Of course, it is not a matter of simply “staying home.” I shall be voting not only for my U.S. senator and representative, but also for a state senator and assemblyman, a county clerk and comptroller, and a town councilcritter. You probably have a similar array of positions to vote for. By all means do the best you can for your state and district. Whether or not it is the case that all politics is local, it is certainly the case that all localities have politics, and you should participate. What I’m going to talk about here is strategies for voting federal offices.
And if you are a single-issue voter — immigration, right to life, environment — and there is a person standing for federal office in your district who is strong for your darling issue, of course you should vote for that person. You are going to anyway, and nothing I say will dissuade you.
Those cases aside, let’s face the issue of whether a principled conservative should do anything to prevent a massacre of congressional Republicans in these elections — by, for instance, voting Republican.
The case for not doing anything, for letting the massacre proceed, is straightforward. The Republican Congress has been complicit in George W. Bush’s plans to vastly expand the power of the federal government, to deconstruct our nation, and to beggar the generation that will come after us.
The concinnity of congressional Republican actions with administration goals has been total. As Ryan Sager says in his indispensable recent book: “[T]he number of crimes against conservatism committed by Republicans during the Bush administration is almost too many to list.” (Sager none the less goes on to list them. It takes him three pages.)
This is not, as someone always pipes up at this point, a vote on Bush. No, it isn’t, but it might as well be. George W. Bush has vetoed just one bill from the Congress his party controls, a bill on federal funding of embryonic-stem-cell research — a boutique issue of no importance to the life of the nation. For the rest, Republican president and Republican Congress have been two hearts beating as one. They have worked together to lead the nation in the direction they think it should go.
And that direction has been away from conservatism, whose very heart and essence is the understanding that individual liberty waxes when government wanes, and vice versa. This president, and the Congress that has supported and enabled him, does not have that understanding. For all George W. Bush’s vapid blather about a yearning for liberty having been planted in the hearts of men by our Creator, there is no hint of a trace of a sign that Bush has ever given five seconds’ thought to the connection between individual liberty and government power.
Even when this president has done good things, those things have not been part of any discernable conservative project. His tax cuts, for example, will have their entire effect washed away in a year or five by the rising waters of entitlement spending. Seen alone, which is how Bushites much prefer to see them, those tax cuts were a shining example of conservative principle; seen in combination with the unrestrained spending of this congress, approved by this president, they are a hoax, a swindle, a cynical fraud.
We cannot express our disgust with George W. Bush this election cycle, but we can use the Bushite congressional majority as a proxy. Away with them! Vote them out! “In the name of God, go!”
Except that… There are two issues that should stay our hands. The first of these issues is of course the War on Terror. The second is immigration.
If the thought of a massacre of congressional Republicans is pleasantly cheering, the thought of Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, and Maxine Waters supervising the nation’s defenses is emphatically not. Neither is the thought of a gleefully grinning George W. Bush signing into law (as he undoubtedly would) the Clinton/Kennedy 2007 Open Borders, Universal Amnesty, and Abolition of Citizenship Act. If the cherishing of individual liberty and — what is really the same thing — the distrust of state power are together the beating heart of modern American conservatism, then strong national defense and patriotism are the liver and lungs.
There you have the dilemma for conservatives: to go on enabling the enablers of those “crimes committed against conservatism” — to join in pulling on the bell rope that tolls the death knell of the Reagan project — or, to place the national defense and the National Question in the hands of fools, buffoons, and America-haters, for a minimum of two years.
It’s a tough call. Those two big issues notwithstanding, there is still a case for handing congressional Republicans their entrails on a platter, garnished with parsley. The case is made at some length by, or at least is implicit in, the article “Goodbye to the permanent majority” in the Nov. 4 issue of The Economist. Most telling is the sidebar titled “Annual growth in federal spending per head under recent administrations,” with the growth numbers put under two sub-headings: “Unified government” (Johnson 4.6 percent, Bush Jr. 3.1 percent, Carter 2.9 percent) and “Divided government” (Nixon/Ford 1.9 percent, Reagan 1.7 percent, Bush Sr. 0.6 percent, Clinton 0.3 percent). From a straightforward size-of-government point of view, a spell of divided government — Republican president, Democratic congress — looks pretty appealing.
But of course, the national defense and the National Question are not notwithstanding (“are withstanding”?) for conservatives. Not ever, not at all. This is a really, really tough call.