community's anger at the judge controversy:

The corporate Republican community, like the officeholders they support through campaign contributions, ofyen views politics as a bottom-line investment. This is a generalization, but they expect to get out of it what they put in. In fairness, they also want protection from a draconian federal government that can destroy markets and industries at will. Intractable conflicts over social issues make governing with any degree of accord very difficult. Favors don't get done and bills don't get passed. The cosy, co-dependent relationship between business and government depends on open channels, free of divisive principled conflict.

5. Most Republican officeholders, if they are honest, don't feel strongly enough about any one issue to lose an election over it. Grassroots conservatives have vision - a vision to see a world impacted by their ideals.

For instance, there are untold numbers of Republican voters who will sit out an election, even at the risk of electing a Hillary Clinton, rather than cast a vote for a radically pro-choice, pro-homosexual agenda candidate like Mayor Guiliani. Whether you agree with this tendency or not, you must admit that it is the act of a very principled group with a vision, a group that is clearly involved in politics for ideological reasons. Now consider how many Republican officeholders would refuse to endorse a Rudy Guiliani if he were nominated as President or Vice-President. The answer is: very few.

"Moral" questions of abortion, gay marriage, religious freedom, second amendment rights and euthanasia are issues many officeholders would rather not think about, as they tend to make the "business" of government (passing bills, taking care of big donors, sending pork back to the district and raising money) very difficult indeed.

So this leaves us with a party that harvests us for our votes, our money and our volunteer support, but sees no need to go to the lengths necessary to enact a truly conservative agenda. The Republican Party has been highly successful in attracting large numbers of voters to its banner (especially Christians, both evangelical and Catholic) essential to its winning coalition, but finds itself deeply uncomfortable with the principles these voters bring with them. I believe that the Democrat Party is far more secular humanist than the Republican Party is conservative, free enterprise, and traditionalist. Republicans tolerate a level of ideological dissension within the party that is alien to the modern Democrat Party.

Remarkably, George W. Bush may be altering what is considered "normal" behavior by Republicans with of his pit bull-like determination to see Social Security reform passed, despite shaky public support and the private wish of virtually every Congressman that the issue would simply go away. It is an act of principled vision, all too rare in our party. Like Abraham Lincoln, President Bush has changed his views and methods considerably in his four and a half years in office. This is virtually unheard of, but that is a vanity for another time.


This is not a rosy scenario. The problem I believe I have pinpointed is systemic within the Republican Party. Reform, if it is even possible, will involve years of concentrated effort. Here are a few broad guidelines for how this might begin.

1. Stay in the party. Do what you can. The movement needs you. If and when it comes time to leave the party, you'll know, because a lot of other people will be leaving with you. Remember, in American history there has never been more than two fully functioning, growing political parties on the scene at the same time. If there are more than two, one party is replacing another and one is nearing extinction. While third parties occasionally impact American culture (as Perot's Reform Party did), our system is winner-take-all. 49% gets you no real political power.

2. Remember that political parties are nothing more than vehicles for an ideology and an agenda. Remain a Christian or a conservative before you are a Republican. The party is not bigger than the agenda.

3. In many states, particularly in the increasingly Republican south and midwest, it is more important to be involved in the Republican primary than it is in the general election. The Republican primary elections are where the character of the party is truly decided. In some states the general elections are often a formality. For those of you who live in these states, invest your time and treasure in the primary.

4. Find and groom potential candidates from the grassroots early. This means doing our best to catch potential candidates early, and indoctrinating them with our worldview before they take office. For me, it means "discipleship" for Christians who have expressed an interest in running for office. The city councilmen, county chair, assemblymen and commissioners of today are tomorrow's Congressmen and Senators. Don't let candidates get to that level having "learned" that politics is just about pleasing donors, bringing home the bacon, and avoiding difficult votes. Don't let them become "technicians", regarding their job as just making sure the numbers add up, without connecting their beliefs to a wider worldview.

Is this possible? I don't know. We'll find out if the "new" Republican Party, chock-full of evangelicals, Catholics, corporate conservatives, traditionalists, and hard leftists can survive into the next decade.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Note: Some of these ideas were enunciated several years ago in an insightful monograph entitled "The Late Great GOP and the Coming Realignment" by Colonel Donor, a former Republican strategist. You might still be able to get it through the Chalcedon Foundation, I don't necessarily agree with all of Colonel Donor's conclusions or Chalcedon's theology, but this little tome is worth the read.

TOPICS: Your Opinion/Questions
KEYWORDS: 109th; gop; grassroots; gutlessbastrds; republicans; vanitypost
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1 posted on 05/31/2005 5:22:24 AM PDT by Zack Nguyen
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To: Zack Nguyen

Oh, good grief. Another &*^@#$%! vanity.

2 posted on 05/31/2005 5:23:58 AM PDT by Coop (In memory of a true hero - Pat Tillman)
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To: Coop
It is labeled as a vanity. It is in "Your Opinions." Sometimes vanities are worthwhile. This one was well thought out and organized. I found it worth the time to read it.
3 posted on 05/31/2005 5:38:38 AM PDT by Truth29
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To: Truth29

Thanks! Glad you liked it! Any analysis or critique would be welcome.

4 posted on 05/31/2005 5:41:08 AM PDT by Zack Nguyen
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To: Zack Nguyen

A good read.

5 posted on 05/31/2005 5:41:46 AM PDT by demlosers
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To: Zack Nguyen

Oh, good! A thoughtful, analytical vanity designed to be helpful rather than just "venting." Thanks.

6 posted on 05/31/2005 5:42:35 AM PDT by Socratic (Honor the Liberator - He toils for you.)
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To: Zack Nguyen; Congressman Billybob


7 posted on 05/31/2005 5:45:41 AM PDT by Jet Jaguar
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To: Zack Nguyen

Wow, you've got too much time on your hands.

8 posted on 05/31/2005 5:51:25 AM PDT by antisocial (Texas SCV - Deo Vindice)
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To: Truth29
1) It is labeled as a vanity now. When I made my comment it carried all sorts of interesting labels.

2) You're correct. I should have posted my thoughtful reply in a separate thread.

9 posted on 05/31/2005 5:51:57 AM PDT by Coop (In memory of a true hero - Pat Tillman)
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To: Zack Nguyen


10 posted on 05/31/2005 6:06:44 AM PDT by MileHi
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To: Zack Nguyen

Overcooked spaghetti makes a very poor skeletal system.

That's as kind as I can be.

11 posted on 05/31/2005 6:29:20 AM PDT by the (M.A.D. but with a share of the profits.)
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To: Zack Nguyen

Noonan nailed it: Politicians are effectively drugged by endless perks. No one wants less than the level they have scratched/clawed/smarmed/wormed their way into, do they? Consequently they do everything not to lose it, which does not often equal pleasing us, their Sugar Daddies!

12 posted on 05/31/2005 6:40:43 AM PDT by avenir (Don't insult my intelligentness!)
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To: Socratic


13 posted on 05/31/2005 6:40:44 AM PDT by Zack Nguyen
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To: Zack Nguyen

Sadly, it all makes sense. Very insightful. Sen Tom Coburn ran as soemone who is different, not running to bring back pork to his state but to take on the task of over spending. He is confrontational, was so in the House. Can he really make any kind of difference? Can attitudes change if they hear from us enough?

14 posted on 05/31/2005 6:49:16 AM PDT by maxter
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To: antisocial
Wow, you've got too much time on your hands.

LOL. Actually, I write very quickly when I get my teeth into something. This whole thing took a couple of hours over the course of two days.

15 posted on 05/31/2005 6:49:54 AM PDT by Zack Nguyen
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To: Zack Nguyen
If people who are running for office have no ideology, or call to service, then why are they running?

The answer to this question indicates a solution.
16 posted on 05/31/2005 7:01:43 AM PDT by Durus
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To: maxter


17 posted on 05/31/2005 7:29:15 AM PDT by Zack Nguyen
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To: Zack Nguyen
Ok I've read your thesis again and I'm a little confused in that you never suggest why these people are seeking office if the don't have any political philosophy or ideology.
18 posted on 05/31/2005 8:04:25 AM PDT by Durus
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To: Durus

Ambition, power, a true desire to serve the public and give back, patriotism (like George Bush 41.) There are any number of reasons. Some listed above are admirable, but do not translate well into a coherent or visionary agenda when that is all the candidate believes.

19 posted on 05/31/2005 10:16:45 AM PDT by Zack Nguyen
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To: Zack Nguyen
I'll go along with the ambition and power part. As far as a desire to serve the public, giving back, and patriotism goes I don't think you can really feel that way without some sort of philosophical underpinnings. My concern is that an unfortunate amount of republican politicians chose the party out of favorable demographics rather then choosing the party that matched their principles. Another concern that I have is that most Democrats have strong principles. Progressive principles of course, which is a fancy way of calling themselves evil as far as I'm concerned, but deep seated unwavering principles just the same.

What we have ended up with is a party that is willing to compromise over any issue in the desire to be elected with an opposing party that will never yield their progressive ideals regardless of the fallout at the ballot box. All in the name of power of course. Progressives aren't limited to such niceties as honesty, reason, or fair elections though because part of their ideology is "the ends justifies the means".

This isn't a good situation to say the least and I think the only solution is to remove the power. Taking the money out of politics is easy in comparison to limiting the power of politicians to constitutional norms.

I am, as ever, open to suggestions.
20 posted on 05/31/2005 12:50:22 PM PDT by Durus
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