At various points in my life, I have been called so conservative that I was a fascist, and I’ve been called a moderate establishment Republican in Name Only (RINO). I have been a radical libertarian anarchist, and I have been a gutless champion of liberal appeasement. I’ve been called a Nazi — no, I am not kidding — and I have been called a glorified Democrat.
The funny thing is, I haven’t much changed over the years, and who was calling me what depended very much on the circumstance and who was doing the defining.
I’ve always believed that what a person wants the world to look like if you made him or her king or queen for a day reflects that person’s political identity. In other words, if somebody made you in charge of everything and you were able to remake the world into your own personal political utopia, what would it look like?
On the other hand, I have always considered tactical decision making in government — such as a decision about the overall wisdom of shutting down the government in an attempt to force a policy concession — to be indicative of nothing other than one’s philosophy on how to move toward the aforementioned utopia.
My way of thinking has the fun benefit of exposing the fallacy of so much of what is happening in politics today, particularly in the Republican Party. The division and infighting that is currently consuming the conservative movement, for instance, shouldn’t really exist.
Think of it like this. If you made Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, absolute ruler of the United States for a day, the end result of what he would remake the country into would not be all that different from what Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would do were he given the same power. Honestly it wouldn’t be that different from what Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would do, if we are being honest.
Yet to the average Republican activist, those three senators are as different as night and day, and the source of their perceived difference is mostly in their tactical approach to governing.
To Cruz, and the movement that backs him, bold stands must be taken, even in the face of certain tactical loss, to clearly define what the movement stands for and how it differs from the Democrats. He believes this will unite and inspire the Republican Party, allowing it to win where it now loses.
To others within the party, success in elections is not a function of bold policy or ideology but obtaining the trust of the voters on a more personal level. They identify with the vast majority of Americans who are sick of nothing being done in Washington — sick of the squabbling, partisan sniping, and self-serving grandstanding — and want statesmen and stateswomen to come together to govern the country effectively by compromise.
To them, picking a hill to die on — when they know they will die on it — is counterproductive to the end policy goals that the party broadly shares, because they perceive that it is threatening public trust and will result in a smaller movement and fewer elected comrades.
The tragedy is, of course, that in their own ways both are right. There is no doubt that the public needs to feel that their leaders believe in something and are willing to stand and fight for what is right, regardless of circumstance.
Yet at the same time, there is no denying that there is a large majority of Americans who want altruistic, collaborative, compromising leaders who are willing to bend their ideological core in order to get things done. And there is also no denying that without responding to public sentiment, there will be fewer Republicans in positions of power with whom to argue conservative policy.
In the aftermath of the government shutdown and subsequent deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, many on both sides of the GOP divide are adamant about lighting each other on fire to argue the finer points of legislative tactics.
I think that is the wrong fight. The movement, for all its diversity, is not all that divided in reality even if it may appear to be.
One thing in politics is certain. If you were to make Barack Obama, Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi king or queen for a day, the country they would create is much different from the one even the most liberal Republican would make.
It is time we realized that tactics should reflect our common goals and should be directed at the left, not each other.