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The Tea Party’s goal-line stand . . . and how they can screw it up. (bumped)

Posted: August 6, 2011 at 2:07 pm   /   by

I am writing this in the form of an open letter to all my compatriots in the conservative movement: In the tea parties, in AnyStreet, in national and local groups alike . . . but most especially in the tea parties. This may be the longest single article I have ever written, but it is essential that we have this dialog. I believe this information to be vital to the success of the movement.

My dear friends,

I call you friends because that’s who you are. I am many things: a writer, a researcher, the founder of several organizations . . . but at the end of the day, I am, like you, an activist. Whether I know you personally or not, we are comrades-in-arms, working together in a great struggle to restore the revolutionary vision of our Founders. A nation where government is limited, and where the individual is not subsumed by the collective. A nation where the federal government confines itself to its enumerated powers under the Constitution, rather than arrogating ever-greater control over all aspects of our lives. A nation where charity and support abound, not through the force of the government, but through the responsive caring of a community doing the right thing. A nation that doesn’t spend itself into ruin, but is prudent, and allows the decency and brilliance of free people to solve most of the problems we face.

This vision revolutionized human governance, and it has been ascendant ever since. But another vision was created at nearly the same time, and it has crept up and slowly overtaken ours. From Rousseau’s development of the left’s core concept—the general will . . . to the work of Marx and Engels . . . to the welfare state of Otto von Bismark . . . and through all of the players of the 20th century, the left has slowly been working its way into everything. And for the last 100 years, they’ve been beating us back, further and further each year.

My dear friends, I know many of you don’t believe this now, but trust me when I tell you, THE DEBT CEILING FIGHT WAS OUR GOAL-LINE STAND, AND WE WON.

No, we did not win the game. In fact, we only gained a couple of yards.

But this was the moment when we stopped the left’s 100 year push into our territory. The debt ceiling deal, as hard as it seems to believe, was the moment where we stopped the left, where we drew a line and said, “Here, and no further.” We’re now pushing them back, and you have yourselves to thank for much of that.

However, my purpose here is not to congratulate you, but to warn you: If we are not careful, we will lose everything.

Many of you are unhappy, even furious, with the debt-ceiling deal. Some are talking about primary challenges to Republicans who voted for it. Some are calling them “turncoats.” This attitude is wrong, and it is dangerous.

I will provide you with two lines of reasoning in this letter.

  1. The debt-ceiling deal was actually a victory.
  2. Treating it as a defeat, and acting against Republicans, is a tactical error, and possibly even a strategically fatal mistake.

The debt-ceiling deal was actually a victory.


I know that’s hard for many of you to swallow. However, it is true for so many reasons. Here are a few of them.

We weren’t going to do any better

It is very important to remember: We don’t control the White House. We don’t control the Senate. In such a situation, there is only so much that can get done. I know you’ve heard that before, but really, it’s a salient fact. The way our system works, not much of substance gets done in divided government. (That is not a flaw, but a feature, as I discuss below.)

But that’s not actually the big reason why this was the best we could do. Allow me to quote myself, from earlier this morning:

Tea party folks, please remember — the GOP is not the enemy. It is the Democrats who have created and fed the Entitlement-State Monster, and loosed it upon the land. It is the Democrats who defend it, even as it ravages the countryside. The Democrats are so much in its thrall that they will sacrifice their children, and ours, to this beast. And through decades of senior-scaring, they have made it politically impossible to do anything about it. This most recent debt deal doesn’t fix the problem, but it’s a small start. And it was the best thing possible under the circumstances.

Simply put . . .


I try to avoid that kind of all-caps shouting, but I really needed to get the point across. It’s not just that we only control 1/3 of government. The real problem is that the Democrats have no intention of fixing anything. Ever.

Fixing our debt and spending problem means fixing the entitlement state. But the Democrats are the architects of the entitlement state. They are its political beneficiaries. They keep it alive. They have cared for it and fed it, and politically destroyed anyone who even so much as looked cockeyed at it, for decades. And with every act, every breath, every utterance in this debt-ceiling debate, they showed that they have not changed at all.

The entitlement state is going to collapse, and it may take the whole economy down with it. It is absolutely unsustainable—mathematically, demographically, actuarially unsustainable. Failing to act on it now is national suicide. And yet the Democrats have indicated that that is exactly the course they intend to follow. Their attitude and approach borders on suicidal madness.

In this context, the GOP was NEVER going to be able to pass a bill that actually fixes the problem.

On the above point, there can be no question. Sure, we don’t have a crystal ball, so we can’t know for sure what would have happened if we had followed some different course (like allowing the debt ceiling to be breached). But we can know FOR SURE that getting a bill through that actually really fixed the problem was not going to happen this time.

If we use that as premise 1 of an argument, then the next question is, “What should the GOP have done?” If they weren’t going to get anything through that really fixed the problem, then their choices were

  1. Get something through that starts the process and/or creates some political advantage.
  2. Vote no en masse and let the debt ceiling be breached.

Would our credit rating have been downgraded if we followed option 2 and the debt ceiling had been breached? Maybe. Would Obama have refused to pay Social Security checks and then blamed it on Republicans? Maybe. Would the media work 24/7/365 to paint us as the villains no matter what happened? Absolutely. (In fact, they’re doing their best to do it now, but having passed a compromise makes it much harder for them to get that to stick.)

We don’t have a crystal ball to know for sure, but I do suspect that option 2 would have ben uglier for us politically, and we need to be strong politically so we can win in 2012 and get the Democrats out of the way so that we can ACTUALLY FIX THE PROBLEM. Indeed, I tend to agree with this:

The debt ceiling is a political hostage the GOP could never afford to shoot, and this deal is about the best Republicans could have hoped for given that the limit had to be raised. The Jim DeMint-Michele Bachmann-Sean Hannity alternative of refusing to raise the debt limit without a balanced-budget amendment and betting that Mr. Obama would get all the blame vanishes upon contact with any thought. Sooner or later the GOP had to give up the hostage.

A debt-ceiling breach, with or without a concomitant credit rating reduction, would have sounded the horn for open season on Republicans. Of course, you might cite polls that say that the American people were opposed to the debt ceiling increase, but polls cannot do dynamic measures of what would happen in the real world. They ask questions in a vacuum, like “Do you want a debt-ceiling increase.”

What polls do NOT do is strap a person down, staple open his eyelids á la Clockwork Orange, subject them to five straight weeks of the media screaming about Republican-induced armageddon, the media giving the left a free pass, and the media reporting every one of Obama’s talking points as if it were gospel, and THEN ask, “So, how do you feel that we did not do a debt-ceiling increase.”

Big difference there. You may think that wouldn’t have happened. I think it would. We can argue about it but we’ll never know.

What we do know is that a real fix was not possible at this time. It is irrational to be angry at the GOP for failing to do something that was not possible. The Democrats are acting irrational, even suicidal. The last thing people on our side should be doing is emulating their irrationality.

The people aren’t ready to fix the real problem, and believe it or not, neither is the Tea Party.

So the logical people among you, recognizing that no legislation that actually fixes the problem was going to get through, presumably prefer option 2, on the assumption that it would force cuts by disallowing any more debt. Here’s the problem: While polls show that the majority of Americans want spending cut, virtually no American has a clue about where the bulk of the spending is coming from. Entitlements are what is sinking us (watch this video for a 4-minute primer). But every poll also shows that while people want to cut spending massively, they are unwilling to allow anyone to touch entitlements. This, of course, leads to an impossible situation. Through a combination of ignorance and self-interest, people who want spending to be cut are unwilling to cut spending in the areas where the cuts will actually make a difference. (Here’s a quick clue: You can cut EVERYTHING else out of the budget, and eventually, entitlements will STILL bankrupt us.)

Before we wag a scolding finger at this ignorance and self-interest, Republicans, tea partiers, and activists need to look in the mirror, because we’re just about as clueless and self-interested.

In poll  . . .

Even tea party supporters, by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, declared significant cuts to Social Security “unacceptable.”

. . . after poll

The partisan splits aren’t as wide as you’d think, either. On Medicare, 84 percent of Democrats want spending either increased or kept the same (47/37); for Republicans, it’s 83 percent (39/44). Even among tea partiers, it’s at 80 percent, albeit with a 28/52 split on whether to increase spending or merely maintain it. The numbers are similar for Social Security: 84 percent of Democrats oppose cuts (39/45) versus 86 percent(!) of Republicans (35/51). Tea partiers again clock in at 80 percent, with a 29/51 split on whether to boost spending or keep it as is. What’s especially interesting about that poll is that it shows how deeply misinformed the public is about how much we spend on most federal programs (although they do seem to have a fair sense of how much goes to entitlements).

. . . we find not only large majorities levels of Americans ignorant about where the real problem lies and unwilling to see it touched, but majorities of tea partiers and Republicans as well. At this point in the game, that is inexcusable.

  • If you are part of the crowd that is furious at the GOP for not cutting more, but also in the group who is ignorant about the entitlement crisis or unwilling to see any reforms thereof, then you really need to stop, sit down, study a bit, and get your priorities straight. I am sorry to be so blunt, but if you are in this category, there’s a serious problem.
  • If you are aware of the entitlement problem, and you can accept that changes need to be made thereto, then you’re on the right track, but there’s one more thing you need to be aware of. It’s called the Overton Window.


The Overton Window

At any given moment, the “window” includes a range of policies considered to be politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too “extreme” or outside the mainstream to gain or keep public office. Overton arranged the spectrum on a vertical axis of “more free” and “less free” in regards to government intervention. When the window moves or expands, ideas can accordingly become more or less politically acceptable. The degrees of acceptance[3] of public ideas can be described roughly as:

  • Unthinkable
  • Radical
  • Acceptable
  • Sensible
  • Popular
  • Policy

Every poll shows that the American people aren’t ready to accept entitlement reform.  But guess what—they’re closer now than they have ever been since the entitlement state was born in the 1930s . . . and you can thank yourselves for that. YOU have changed the dialog. We’re now talking about shrinking the size of government. No, we’re not actually shrinking it yet, but we’re headed there.

This debt ceiling debate has begun moving the Overton Window.

From Hot Air:

 . . .it was a “victory” in terms of seeing movement in the correct direction and it being done without tax hikes. (Which may still come out of the committee under the cloak of tax reform.) But the totals will fail to impress. Even if you reduce the deficit by roughly $3T over the next ten years, that means that instead of our nation debt ballooning to $26T one decade out, it will only go up to $23T. It’s hard to deny that this gaudy sounding number is actually nothing more than a few good sized drops in a still very large bucket.

What we’ve yet to achieve is a fundamental shift in our national theory on government spending and the debt. Whether that comes or not will depend not only on the outcome of a few more election cycles, but on how keenly the voters feel the effects of decades of reckless fiscal policy. And that’s the next chapter in this book.

From the WaPo:

Today, no one is talking about tripling the national debt or passing a “second stimulus.”  Congress is about to cut spending by about $2 trillion and put us on a trajectory to balance the budget within a decade. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid complained Saturday evening that Congress has raised the debt limit 74 times since 1962 without conditions.  He is right. This is happening for the first time in history, thanks to the Tea Party.

“The debt deal is a rare bipartisan victory for the forces of smaller government.”

Most bipartisan budget deals trade tax increases that are immediate for spending cuts that turn out to be fictional. This one includes no immediate tax increases, despite President Obama’s demand as recently as last Monday. [ . . . ] No wonder liberals are howling. They have come to believe in the upward spending ratchet, under which all spending increases are permanent. Not any more.

Indeed, the end of this WSJ piece sums up the entire point so well:

The tea partiers pride themselves on adhering to the Constitution, which was intended to make political change difficult. Yet in this deal they’ve forced both parties to make the biggest spending cuts in 15 years, with more cuts likely next year. The U.S. is engaged in an epic debate over the size and scope of government that will play out over several years, and the most important battle comes in the election of 2012.

Tea partiers will do more for their cause by applauding this victory and working toward the next, rather than diminishing what they’ve accomplished because it didn’t solve every fiscal problem in one impossible swoop.

It’s a start, a move in the right direction. We’ve moved the window.

That’s really all it was good for, because the Democrats were never going to allow real change. Now we have to move it more. But as I will discuss below, arranging a circular firing squad for the GOP and the conservative movement is not the way to do it. But first, more good news to put this thing in its proper light:


The left hates the deal

They’re calling us terrorists, and they’re fuming and foaming about the deal. Right there, you have evidence that it’s not all bad.

Jonathan Chait is complaining that Obama got “rolled.” (He also complains that it lowers “already too-low domestic discretionary spending caps,” thus showing how cuckoo for spendy-puffs the left is, but the point remains the same.)

And speaking of evidence that we beat the left with this deal . . .

“We have negotiated with terrorists,” an angry [Congressman Mike] Doyle [D-Pa.] said, according to sources in the room. “This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money.”

The anger, plus the admission that we’re taking away their credit card, is a good sign for us. Again, just as with Chait’s statement, it’s crazy to say that we’re not spending money, since this fiscal year, the federal government is spending $3.8 trillion. But hey, that’s the left for ya.

From Democrats put politics ahead of policy — again:

Chris Hayes, Washington editor of the liberal Nation magazine, wrote on Sunday, “Deal on the table is all cuts, no revenue. This is a rout.” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, the stern parson of progressive true believers, objected on Sunday morning television that “we shouldn’t even be talking about spending cuts right now.”


We’ve got socialism on the run now.

No, really. We do.

What Time Does the Keynes Wake Start?

…I don’t know if Sen. Dick Durbin is trying to whisper sweet nothings into the ear of the Tea Party on the issue of whether it should like the deal, but if he were, this would be a pretty good way to do it:

“The Republicans are killing Keynesian economics with their attempt to cut spending as the economy rebounds from a recession, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a floor speech on Sunday.”I would say . . . that symbolically, that agreement is moving us to the point where we are having the final interment of John Maynard Keynes,” he said, referring to the British economist. “He normally died in 1946 but it appears we are going to put him to his final rest with this agreement.” . . .”

Putting John Maynard Keynes to rest would be a salutary achievement for all mankind. He was a nice fellow who meant well, but his ideas don’t work. The fact that Durbin is lamenting the final interment of Keynesian economics, while a bit premature, is a fantastic sign.

But it gets better. This is not just a United States phenomenon. Welfare state capitalism is collapsing under its own weight throughout the Western world. Just like full-blown communism indicted itself when it failed so grandiosly at the end of the last century, so to is welfare state capitalism indicting itself now. Western nations are being crushed under the weight of the debt produced by their own entitlement states. Realization of whose fault this is (hint: the left’s) is not happening uniformly, but it is happening. It is inevitable. When big things happen like national collapses, the truth usually comes out eventually.

The Western world is waking up. This article in the London Telegraph tells the tale:

Most pundits are crediting this U-turn to the political muscle of the Tea Party and it’s true that President Obama would never have agreed to this deal if the Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives hadn’t engaged in the brinkmanship of the past few weeks. But to focus on the Tea Party is to ignore the tectonic political shift that’s taken place, not just in America but across Europe. The majority of citizens in nearly all the world’s most developed countries simply aren’t prepared to tolerate the degree of borrowing required to sustain generous welfare programmes any longer.

As I pointed out in a blog post last May, tax-and-spend Left-wing parties have fared poorly in election after election over the past two years: [ . . . ]

For believers in redistributive taxation and egalitarian social programmes like David Miliband, Obama was the last great hope. Here was a centre left politician capable of building the kind of electoral coalition that underpinned the massive expansions of state power in Britain and America, from Attlee’s post-war Labour Government to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. That is, a coalition of the white working class, minorities and middle class liberals. Yet in spite of sweeping to power in 2008 and ensuring the Democrats won in both the House and the Senate, Obama has proved unable to sustain that coalition. Last night’s debt deal represents the moment when he acknowledged that trying to maintain the levels of public spending required to fund ambitious welfare programmes is political suicide. Which is why the deal has been greated with cries of impotent rage by the British Left.

In both Britain and America, the Left has been reduced to hoping that cutting public spending on this scale will snuff out economic growth and plunge our respective economies back into recession. Not only will the Coalition be turfed out as a consequence, but if Obama can somehow blame the Tea Party for the “double dip” he might be able to persuade the people to grant him four more years. What the Left hasn’t grasped – and what Obama has – is that for the foreseeable future no political candidate or party will be able to increase public spending and win re-election. Socialist welfare programmes have become politically toxic. A sea change has taken place within the West’s most developed countries and last night’s debt deal is a reflection of that.

Finally, just a few more reasons in case you weren’t already convinced.

The inimitable Barone in Republicans Win When the Fight Is Over Cuts Not More Taxes on the marginalization of Obama:

Democrats went into this fight with a precedent in mind, the budget fight between President Clinton​ and Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995-96. The conventional wisdom is that Clinton won that fight and Republicans lost.

That’s not quite right: After shifting to noticeably more moderate policies, Clinton was re-elected in 1996, but Republicans lost few House seats and held onto their congressional majorities at the same time.

The difference this time is that Obama has not shifted policies noticeably, but instead has seemed to position himself as a complainer on the sidelines, asking voters to call their congressman. He has presented no specific plan of his own. His chief of staff reports that he hasn’t spoken at all to Boehner lately.

J-Pod on How the SuperCommittee Might Work to GOP Advantage:

Tonight, Barack Obama all but guaranteed the November showdown would involve tax increases (his “balanced” approach). At the same time, House Speaker John Boehner says changes in how the budget is calculated (the “baseline”) makes such tax hikes almost impossible.

But again, let’s look at this practically. Democrats actually want to vote for tax increases going into an election year? The leading Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid, certainly didn’t want that even now for members of his caucus, 15 months before the election.

So, in the final analysis, the logic of the “trigger” in the showdown depends on Democrats not minding defense cuts and desiring tax hikes. They won’t want either and will therefore be pushed in the Republican direction in the negotiations.

Ed Morrissey in Does the deal provide an opening for Obama primary opponent?

Right now, his base is all he has left from the coalition that made him President in 2008; independents and working-class Democrats have begun to flee.  This deal (and Obama’s performance during the impasse) won’t bring those voters back, and his source of organization and funding may largely give up on him.

So there ya have it. Now . . .

Treating this deal as a defeat, and acting against Republicans, is a tactical error, and possibly even a strategically fatal mistake.

In the pages above, I have tried to lay out the case that the debt-ceiling deal, while not an actual solution to our spending problem, is a tactical victory and a strategic turning point.

In an environment where little else was political possibly, we managed to

  • Radically change the direction of the American conversation on spending, taxes, and budgets
  • Move the Overton Window, and begin the process of readying the people for necessary changes to entitlements
  • Strengthen the GOP’s hand and enhance their clout, while simultaneously handing the Democrats a defeat
  • Infuriate the left, and most of all . . .

Put the Western-style, quasi-socialist welfare state on the run for the first time EVER!

As I said earlier, this was our goal-line stand. America, and the rest of the nations of the West, are teetering on the brink of collapse. In the absence a direct fix now, which was not possible, we got the only thing we could: A CHANGE OF DIRECTION. We moved the ball down-field, albeit only by a few yards. Welfare state capitalism is on the run, finally, for the first time since Otto von Bismark. It’s happening across the Western world. The welfare state is coming apart, and people are starting to see it, little by little, for what it is.

But here, on the cusp of that great moment, many in the ranks of the conservative grassroots, and especially in the self-described tea party, are threatening to ruin this great opportunity. Threats of primaries and the use terms like “traitor” and “”turncoat” are on the rise, and being directed at freshman congressman who less than a year ago were our great heroes. And what changed? They voted for the debt-ceiling deal.

A feature, not a flaw

(This section is directed not just at my friends in the tea party, but to the entire nation.)

Right now, the big meme is that government is broken. Congress is incompetent. The Republicans are unfit to lead because of the dissent in their ranks. There’s too much disagreement and “partisanship.” You hear this complaint from right to left, and perhaps especially, from independent. Uh, time for a reality check, people . . .


If you want efficiency, perhaps a representative republic is not for you. If you are sick of the “partisanship,” then perhaps a one-party state like China or Cuba would be more to your liking.

We live in a republic, in case you’d forgotten. Republics are messy. They’re inefficient. They require compromise and political maneuvers. Sometimes, it’s really hard to get laws passed. Those things are not flaws, they’re features.

The republic is the best form of government there is, especially if you like freedom, pluralism, tolerance, and prosperity. If you like governments where there is never any dissent, wrangling, or partisanship, I hear North Korea is accepting defectors right now.

This is how it works: We vote for people. Those people represent us. Other people in other places vote for other people. They all gather together in big buildings in Washington, and each one tries, however imperfectly, to represent the people who sent them there. Lots of different people, with different views, representing an even more diverse populace. It’s messy. Sometimes virtually nothing useful gets done. But it’s the best way for the most people to get represented to the greatest degree. The republic is the worst system in the world, except for all the other systems.

The problem, folks, is not with the system itself. The problem is that—through a century of prodding by the left—the federal government is involved in things that it has no business being involved in. It has too much power, too many activities, and it has spent us dry because of it. If the federal government were sticking to its enumerated powers, you’d hardly even notice it was there most of the time. It would rarely have enough of an impact on your life to be annoying in the first place.

This is all pertinent to the question at hand for the following reason (and now I’m back to just talking to my tea party friends):

We sent those same freshmen representatives—the ones at whom you are so angry now—to go work for us in this horrible, inefficient, partisan system. That means that their principles come crashing up against the wall of every reality of our brilliantly designed republic. Checks and balances. Divided government. Other parties. Factions within parties. Coequal branches of government. The rule of law.

Did you really think they were going to be able to just impose their principled will upon the whole of government? That’s not how it works, and if it did work, it would mean we lived in a dictatorship.

It is time to develop a more nuanced understanding of politics and governance. It’s easy to stand on principle, and scream from the sidelines whenever anyone deviates from it. What requires skill, and nuance, and—dare I say, wisdom—is figuring out how to translate that principle into the greatest possible results.

Our freshman haven’t “changed” or become “turncoats” or gone DC-native. They left the comforting world of the campaign trail, where they could focus on their principles, and entered the messy world of a representative republic. They are now dealing with reality, rather than simply fantasizing about a world where all the other competing voices of our democracy would simply lay down in the face of their principles. They had to grow up, and we need to do the same.

Repeating Hitler vs. Stalin

It is a truism of political movements that very often, the greatest animosities are reserved not for our ideological opponents, but for the people who are on our own side. You see it in the fracturing of groups. You see it in bruising primary fights. Two people or groups who are, overall, on the same ideological side, will very often tear at each other with an unmatched ferocity.

Jonah Goldberg has done yeoman’s work in establishing the truth of this phenomenon vis-a-vis the national socialists of Germany (Hitler and the Nazis) and the international socialists of the USSR (Stalin and the Soviet Communists). They were not, as has been contended for so long, ideological opposites. They were both phenomena of the left, competing for the same people in the same social and ideological battlespace. And man, did they hate each other. Why would we want to bear even the slightest resemblance to that?

Even before this whole debt-ceiling unpleasantness, you could see it. As much, and sometimes much more, vitriol directed by tea partiers at the GOP as at the Democrats and the left. Relentless Boehner-bashing. Sensible voices like David Limbaugh chirp up once in a while to say Conservatives, Let’s Remember Who Our Political Enemy Is, only to have it washed away in another tide of anger at our own.

Every project in which I have been involved, and over which I have had any say, has eschewed this approach. We are always keen to hold our side’s feet to the fire, and to keep them accountable. But we do not hold circular firing squads. We do not frag our own. At the end of the day, we always remember to keep our (metaphorical) guns directed at our ideological foes to the left.

That doesn’t mean we roll over or allow serial violations of core principles. It just means we’re realistic. We understand time, place, and context. We don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And we’re not into fratricide.


Historical reality

I do recognize that the intense pressure being put on our side by our side is probably, to some degree at least, a necessary thing. Such pressure is a part of the play of history. We’ll very likely look back and see it, from an historical hindsight perspective, as having helped create the climate necessary for the sea-change we need, and that we are now beginning to undergo.

But that’s the 32,000 foot view. Right here, on the ground, there are problematic aspects of this pressure, and especially in the way it is manifesting itself. Pressure, rightly applied, is good. But what a lot of us in the movement are hearing and seeing on the ground is not pressure, it’s fratricide.


To win, we have to win.

As I have mentioned, people are throwing around terms like traitor and turncoat. They’re threatening primaries . . . not just of so-called RINOs (Republicans in name only) but of solid conservatives like Allen West, Marco Rubio, and David Schweikert. I have heard people whose knowledge of civics is wanting, and whose understanding of issues is surface at best, claim absolute surety that so-and-so congressman has “betrayed” us. Sometimes for the most picayune of acts, or some minor procedural or tactical vote.

All of this is extremely counterproductive, especially at this critical time in our nation’s history. As I stated—at length, and I hope, convincingly—above, this problem WILL NOT BE FIXED AS LONG AS DEMOCRATS ARE IN POWER.

We have to win everything in 2012. We need to take back the Senate. If we really want to change things, we need to win 13 seats so we have a filibuster-proof majority. We need to hold the House. And for the love of everything good and decent in this world, we need to take the White House.

Keeping the pressure on, and keeping our people’s attention focused on what really needs to happen, is very important. But primary threats and angry attacks are not helpful. Right now, we should be trying to figure out how to win big in 2012. Nothing is really going to get fixed unless that happens.


We are at risk of losing the White House.

If you think Obama is a goner, think again. There’s a constituency in America that can easily get him reelected: us.

In 2008, we nominated a lousy candidate. John McCain was a terrible campaigner, an unexciting candidate, and—as we all know—ideologically unreliable. Hugh Hewitt used to call him “A great American, a lousy senator, and a terrible Republican.” His conservatism was shaky in many areas. His willingness to attack his own people, while simultaneously reaching out to the left, was legendary.

But for the love of crumbcake, he was a damn sight better than Barack Obama, now wasn’t he?

And yet, Barack Obama’s margin of victory was the gap between the number of Republicans who turned out for Bush in 2004 and those who turned out for McCain in 2008. Yes, Obama picked up a lot of indies and a few young people. But if just the same people who turned out for Bush had turned out for McCain, Obama would not be president today. The drop in GOP turnout in 2008 gave Obama the White House.

And why did conservative turnout drop?

Because a whole bunch of people on our side folded their arms and said, “John McCain is not conservative enough for me. I’m not voting.” All of you who did that—YOU gave us Barack Obama. Happy now?

That attitude is very much akin to what we see now with the fury some are directing at our own people over the debt deal. I am trying to be measured here, but there is little good that can be said about that attitude. It’s unsophisticated. It’s selfish and rather petulant. I am seeing it directed at our congressmen, and we are seeing it more and more directed at presidential candidates. I don’t like Romney’s position on this, or Perry’s position on that. But I’ll take any Republican over Obama.

Wouldn’t you?

“I find adherence to fantasy disturbing and unreasonable.”
—Mr. Tojamura, Twin Peaks

Winning in 2012 also requires that we follow William Buckley’s rule: Go for the most conservative candidate who can win. Whether it be the race for president or Congress, let’s remember that adage.

If we had adhered to that in a few races in the last election cycle, we’d almost surely have control of the Senate now. Here’s Taranto:

Those who believe more government is the solution to America’s problems are at best unthinking reactionaries. The Tea Partiers, having clearly identified this problem, are today’s true progressives (to employ the term in its literal rather than ideological sense). They are not, however, “good at government”–or, more precisely, at politics. Their purism cost the GOP as many as three Senate seats last year, and if a competent Democrat were in the White House, it probably would be helping him to re-election right now.

Let’s just take Christine O’Donnell. Was she better than Mike Castle?  Yes. Did she have a prayer of winning? No.

Please, before you start to object, just stop. I’ve heard it all before. I once had a correspondent hammering me, insisting that I devote resources to help Nancy Pelosi’s opponent win. I was treated to all these scenarios about how the Republican could pull it off. Pelosi’s district has a PVI of D+35, for goodness sake. I am not sure what she would have to do to lose there, but it would have to be pretty extreme. (Charles Rangel is fairly corrupt, and demonstrably so, and amidst active ethics charges, he won his D+43 district (NY 15) by 80.4%!) Some races are just unrealistic.

Ideological purity is great for the college dorms and theoretical discussions. But in politics, if you insist on purity at all costs, your going to lose a heck of a lot. A lot of people create fantasy scenarios in their heads. The ideologically perfect candidate rides in and, against all the odds, sweeps to power. It just doesn’t happen that often.

The same thing applies with our expectations of our elected officials. I’ve already written on this above, so I won’t belabor the point. Simply put, a sophisticated approach to politics includes recognition of an old adage: Wishing for a thing does not make it so.


Do you want to win this thing? Do you want to save America, and restore the Founders vision? Of course you do.

If that’s what we want, then the first thing we have to realize is that government doesn’t operate by magic pixie dust. It’s a complex interplay of competing interests, diverse constituencies, coequal branches, and checks and balances. No one gets to ride in and start issuing commands and zapping unbelievers with their magic wands of ideological purity.

It’s easy to stand on principle. Win or lose, it doesn’t require much thought or even much effort. What’s hard is figuring out the much more complex dance steps required to actually get something done. Finding a way to take our principles, convince others of them, and translate them into political results and societal change isn’t easy, but that’s where the real action is. Whether you’re a politician or a grassroots activist, the requirement are the same: discipline, sophistication, and a lot of hard work.

So what will it be, activists? Do we make a real difference, or do we simply make ourselves feel good by shouting from the sidelines?



Some commenters (below) appear to lack a basic understanding of what I was trying to get across here. Tea partiers are not the only people in the country. They cannot impose their will on Congress. The people in Congress who agree with them cannot simply impose their will on the rest on Congress or the whole of government. And out there in the country, there are a lot of people who aren’t tea partiers. Many of them don’t agree at all. How do we convince them? Yes, the media is a problem, but we cannot just whine about that. We have to do better. Look at these numbers:

The Republicans compromised too little, a majority of those polled said. All told, 72 percent disapproved of the way Republicans in Congress handled the negotiations, while 66 percent disapproved of the way Democrats in Congress handled negotiations.

You think the GOP compromised too much, but whoops—3/4 of the rest of folks think they compromised too little. And they get more of the blame then the Democrats do, even though the Obama and the Democrats utterly failed to offer ANYTHING of substance and then simply agreed to a compromise at the 11th hour. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.

Some commenters continue to talk about dastardly “RINOs” and dirty compromises as if none of these other facts exist. As if we are they only people in the country. As if the media weren’t constituted the way it is. As if principle and righteous indignation alone will somehow sweep away all who oppose us.

It won’t work. It may make you feel good to imagine it will work, and to call me a RINO, but it won’t work.

Don’t just make yourself feel good by imagining that you could have fixed everything in one fell swoop. Play the long game.

Update 2:

Commenters and respondents continue to be upset by the piece. One thing I would ask is this:

You feel that this deal is inadequate to solve our problems. Great, so do I. Indeed, the numbers bear that out for certain: This deal will not come close to solving our debt problem. That being said, it does not appear that much else was possible at that juncture. If you feel that some other choice could have been achieved then please

A) describe what that choice would have been, and

B) Describe the PRECISE pathway the GOP would have followed to achieve it.


Update 3:

I like David Leeper’s take on all this:

Valley Forge became a big win because Washington and his followers treated it that way.   Call it ‘marketing’ if you must, but it worked.  It became a rallying point and a recruitment tool, and with renewed effort and sacrifice, it led to the ultimate victory.

Likewise if we treat the Debt Deal as a win, encourage those who fought for it, cheer for what they did right, call for more,and call for better, we all stand to take the greatest benefit from it.  If the Debt Deal comes to mark in time a Congressional sea change, one that over the next 10-20 years takes the Federal Government back to its Constitutionally enumerated powers, then it too may one day be historic.

On the other hand, if we carp from the sidelines, screaming for resignations and primary challenges, it is much more likely that the Debt Deal will just become a passing footnote on America’s slide toward EU-style socialist democracy, statism, and despair.  Who wants that?

So what do we want the Debt Deal to be?  What should we try to make of it?  An historic turning point or a feeble footnote?

Update 4:

A lot of people are coming back with some plausible-sounding alternatives. I appreciate that. It beats just calling me a RINO or neocon (both rather laughable epithets, for those who know me). This morning, I wrote a response to one such set of plausible alternatives sent via email.

We got downgraded a few days after the vote. The media is trying to pin this on the Tea Party. Why? Because they cannot pin it on all Republicans. And they won’t even be able to make it stick on the Tea Party. It’ll work on a few people, but it’s too weak to hold.

But now imagine if we had allowed the debt ceiling to be breached and then got downgraded. They would make us own that, and with their control of the narrative, they would succeed. It would have huge implications for 2012.

And even if we decided that we must hold firm and allow the debt ceiling to be breached, STILL no legislation would have been passed by the Democrats or signed by Obama that would have fixed the actual problem.

So . . .

Scenario 1: Nothing gets done to fix the problem, but we survive politically and live to fight for 2012, when we can win, get rid of Dems, and THEN fix the problem.

Scenario 2: Nothing gets done to fix the problem, and we do serious damage to ourselves politically, and maybe we don’t get the White House back in 2012, and then the problem never gets fixed and maybe it’s too late for the country.

Either way, the problem was NOT going to get fixed this time around.

I am just trying to use basic logic. It’s easy enough to come up with hypotheticals, but I think the above fact is inescapable: No matter what, the problem was NOT going to get fixed this time around.

Christopher Cook

Christopher Cook

Managing Editor at Western Free Press
Christopher Cook is a writer, editor, and political commentator. He is the president of Castleraine, Inc., a consulting firm providing a diverse array of services to corporate, public policy, and not-for-profit clients.

Ardently devoted to the cause of human freedom, he has worked at the confluence of politics, activism, and public policy for more than a decade. He co-wrote a ten-part series of video shorts on economics, and has film credits as a researcher on 11 political documentaries, including Citizens United's notorious film on Hillary Clinton that became the subject of a landmark Supreme Court decision. He is the founder of several activist endeavors, including (now a part of Western Free Press) and He is currently the managing editor of and principal contributor to
Christopher Cook

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The Tea Party's goal-line stand . . . and how they can screw it up. (bumped)