Peter Wehner, in discussing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, writes:
My own view is that one should take public officials in the totality of their acts and that reneging on an unwise commitment isn’t by itself disqualifying. For example, if Ronald Reagan had signed the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” (he didn’t) and raised taxes during his presidency (he did), I don’t believe it would have warranted a primary challenge. And whatever one thinks of Reagan’s decisions to raise taxes—and he regretted some more than others—he remains a monumental conservative figure.
This is a critically important point, especially in a time when it seems like every blogger or right-wing group with an e-mail list threatens elected officials if they do or don’t do what they want (which usually requires them to vote against any deal that involves compromise — in other words, any deal on any important matter). Governor, if you set up a health-care exchange you’re out! Congressman, vote for closing loopholes even if you get entitlement reform, lower rates and stave off another recession and we’ll primary you!
As Wehner notes, these folks would have insisted on primarying Reagan — or worse, never voted for him given his record as California governor. The itchy trigger finger bespeaks of a decidedly unconservative tendency to make snap judgments, ignore context and refuse to take 1/2 — or even 9/10ths — of a loaf. (Historically, it has been the utopian leftists who have demanded extreme solutions and looked upon compromise as a bourgeoisie sell-out.)
Now, some of the perfectionism crowd’s mantra, we know, is a marketing gimmick to draw clicks and listeners for right-leaning media and for grass-roots groups to gin up donations. (S end money to teach Senator X that compromise is a four letter word!)
The throw-every-insider-out is borne of a certain brand of paranoia that the “leaders” are forever trying to sell out “real” conservatives (like the right-wing blogger spinning the betrayal scenario!). And it, of course, lends it itself to embarrassingly loutish behavior and overwrought rhetoric.
Fortunately, there are signs the all-or-nothing phenomenon on the right is in decline or at least remission, a result perhaps of electoral defeat and actual concern for the national good. The problem with the constant drumbeat of anger and revenge against elected officials is not only that it hands victories to the other party (which nominates reasonable-sounding candidates), worsens our fiscal predicament and turns off all but the hardcore base ( well, that’s a lot right there, I grant you); rather, the problem for purveyors of this sort of politics is that it doesn’t wear well over time.
You can’t threaten every week to throw out every pol who is less than pristine without sounding like an LP with a skip ( young folks, this is how music once was played). Eventually donors, voters, listeners and candidates get fed up or bored with the rant-a-thon. Hysteria is tiring. (And once the subjects of your ire get reelected they learn to ignore you.)
None of this is an argument for mushy moderation or split-the-baby politics. (You can legislate in bold color while still giving the other side what is essential to make a deal.) It is, however, a reminder that conservatives who want to govern cannot simply stamp their feet, yell at the other side and blame the media. To obtain conservative ends you first have to attract majorities (hard when you sound like you’re on your fifth espresso) and then be willing to accept imperfect legislation that advances the essential conservative value — freedom.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (who recently lost his head thinking his first obligation was to save his state) has an apt phrase for this: “There is a boulevard between compromising your principles and getting everything you want.” To paraphrase Christie, it’s time for Republicans to get on the boulevard, steer in the right direction and ignore the loudmouths on the sidewalk telling them to drive the car into the lamp post.