Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, February 29, 2016

What Good Has Electing "Conservative" Politicians Done Us?

For whatever reason, things seemed to have reached a boiling point among the Republican electorate during this primary contest. For the last twenty yeas, we've had a fairly consistent script for the GOP primary. A range of candidates between the moderate "country club Republicans" and solid conservatives step into the ring. Over the first couple primary votes the field narrows to one candidate who is conservative enough to sort of satisfy the movement, and moderate enough to seem electable to the party elites. Then the conservatives threaten to stay home, while others argue that even if this year's candidate isn't ideal we're better off having a conservative of some sort in the White House and insisting on ideological purity.

Once the election is over, conservatives spend the next two years denouncing the Republicans who are elected for being "too nice" to really win through on conservative ideals.

This year, however, we have an odd situation. Everyone basically seems to admit that Trump is at least partially unreliable on actual conservative issues. He's going through the motions at the moment, at least on some issues, but even where he's now endorsing conservative positions he was often on the other side of the same issue just a few years ago. However, one of the big selling points with Trump supporters is that one can claim he's "too nice". He's totally unafraid of offending people (even when maybe he should be: such as when he started quoting Mussolini on Twitter this week) and a major part of his personal myth is that he's a great negotiator and business man who "wins" all the time and will be able to make people do things whether they like it or not. (His claim that he will make Mexico spend tens of billions of dollars on building a wall along the US/Mexico border at their own expense certainly falls in that category.)

To Republicans who think that they would long ago have got lower taxes, immigration restrictions, entitlement reform, and a smaller government if only their politicians wouldn't cave all the time in order to be thought of well in elite Washington circles, Trump's very willingness to offend seems to be a selling point.

The argument goes something like this: We've been voting for the most "electable" conservative for the last twenty years, and what has it got us? Gay marriage. A bloated government and a national debt spiraling out of control. Foreign wars that make us unpopular and never seem to get won. A supreme court which is still poised between those who think the constitution says what it says, and those who think it says what it ought to say. We need to elect someone with the backbone to stand up to the other side and get what we want. Trump may not be a conservative, but he's not a pushover.

I think the problem here is that it fundamentally misunderstands the dynamics of our country. If the last eight years (particularly 2008 to 2010 when the Democrats controlled congress as well as the White House) have shown us anything, surely it's that when the progressives control the government, much more that we don't like happens.

But at root, the reason why neither party gets everything on their wishlist is because we have a deeply divided nation. On issues like abortion and gay marriage, there are deeply entrenched groups who care passionately about each side. On issues like taxes, welfare, immigration and the size of government, there are again very strong feelings on both sides. While much of the country may be in agreement that they would like things to be better, there's little agreement on what it would take to accomplish that change.

Progressives too have frustrations like this. Many honestly believed that electing Obama would fundamentally transform the country, and they're disappointed with what they've achieved. This is why so many progressives, particularly young progressives, are lining up behind Bernie Sanders, who isn't afraid to label himself a "socialist" and who claims that he can give everyone free college and free medical care by taxing Wall Street profits that he also insists he wants to abolish.

Electing Trump will not break this deadlock, because it won't change the fact that half the country elects people who don't want the country to move in a conservative direction. The reason we don't get everything we want in politics is not that our politicians are too nice or lack the courage to fight for us or aren't good negotiators. The reason is the same reason that progressives don't get to double the minimum wage, put everyone in a union, and socialize health care: because too many people don't want it.

That doesn't mean that it doesn't make any difference who is elected. I think it's pretty clear after eight years of Obama that it makes a difference who is elected. But getting our politicians elected doesn't mean that we get everything we want. The consolation for that is that losing an election doesn't mean that the other side gets everything they want.

Electing someone willing to be loud and abrasive on our behalf will not get more of our agenda accomplished (even if he shared our agenda, which in the case of Trump I think there's good evidence that he does not) it will just get us a loud and abrasive president. Indeed, since out biggest obstacle is that much of the country disagrees with us, such an offensive leader will probably put us much further from getting a conservative agenda accomplished.

1 comment:

Nate Winchester said...

Thank you. I've been wondering how to put it because I've noticed both from conservatives a "we do nothing but lose!" and then several liberals... saying the exact same thing. And obviously if everybody on the field believes they're losing, that raises questions as to the exact state of the war. You've finally helped to crystallize my thoughts.

Of course a lot of this would be solved if we could go back to federalism (then liberals can have a state as liberal as they want while conservatives can have a state as conservative as they want) but you bring that up and you get - as I had one person actually say to me - "you have a confederate flag hanging somewhere?" When the obvious solution is seen as racist, is it any wonder nothing can be fixed?

There probably is also something of this from internet culture (which, ironically, ends up being pretty federalist). That is everybody congregates among like-minded fellows, and then we all end up convinced there's a far bigger majority of us in the nation than there really is (think the infamous quote about "voting for Nixon"). Then when our side fails to win, we have to invent for ourselves some villain who is thwarting us because just look at this large crowd around us! There's no way we could lose! And on it goes...