Our unrealistic obsession with political purity in our candidates will lead to disappointment and defeat.
We as an electorate have watched the two major political parties embrace polls and focus groups to the point where candidates no longer express their true beliefs, but rather the tested phrases and positions that expensive consultants expertly predict will resonate with their carefully crafted constituent blocks. This has lead to the current situation of the Republican Party platform sounding uncannily like a more timid version of the Democrat Party platform. Democrats want to drive us over the cliff at ninety mph, while Republicans want to drive us over the same cliff at only fifty mph. Republicans adopting this view are labeled as RINOs, meaning that they are Republicans in Name Only and not true adherents to conservatism, but political opportunists occupying the right of the political spectrum.
A funny thing happened on the way to oblivion back in 2009 with the rise of the Tea Party movement. These groups brought voters of all stripes together to rally around the common theme of unprecedented government spending. People who passionately disagreed over social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, found common ground in their opposition to government spending that is still threatening our very survival as a nation. The movement stayed loosely organized and gained momentum with a series of rallies held on April 15 to galvanize national attention to the problem of federal spending. Its involvement swayed the outcomes of a number of primary and general election contests in the 2010 cycle, and its members are already looking towards the 2012 cycle with defeat of Barack Obama as its ultimate goal.
One of the byproducts of the Tea Party movement has been a renewed focus on candidates’ records in elected office. This healthy oversight of candidate voting patterns has made it impossible for officials to tell the voters one thing while voting the opposite. Several incumbents were laid low or headed for the exits in retirement as their voting records were examined by an angry electorate no longer content with business as usual. Establishment politicians from both sides decried this awakening by the voters to no avail, as voters recognized that the last desperate act of a politician is to defend the process that got him elected.
This focus on voting and position records is morphing into a focus on candidate purity as we gear up for the 2012 election cycle. Voters with buyer’s remorse at having elected Obama are making sure their next choice is well vetted and rightly so. They have assembled a list of issues and are checking each candidate’s record against the list in an attempt to avoid future disappointment. In this, they resemble any consumer researching a major purchase to make sure they are getting the most value from their hard-earned dollar.
The problem comes about when candidates are summarily dismissed over one issue at the expense of all the other issues. Like any major purchase, this list must be ordered in the importance each issue has to the voter. One must take the position that no candidate is likely to satisfy all of their criteria perfectly, much like no automobile will perfectly fill all of the needs of the purchaser. There are trade-offs to be made so that the most important needs are fulfilled and the less important needs are met with a vehicle having the best combination of features for that consumer.
Voters at this stage are using these lists in search of any indication that a candidate is not all he seems and likely to disappoint in office by leading the country in an unexpected and dangerous direction. At this stage in the election cycle, this is a healthy sign that voters are paying attention. We must be careful not to let this search for purity cause us to tune out a candidate with worthwhile positions who failed our purity test at the beginning of the process.
Ronald Reagan is seen as the litmus test for conservative candidate purity, but I fear not even Reagan could pass these purity tests. The hype surrounding Reagan today obscures his record in office to the point that he has been elevated above his tenure. I’m a huge fan of Reagan, but we must not forget incidents such as the Iran-Contra Affair that occurred on his watch. By elevating Reagan to mythological status, we risk obscuring the record of his real achievements which were truly inspiring and historical for their time. Conservatives decry liberal attempts to rewrite history in favor of their heroes and we should be just as vehement in resisting the temptation to rewrite history to favor our heroes. Reagan was not a god, nor would he want to be remembered as one. All men make mistakes and most men evolve in their thinking. Reagan started out as a Democrat, but became a Republican when he could no longer resolve Democrat positions with his own convictions.
Mitt Romney championed universal health care in Massachusetts in the form of RomneyCare which was used as the basis for the much-hated ObamaCare now winding its way through the court system. Romney was unable to admit that his signature policy was a failure to conservatives looking for attrition, and instead fell back on the lame excuse that its failure lay in the fact that it was not properly implemented. This is enough to disqualify him from serious consideration as a conservative presidential candidate. Not only did he succumb to the liberal lure of universal health care, he refuses to abandon the position and rightly appears to voters as a RINO.
As governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty fell for the global warming hoax and supported Cap-and-Trade legislation. Newt Gingrich appeared in a global warming ad with Nancy Pelosi of all people. Pelosi ranks right behind Obama as detested by conservatives. Texas governor Rick Perry is criticized as not supporting border control. Herman Cain has never held elected office. Even Sarah Palin is criticized for quitting as governor of Alaska, even though she was forced to seek better paying employment to pay off huge legal bills stemming from witch hunts conducted by her opposition. The point I’m making is that no candidate is perfect and that we should begin ordering our list of issues in importance and aligning this order to the needs of our country.
The most important issue America faces in the short term is economic. America is in the midst of an economic recession/depression characterized by high unemployment, stagnating economic activity, and sidelined risk-averse capital awaiting a less regulatory and punishing business climate. The next president must address this issue first to get the American economic engine restarted, for it is from this that all other things flow. High unemployment means less tax revenue and less ability to address pertinent issues.
He must begin to reduce the size of the federal government and focus it on its core function of citizen protection from threats foreign and domestic. Our government seeks to do too much with too little, guaranteeing that it can do nothing. The answer lies not in the Democrat admonitions to increase taxes and increase government, but in the realization that our security has been too broadly defined and is both unachievable and unsustainable. We are blessed with two oceans separating us from the rest of the world and acting as natural barriers to would-be attackers. We must not become isolationist, but we also don’t have to become entangled in every foreign dispute and act as if it’s a matter of national security. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is correct to admonish NATO members to step up and take on a bigger responsibility for their own defense and stop relying on America as the defender of last resort. Both NATO and the United Nations have outlived their usefulness and become entrenched and paralyzed bureaucracies using American funding to criticize American interests.
Domestically, he must focus the federal government on protecting Americans from national threats such as illegal immigration, terrorists, and financial schemes perpetrated by fraudsters that cross state borders. Crime can’t be controlled by controlling the populace and this Democrat fantasy should be abandoned as a national strategy. States should be weaned from federal funding and allowed to determine their own approaches to resolving problems in response to their citizens.
Candidates for public office should be thoroughly scrutinized by a critical and wary electorate to insure that the best are selected as our representatives. Much was made in the last election cycle of Tea Party involvement in primaries that resulting in ideologically pure but unelectable candidates. These efforts were criticized as handing the office to the opposition. We must remember that the goal is not to just win, but to win with effective candidates presenting voters with a clear choice that highlights conservative principles over failed progressive liberal ideology. However, we must also remember that no candidate is going to perfectly fit our idealized conservative platform, and we should realize that we live in the real world when vetting candidates. Some have records that invite disqualification as conservatives, but other have lesser liberal sins that might be better viewed as the price of electability.