Saturday, March 3, 2012

Pessimism of the George F. Will

On the way home from work each evening I normally listen to As It Happens from the CBC, which Cleveland's NPR station 90.3FM carries. But of late As It Happens has been spending the first part of its broadcast carrying unverified but inflammatory hearsay of atrocities by the Damascus regime against the people of Syria, all in an effort to stoke the fires for another humanitarian intervention a la Libya.

So I have started switching over to 1420 AM. As one can imagine, a station that high on the AM dial is home to a very minor league roster of radio reactionaries: William Bennett, Michael Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt. These are the also-rans who have never managed to achieve Limbaugh-scale grandeur; they are the Costa Concordias of the airwaves. Their advertisers offer a clue as to the mentality and the approach to the target audience: offers of help with IRS problems, offers on gold coins, offers on melting down your gold for cash, and a small number of what used to be called Correspondence Schools, but which are now called Distance Learning Colleges and Universities, where the desperate many who cannot afford a house loan are duped into loans for higher education.

Tonight Hewitt and his callers were gnashing their teeth over the column George F. Will released today, "Plan B for stopping Obama." To hear the aghast anger from host and audience, one would think Will had just concluded the Munich or Yalta agreement. But no, he had simply injected a little proportion into the normally self-deluding atmosphere that fills the bell jar of US conservatism. Like Democrats in 2004, Hewitt and fellow Republicans foresee nothing short of apocalypse if their candidate is not elected. Obama, we are told, will be unrestrained and free to remold the state and the culture. Into what, one might ask? Into whatever Hewitt and company hate, of course. It is the perennial line of the party not in power when an incumbent comes up for reelection.

What does Will actually say in his column today? Here is the meat of it:

Today, conservatives dismayed about the Republican presidential spectacle may write a codicil to what is called the [William F.] Buckley Rule. He said that in any election, conservatives should vote for the most electable conservative. The codicil might be: Unless the nomination or election of a particular conservative would mean a net long-term subtraction from conservatism's strength.

If nominated, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum might not cause such subtraction. Both are conservatives, although of strikingly different stripes. Neither, however, seems likely to be elected. Neither has demonstrated, or seems likely to develop, an aptitude for energizing a national coalition that translates into 270 electoral votes.

If either is nominated, conservatives should vote for him. But suppose the accumulation of evidence eventually suggests that the nomination of either would subtract from the long-term project of making conservatism intellectually coherent and politically palatable. If so, there would come a point when, taking stock of reality, conservatives turn their energies to a goal much more attainable than, and not much less important than, electing Romney or Santorum president. It is the goal of retaining control of the House and winning control of the Senate.

Several possible Supreme Court nominations and the staffing of the regulatory state are among the important reasons conservatives should try to elect whomever the GOP nominates. But conservatives this year should have as their primary goal making sure Republicans wield all the gavels in Congress in 2013.

If Republicans do, their committee majorities will serve as fine-mesh filters, removing President Obama's initiatives from the stream of legislation. Then Republicans can concentrate on what should be the essential conservative project of restoring something like constitutional equipoise between the legislative and executive branches.

Such a restoration would mean that a reelected Obama, a lame duck at noon Jan. 20, would have a substantially reduced capacity to do harm.

This is very mild, the wishful thinking of a marshal in a retreating army, hoping another commander can flank the enemy at his heels and harry the foe into inertia. In 2004 these were the arguments I sometimes heard after John Kerry "reported for duty" at his nominating convention and began talking about getting tough on the Taliban. The loser's dream of a bicameral majority is, of course, pyrite. But just because it is pyrite doesn't mean fools don't take it for gold. We all remember the enervating relief among anti-war activists after the 2006 elections, relieved at the prospect of an imminent end to the war budget and the impeachment of George W. Bush. [They sighed with relief again and more deeply in 2008 as Obama's election allowed them to walk away from picketing for jobs and foreclosure moratoriums.]

Will is sending up a necessary trial balloon today: get used to rationalizing defeat in advance. Act with party loyalty, but live to fight another day. And don't forget to elect a neoliberal as county dog catcher while you're at it. Republicans clearly have their own version of the "long march through the institutions" so loved by sell-out leftists after approximately 1975-1980.

There are some unintentionally amusing touches in Will's piece. Who can deny the pleasure of reading phrases like "the canny Mitch McConnell's legislative talents"? or:

From Louisiana Gov. [Piyush] Bobby Jindal to Wisconsin's Rep. Paul Ryan, Republicans have a rising generation of potential 2016 candidates. This does not mean conservatives should be indifferent to the fate of this year's nominee, and it is perhaps premature to despair of Romney's and Santorum's political aptitudes. Still, the presidency is not everything, and there will be another election in the next year divisible by four.

George F. Will and I have a few things in common. We are both devoted readers of P. G. Wodehouse. We also sense an impending electoral defeat for the GOP. Will uses his common sense and rule-by-thumb empiricism to make the determination, I use Marxism-Leninism.

Obama has promoted the Republican historic program so perfectly and successfully that there is very little room to the right of him for a viable competitor. Wodehouse would, I think, sum up Will's current thinking on Republican prospects this way: Like catching the down-express in the middle of one's back while picking daisies on the right of way.

Jay Rothermel

1 comment:

  1. No doubt the momentum from the track being left on the right wing's back will hurt for some time if not, (and that is if not hopefully), mortally wound this, de-evolved from progress, Republican party.