Thursday, September 16, 2010
Writing in the New Republic, Jonathan Chait writes one of those pieces you see from time to time, in which some pundit offers half-gloating "advice" to political enemies he claims (and hopes) are destroying themselves. In this case, we have a leftist slamming the Tea Party for throwing its support behind Christine O'Donnell against the GOP establishment candidate, Mike Castle, in this year's Republican primary for Delaware's open Senate slot.
Christine O'Donnell is a theocrat who opposes abortion under all circumstances and supports teaching creationism in public schools. Given that, there were plenty of valid reasons for supporters of freedom and individual rights not to support her, but that isn't Chait's message -- except to the extent that, as a leftist, he probably equates capitalist sentiment with support for theocracy. (Many conservatives, including quite a few tea partiers, unfortunately suffer from the same misconception.)
No. Chait never urges the tea partiers to get a better grip on what principles actually support individual rights, or to consider whether theocracy and capitalism are really compatible, or to ask whether O'Donnell -- or either Republican -- deserved their support. He attacks the tea partiers for sticking to their guns -- for having principles (however muddied) at all.
And so it has been amusing to watch Republicans as they desperately attempted to persuade Republican voters in Delaware to support moderate Mike Castle over Christine O'Donnell. The political logic is obvious: Castle would have been a near shoo-in to win, while O'Donnell is a near shoo-in to lose. Castle may be a moderate, but half a loaf is better than none. ...Castle, as Chait indicates, is behind a bill to repeal ObamaCare (for whatever that might be worth), but he also supports one of the few pieces of Obama's radical agenda that hasn't been passed yet: cap-and-trade. (O'Donnell opposes cap-and-trade.) For anyone who thinks that issue is dead after ClimateGate, remember that the premise behind that political debate is all wrong: As soon as someone can credibly claim that the science supports AGW, many anti-warmists will be disarmed since they concede the incorrect idea that if there's AGW, we must therefore adopt state control of the economy. Would O'Donnell necessarily reject such a conclusion (assuming it's wrong), or would the desire to be a good "steward" of God's creation flip her?
Setting aside whether Chait's advice is sincere, consider the following question: Are a soccer team's chances of winning a game better if they have to suck it up and play one man down -- or if they field a full eleven that includes a player whose actions stand a good chance of throwing the game to the other team? I'm not sure I agree that O'Donnell was the better choice here, but I can understand why tea partiers would choose her. In the sense that their choice reflects their keeping their eyes on the prize and their understanding that big government conservatism is no ally of freedom, I applaud it.
Chait may have a valid point about Castle being easier to "send into the game," but what's the point of being able to say there's a Republican majority if said majority does the same things a Democrat majority might? (There remains, in this election, the symbolic value of sending a sharp rebuke to Obama, Pelosi, and Reid.)
Chait closes his piece cynically. If one sees ideas solely as tools for manipulating useful idiots on the way to acquiring power, that's the only way it can end.
But the Republican base has been taught not to think this way. This isn't just politics, remember? This is a twilight struggle for freedom. And Mike Castle didn't just cast a couple bad votes. He acquiesced in a sinister plan to undermine capitalism. How could they ever support a candidate like that?I doubt there's really a "true majority" in America today. And Chait is probably right that many in the Republican establishment are soul-mates of his in the "our professed principles are only propaganda" department. But Chait is dead wrong about the relationship between principles and practice. Freedom is in trouble, because America long ago strayed from accepting the principle that individuals have rights that must be protected by the government.
Moreover, Republican voters have luxuriated in the belief that they represent the true majority of the American people. Obama may have won by fooling the voters, or possibly by stealing the election with Acorn, but the enduring majority of the public is staunchly conservative. Indeed, Republicans only lost because they strayed from the true faith.
Now, most elite Republicans understand that the red meat fed to the base isn't exactly right. It's useful to scare the daylights out of the activists, but writers for the Standard and the Journal editorial page understand that "freedom," as most people understand the term, is not really at risk. They understand as well that politics is a little more complicated than "if Republicans stay true to conservatism, they cannot lose."
The tea partiers grasp this at least on some level, and Jonathan Chait's sneer barely hides the fact that this really bothers him.