John Stuart Mill famously called the English conservatives of his day “necessarily the stupidest party.”
Now, I know that a lot of people would take exception, and some would take umbrage, at the notion that John McCain (current “standard bearer”) and the current Republican administration (and/or party leadership) represent anything like conservatism, regardless of how stupid they have been. But relatively speaking, in comparison with the other national party, and according to their own claims, they are the conservative party and true to form, they seem hell-bent on making sure they don’t challenge the “stupid” appellation.
I don’t really understand this, because I know a lot of conservatives and almost all the conservatives I know are smart. In fact I know a number of conservatives who, were you to engage them for a while in conversation or read their writings, would bring readily to mind such adjectives as “brilliant,” “inspiring,” and “witty.” Since I am about to run into trouble here, let me just get it right out of the way: I know that sheer intellectual prowess does not make a person “good.” I also know that there are a lot of very intelligent people on the other side: “progressives,” they like to call themselves. Simply witness to whom on the national scene the aforementioned adjectives have been so freely applied of late.
So let’s assume for a minute that progressives are just as well-distributed at the right side of the intelligence bell curve as conservatives and vice-versa. With that in mind, I ask you: Why did they get Bill and Hilary Clinton and Barak Obama, while conservatives ended up with George Bush, John McCain and Sarah Palin? Why is it that with all the terrific conservative writers and speakers in this county, conservatives cannot seem to field a single national figure since Reagan who could string together a coherent, sustained argument for conservative principles? Or forget a coherent, sustained argument. I’d settle for single coherent sentence.
During the Republican convention it seemed like Sarah Palin might be able to do so. She seemed to have some wittiness about her. Take for example: “You know what a small town mayor is? That’s a community organizer with real responsibilities.” That was a great line. It was memorable and it skewered Obama. It was also 7 weeks ago. During the Civil Forum with Rick Warren at Saddleback Church, John McCain seemed able. Remember how he spit out, “At conception” before Warren had even finished asking “When does human life begin?” That was 9 weeks ago.
Since then we have been treated to an embarrassing parade of missed opportunities to articulate clearly the actual resonance that exists between the majority view of the American people and the Republican platform. And while on economic issues this is a travesty, on “social” issues it is a calamity.
On economic issues, most Americans are not socialists. When Bill Clinton was running for president, he asked one fellow what he could do for him, and the man answered, “Leave me alone.” He didn’t say, “Pick some money out of my neighbor’s pocket for me and put it in mine.” Most Americans wouldn’t say that — if for no other reason than the knowledge that between the neighbor’s pocket and their own, half-a-dozen Washington suit pockets would be lined.
So how do you get Americans to agree that government larceny is really to their benefit? That a confiscatory tax rate is desirable? Because these are the things Obama is proposing. You tell folks that only people making over a quarter million a year get higher taxes and that you are going to raise taxes on corporations. You promise to sock it to big businesses and “the rich.”
How did McCain respond? By getting into a tit for tat over and over again about how many small business owners would or would not be making over $250,000 dollars a year until our eyes were glazing over hearing Obama yet again swearing that “95% of Americans would get a tax break” under his plan. Obama must have mesmerized McCain with his drumbeat repetition to the point where McCain could not remember that over 30% of Americans do not pay any income tax at all. Changes in the tax code during the Bush administration significantly increased the fraction of Americans with zero or negative tax liability from the approximately 1/4 it was under Clinton to over 1/3. CNN yesterday put it at 40%. (Negative tax liability means that when you file your taxes the government ends up owing you more than what you paid.)
Imagine how the debates would have gone if, when Obama started his 95% mantra, McCain had answered, “Senator Obama is having a bad math day. You can’t give 95% of Americans a tax break when 30% of them don’t pay any income taxes.” Or imagine if McCain had said, “Corporations don’t pay taxes, Senator Obama. A corporation only has three basic accounting categories. It has costs, income, and either profit or loss. If its income exceeds its costs, it makes a profit. If its costs exceed its income, it has a loss. And guess what category taxes go under? They go under costs. And you know what happens to corporate costs? They get passed on to consumers. So-called “corporate taxes” are paid by consumers. So what you are proposing is not really a tax break, Senator Obama; what you are proposing is to raise the costs of everything that people buy from American companies both here and abroad. Not only will you make American companies less competitive globally, you plan to hide your real tax increase on all Americans under the increased cost of all their goods and services while pretending to decrease their taxes. We already went through this experience of spiraling inflation under Democrat Jimmy Carter and we have no desire to repeat it. Thank you very much, anyway.”
In a game of “here, put on this blindfold while I punch you,” Obama kept repeating the accusation that the financial meltdown was due to “failed Bush economic policies.” Every time McCain would start to look like he might answer to defend the record, Obama would parry with, “Americans don’t want politicians assigning blame. After all, there’s enough to go around for everyone. What Americans want are solutions.” McCain might as well have walked on stage in the debates with a roll of duct tape and told Obama to please gag him whenever he wanted to. The Republicans should have put up a single website with an impossible-to-forget name that McCain should have repeated every chance he got. And they should have put up the abundant video evidence — it is all over YouTube — that lays the housing bubble problem right at the feet of failed Democrat social policies.
Not only are Americans in general in favor of less government and less taxes, Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of traditional marriage and against unlimited abortion license. Now the Democrats got the message so strongly on marriage, that they have rejected “gay marriage” as a plank in their platform. Please note that it doesn’t mean there is any real philosophical problem at all among party leaders with “gay marriage,” just that it is not considered politically prudent to own up to it in this campaign. The radical homosexual agenda would advance full-steam ahead under an Obama presidency; make no mistake about that.
As with economic issues, the Republican nominees have completely failed clearly to connect their platform with the real feelings of Americans about abortion and they fail to answer the repeated lies that come from the other side. Take the final debate. It was already unconscionable that McCain had let two debates go by without speaking to this issue, regardless of the format. You either find the slaughter of 4000 American babies a day worthy of the riveted attention of the country or you don’t. But if you were going to wait until the last debate to finally open your mouth in defense of the unborn, certainly the weeks that had gone by were enough time to prepare something striking to say. Certainly we have heard ad nauseam the rhetoric of the pro-aborts and there weren’t going to be any big surprises. Certainly by now McCain and his team of advisors and writers have had time to come up with some memorable rejoinders.
Imagine if, when Barack Obama said that he would support laws restricting abortion as long they had an exception for the health of the mother, John McCain had said: “Get your facts straight, Senator. No operation to save a mother’s life was ever illegal. Doctors were always free to do anything necessary to protect the health of the mother, even if their actions indirectly took the life of the unborn infant. That was true before Roe v. Wade and it is true now and it would be true after Roe v. Wade is rightly overturned. Abortion is about the direct and intentional killing of babies. It is not health care.”
Imagine if, when Obama said that “no one is really pro-abortion,” McCain had said, “The American people are certainly not for unlimited abortion – abortion at any time, for any reason – that is the so called “right” that you and your party defend. Americans have repeatedly voted to restrict abortion and you and your party have used judicial tyranny to overturn the will of the people in this matter time and again. And you have promised Planned Parenthood that you and your Democrat cohorts in congress will make it the first priority of your administration to undo every single restriction on abortion that has been voted into law across this county, whether it be parental notification, not allowing tax dollars to be used for abortion, waiting periods, informed consent laws, conscience clauses allowing doctors the right not to participate in abortions, and restrictions on using foreign aid to promote forced abortions in other countries. That’s the promise you made but that you are trying to keep secret from the American people, Senator.” McCain called Obama a “pro-abortion politician,” but he did not explain why that was true.
Imagine if, when Barack Obama had said that he believed in “privacy” and that a woman and her doctor and her family should make the abortion decision, McCain had said: “Privacy is fine when you are making a decision that does not involve another human being. Why don’t we let families get with their accountant and privately decide if owning a slave would be in their financial best interests? It is because the person they are thinking of owning as a slave has a right to his own life and freedom. The privacy argument does not hold water, Senator, because the baby that they are ‘privately’ deciding to kill is a human person with his own right to life. And it was as unjust for the Supreme Court of this country ever to deny the protection of the law to the lives of slaves, as it is unjust of the Supreme Court to deny the protection of law to lives of the unborn. Every innocent person, born or unborn, deserves the protection of the law.”
What McCain did instead was hold up his own pro-life voting record and personal experience with adoption, already well-known to the pro-lifers supporting him. So that was his “choice,” but what he did not do is argue from the first principles of justice and fundamentally that is what the abortion issue is about. By the end of the third debate he was joking mockingly about how “eloquent” Obama was and warning voters that his substance didn’t match his rhetoric. Whether true or not, McCain would have better served the cause of life, not to mention his own campaign, by displaying some eloquence from the pro-life side. There was no excuse for it to be missing at this late date. The unborn and the country deserved better.