In 1907, Mark Twain attended the opening of the Jamestown Exposition in Norfolk Virginia aboard the yacht of his friend Henry H. Rogers. When poor weather forced most of the party to return to New York by rail, Twain declined and decided to wait and return by ship in spite of the delay. But because of this, the media lost track of his location and when he failed to return to New York on schedule, they jumped the gun for a second time, and reported him “lost at sea”. Like the time in 1897 when he was reported dead during his trip abroad, he made a joke of it. He wrote an article on the subject, which among other things stated: "I will make an exhaustive investigation of this report that I have been lost at sea. If there is any foundation for the report, I will at once apprise the anxious public."
The press loved Twain, but for reasons which passeth understanding, I guess there are just some deaths that the media can’t wait to report. Eventually of course, he died, proving them right after all. But it took them three tries to get his death correctly reported, and I think the same sort of thing is occurring with the announcement of the death of America’s “political right”. Every few years or so, another weekly magazine publishes a major work entitled roughly “Why the political right no longer matters”. This time, it’s the Economist, which has published a Cover Story titled, “Is America turning Left?”
The Economist is a well-respected magazine that isn’t often accused of a political bias, but it still has British sensibilities that don’t precisely fit the American experience. For instance, they claim to be advocates of freedom, but they’ve also enshrined the antipathy to private firearms ownership that our friends across the pond have so totally embraced. To Americans, this seems counter-intuitive to say the least. Deeply ingrained in the character of Americans is the belief that if all things are left to themselves, someone somewhere will be along to slap chains on us, so we had better be able to do something about it when they show up. So to our eyes it looks like the Economist simultaneously argues in favor of political freedom, and against the means of ensuring it.
Anyway, the point is, that while the Economist is a serious publication, which has a great deal more to it than some other weekly tabloid, there are still many places where it’s simply flat out wrong about America, and I think this latest piece is an excellent example. In it, they take the most detached “inside the beltway” perspective typical of the American media, and couple it to a secular British sense of right and wrong, then drive the whole mess right off the end of the earth. And it leaves me feeling like Mark Twain, wondering why everyone in the media is so anxious to nail my coffin shut.
That isn’t to say it isn’t reporting facts or making things up like The New Republic would. Much of what they talk about in the article is obviously occurring. They detail the typical casting about for a scapegoat for the 2006 election, and the finger pointing between the Whitehouse and the congressional GOP. And they also take the standard media view of blaming everything on the war in Iraq. But in trying to explain what’s gone on with America’s political right, they look to me like yet another liberal media scientist peering into the petri dish, trying to decipher the motives of a people they simply have no frame of reference for.
So although I’m sure that the Economist’s staff would think very little of me and my efforts, I none the less thought I would try to help them clear it all up. And in the process maybe help the folks in the national GOP understand how this happened to them, and what the odds are of it happening again.
The Economist piece identifies a few basic issues it claims are the causes of the fall down on the right. They are in no particular order, Incompetence and cronyism, The War in Iraq, and Conservative over-reach. As to Incompetence and cronyism, it’s not really an issue for the right as much as it is a partisan tool for the leftist media. If the people in government were honest and hard working, then they would have jobs in the private sector like the rest of us. We don’t blame a scorpion for being a scorpion, and we don’t blame a government employee for being incompetent. Of course the secret that the public "gets" but the media doesn't, is that we know it applies to both sides of the aisle, but it’s reported a lot more with Republicans in charge. So in a case of believing their own press, the media think we care about it, but we truly don’t.
As to the war in Iraq, Patton was right about how Americans feel about war, and every reporter to graduate journalism school since 1958 was wrong. Americans don’t mind a war, and we don’t even mind deaths and casualties, but we do mind if the lives are being lost for nothing. We can live with war, so long as the war is fought to win. Some reporters could never be convinced of this, but there are some families who are very proud of the sacrifice in blood that they've made for this country. And if the war were being fought with more brutality on the part of Americans, the New York Times editorial board might be having a case of the vapors, but I’m convinced the American people would support it more aggressively. Avoid the fight if you can, but if you can’t, don’t leave any doubt about who will win. Americans can take war just fine, what we can’t take, is losing.
As to conservative overreach, the Economist is talking up the conventional “inside the beltway” wisdom, but I think it’s dead wrong. They make the claim that the Republicans have lost the center, but given the position of the mainstream American media, I don’t think they ever had it. The people in the center don’t care what happens so they do whatever the New York Times and CBS news tells them to. I think the thing that gave the Republicans the majority was the way they motivated their base, not pulled voters from the other side. While they were paying believable lip service to the idea of small government they maintained control of the Whitehouse and Congress, but eventually they ran out of excuses on why they couldn’t deliver. It’s since become clear that it really was no more than lip service and that they are politicians first, and “on the political right” second.
In the article, Michael Gerson is quoted as saying, “anti-government conservatism has turned out to be a strange kind of idealism”. If Republicans really believe that, then I’m sure there are many of us who are willing to put our money where our mouth is. If they give us federal legislation allowing us to “opt out” of the federal entitlements in exchange for a return of the 58% of our taxes used to fund them, I’m betting it will get OVERWHELMING support of the American people. Members of Congress already opt out of social security, Medicaid-Medicare, and the DC public school system, so I see no reason why they can’t give the option to the rest of us.
With all that said though, there are still some Republicans who obviously get it. When asked what he thought the cause was, Karl Rove said “their was a sense of entitlement and the voters smelled it”. Personally I think he nailed it on the head. The Republican politicians decided that they were more like Democratic politicians than Republican “civilians” and since we couldn’t tell the difference between them anymore, we gave up on them. It wasn't Bush, or the war, or the New York Times editors they struggle so hard to impress. It was that they forgot that we of the “political right” aren’t engaged in politics because we love it, or because it’s our jobs. We’re engaged in politics because they leave us no choice. We’re only doing this out of a sense of frustration and contempt for them and the way they treat us. And if they would just “quit it” and leave us alone, we would all go back to our families and jobs and lead happy normal lives.
Americans on the right don’t really want anything to do with them, and their kind. We only put up with them because they don’t do too much to annoy us. But it’s gotten out of hand. What really motivates the political right is the sense that the people in Washington, or Trenton or wherever, can’t just mind their own business. We want someone in office who will actually allow us to get back to running our own lives, and we’ll support aggressively the people that promise it to us. And we stopped supporting the GOP when it became clear that they weren’t even trying to give it to us anymore.
I’ve said many times that I don’t know how to roll back socialism through the political process, but if I were a person in government I’d be doing everything I could to figure one out. Because I truly believe that the American people will not endure the tyranny of the majority any more from Washington or Trenton, than they would from Moscow or Riyadh. I believe that in the end, the American people will do whatever they must to ensure their freedom and you don’t need to be able to predict the future to see where that idea leads. Some Americans would rather be dead than slaves, and so far, the reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated.