Recently by David Franke: Ron Paul Won in Iowa
David Franke was a founder of the conservative movement in the late 1950s. This is a sequel to his previous article, "The Conservative Horse Race at Mid-Point.")
"This is the most serious financial crisis we've seen, at least since the 1930s, IF NOT EVER."
There goes that perennial doom-and-gloomer, Gary North, again.
Oops, no, it isn't him.
Well then it must be that grumpy old man, Ron Paul.
Oops, no, it isn't him either.
Who is it, then?
None other than Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England. He said this last week, and he wasn't talking about just England, he was talking about our global economy. He's not some sort of insider oddity, either. The Bank of International Settlements — the central bankers' central bank — sounds like Sir Mervyn. An advisor to the International Monetary Fund warns that the global economy could collapse "in two to three weeks." I could go on.
But here in the United States, it's politics as usual. Which means that the president is blaming Republicans for everything, the Republicans are blaming the Democrats for everything, Ben Bernanke is digitizing money 24/7, a bunch of protestors on Wall Street are making the New Left of the 1960s look like Nobel laureates by comparison, and conservatives are concerned about their neighbors' sex lives or views on evolution.
Today the Republican Party has three options, and conservatives have two options, as they try to make Barack Obama a one-term president.
The conservatives have a choice between Ron Paul and any of the others. (They are essentially the same — what I call conventional conservatives.) The third choice for the Republican Party is the GOP establishment's candidate, now Mitt Romney after a process of elimination. Since this is not an establishment-friendly site, I will concern myself with just the first two categories for the rest of this article.
As I explained in my previous article, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul are the only Republican candidates with the money and troops necessary to prevail through the primary season until a decision is made. At this point in time, that makes a lot of you — perhaps a majority of you — unhappy. You are just going to have to learn how to deal with the hand you're dealt. And you can take this article as one Ron Paul conservative's Epistle to the (conventional) Conservatives.
Why do I say you conventional conservatives deserve to lose? Because you have come up with a pathetic list of candidates, and you tear down the ones you do have over nonessential matters. Most important, at a time of real emergency, you are playing politics as usual.
The Rick Perry Conundrum
On the one hand, Rick Perry is too clumsy to know how to explain himself. On the other hand, today's conventional conservatives seem to want to tear away at their only hope for winning the nomination and perhaps the presidency. To illustrate my point, I will limit my observations to the immigration issue. This is the chief issue that is losing Perry the support of conservative and Tea Party activists.
On the matter of the Texas "dream act" (whatever), Perry defended it and accused his detractors of being heartless. Big-time wrong move, and he had to apologize for that. What he should have said, and has yet to say properly, is: "Look, Texas is a border state and we decided we didn't want the young undocumented Mexican kids to become an uneducated welfare class. You may disagree with our methods, but I had the support of all but four of the 100-plus conservative politicians in the great state of Texas. If you don't like it, don't enact it in your state. But don't you clowns believe in state's rights?" If he had said this in his first debate, it would (hopefully) no longer be an issue.
Then there is the issue of the "fence" on the U.S.-Mexican border. It's a ludicrous idea and a boondoggle, and Perry is on the right side, but again he doesn't know how to explain himself.
He should elaborate on his half-explanation: "Look, Texas makes up 800 of the 1,200 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border. And all of those miles are the Rio Grande River. Where, exactly, are you going to put your darned fence? On the Mexican side of the river? Get ready for another war, one as difficult to pursue as the one in Afghanistan. In the middle of the river? That's ridiculous on the face of it, and I suggest you talk to any engineer to find out why. On the Texas side of the river? So you want to deny access to the river for all Texans? I thought you so-called conservatives believed in property rights!"
Of course we didn't get answers like that from Rick Perry. No wonder Mitt Romney doesn't want to say anything. He would rather just look "presidential" and let his opposition self-destruct.
The Rise and Fall of the Tea Party
The rise of the Tea Party was an example of true grassroots spontaneity and as such it was truly inspiring. It gave me hope of a renewed conservative movement. But that was then, and today the situation is quite different. The movement still consists of millions of ordinary Americans with the right instincts, but as a political force much has been lost. The main cause of that decline is the loss of focus.
The Tea Party rose as a response to the suicidal fiscal policies of the Bush and Obama administrations. It had a laser-like narrow-gauge focus on two related things: fiscal responsibility and reducing the size of our out-of-control government. The Washington Post interviewed some 850 local Tea Party groups across the nation, and it found that those two related issues totally dominated the Tea Party agenda. That sort of narrow-gauge and dedicated focus radically increases the impact of any political or social movement. The rest of the world wanders about in a morass of many issues and concerns, while millions of citizens focus on one issue. That dramatically increases the impact of that one-issue group — and so it was with the Tea Party.
With the move to the presidential debates, that focus has been lost. Instead of a concentrated focus on fiscal reform, we have all sorts of "social" issues claiming veto power over conservative politicians, all sorts of pledges to be obeyed at risk of expulsion from acceptability. We are once again mired in the politics of special interest constituencies. Instead of focusing on the fiscal crisis, conservatives are once again distracted by their neighbors' sexual practices and beliefs on evolution and politically correct attitudes on immigration.
When the Tea Party had one issue — fiscal accountability — as its banner, it had 70% to 80% of the American people nodding in agreement, and that explained its overnight rise to political power.
Now that the Tea Party is associated with a litany of conservative issues, it has to struggle — along with the conservative movement — merely to get a candidate on the ballot who represents its views, meaning a candidate who is not Mitt Romney, against an unpopular and weak president at a time of unsustainable spending, bottomless deficits and debt obligations, and 16% unemployment. That's pretty pathetic. It should be a slam dunk for a "movement" that's been in existence for more than a half century.
I understand that people have many interests and concerns, and that's good and proper. Take them up with your neighbors, your dogcatcher, your city officials, your state and national Senators and Representatives. But don't demand that your presidential candidate be 100% pure (unless you want to join the Ron Paul Revolution — and welcome!). For one thing, you're not going to get that purity in any event. Any number of the candidates, Herman Cain among them, supported TARP, for example.
It's fine to want to know a candidate's position on leading issues of the day, but don't demand that he or she take a litmus test pledge on them. Look at how they arrived at their positions, for evidence of an underlying conservative philosophy. And look for a willingness to fight for their conservative principles.
Why Governors Have Priority
Conservatives repeatedly make the mistake of looking to Representatives or Senators when picking a presidential candidate to back. Then they look for the purest of all. That's fine when electing someone to the Congress, but not so good when selecting a president. A successful president has to have managerial and leadership skills not necessarily found in the Congress. For the best proof of that, look at the present occupant of the White House. What little experience he had consisted of making speeches that inspired his followers. Ask one of those followers today what they think of his leadership skills in the White House, and you'd better have a hanky handy.
In a policy-neutral sense, the kinds of skills that make for an effective governor are pretty much the same as the ones required for an effective presidency. But of course conservatives want more than executive ability. The right political principles, and the willingness to fight for them, are also essential. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both had prior gubernatorial experience, but their lack of conservative principles made their presidencies a disaster from a conservative viewpoint.
So, the right governor as presidential candidate is going to have executive and leadership skills, the right philosophy, and the resolve to fight for his conservative program. But be aware that no governor is going to be 100% pure ideologically. Have you ever seen a state legislature in action? It doesn't matter whether they are of the governor's same party or opposite party, there will be compromises to get anything done. You look for the best, but don't expect the perfect.
Looking at the pickings in 2011, two governors stood out in my mind — Rick Perry of Texas and Chris Christie of New Jersey. Rick Perry is definitely more consistently conservative, but I think Chris Christie has the better fighting skills needed in Washington. But that's now beside the point since he has definitely ruled out a candidacy.
My advice to you conventional conservatives, therefore, is to unite behind Perry as your best bet to beat Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, then Barack Obama. Once you get past the primaries, it might be a good idea to surgically implant some tape over his mouth, and then feed him food and liquids intravenously. He can just appear mute on stages as the not-Obama — a winning platform.
But Ron Paul doesn't meet your own criteria!
But Ron Paul doesn't meet your own criteria, you complain to me. He's a congressman, with no experience as a governor. And he's not the best speaker around.
True, but Ron Paul is not competing as a conventional conservative. You might say he has a different "business model."
The goal of the conventional conservatives is to win the current election. That would be nice, but the primary goal of the Ron Paul Revolution is to open people's eyes to what is going on in the nation and give political voice to this audience. It is a continuing revolution that does not disperse after the election.
Conventional conservatives are poll watchers, so their issues fluctuate with the polls and the political charges of the opposition, which is just as poll-obsessed. The Ron Paul Revolution concentrates instead of the most critical issues facing the nation. This is why, for example, the Federal Reserve was not on the political radar before 2008, but has become a game-changing issue today thanks to one man, Ron Paul, as more and more people have been educated to understand what he's been talking about. Ron Paul creates polls rather than responds to them.
Conventional conservatives are flip-floppers, and are constantly trimming their principles in order to be "electable." Ron Paul is ridiculed for being too rigid and "ideological," but his consistency has created a growing audience who appreciate his unyielding adherence to principle. "He's not like all the other politicians" is a decided plus when politicians are one of the most hated professions in America.
Most important of all, conventional conservatives and their candidates do not have a clue about what needs to be done in this time of worldwide financial crisis — or if they do, they don't have the courage to level with the American people. We know who does.
For all these reasons, conventional conservatives do not deserve to win — but may win anyway, given an opposition that is even less palatable to the American public. Ron Paul deserves to win, but won't. But the movement he has created will continue to grow, in numbers and in impact, until the American people are ready to listen to the truth-teller. The irony is that, in the end, the extremist, ideological, rigid Ron Paul Revolution will have more impact that the conventional conservatives. The conventional conservatives, after all, are merely interested in changing the deck chairs on the Titanic.
David Franke [send him mail] was one of the founders of the conservative movement in the 1950s and 1960s. He is the author of a dozen books, including Safe Places, The Torture Doctor, and America’s Right Turn.