Politics & Policy

A Guy Who Gets It

As longtime readers may know, Bob Ehrlich, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., is one of my favorite politicians in America. A Maryland Republican, he served in Congress and also as governor of his state.

His name, by the way, is pronounced “Er-lick,” not “Air-lick.” I always have to stop and think about that. Either way, his name fits him well: In German, it means straightforward, honest, direct.

He was elected to Congress in the big Republican year of 1994 — “the Glorious 104th,” I used to call that Congress. He had no business being elected governor of Maryland in 2002, but he was. Maryland was a very, very Democratic state. There hadn’t been a Republican governor since the 1960s — since Agnew. Moreover, Ehrlich was running against a Kennedy: the lieutenant governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

But win, he did.

He had a superb governorship, too — even an exciting governorship. I did a piece about him for National Review: “All-American: Gov. Bob Ehrlich kicks tail in Maryland.” But, apparently, it was too much to ask of Marylanders that they vote Republican a second time. He could not beat Martin O’Malley in 2006.

This, despite the fact that his approval rating on Election Day was 55 percent, approximately. Not his vote tally, unfortunately — his approval rating. It is very, very rare to lose when 55 percent of the people approve of the job you’re doing. Also, Ehrlich had the endorsement of the Washington Post!

But Maryland is deep, deep Democratic.

I wrote a second piece about Ehrlich for NR: “Exit of a Champion.” It seems that Ehrlich will not run again, for anything. His state is simply too averse to the likes of us. Ehrlich isn’t a liberal Republican or a moderate Republican — he’s a Reagan Republican. There will be a Republican administration in Washington again one day, surely. I hope Ehrlich will serve in it.

Why is he a favorite politician of mine? Well, in brief, I like the way he thinks. And I like the way he expresses what he thinks. And I like his overall spirit.

He has now written a book, America: Hope for Change. Its foreword is by a favorite of his, Rudy Giuliani. The book is several things: a diagnosis of the current American condition; a prescription for recovery; a wake-up call; a call to arms.

I’m not going to review the book, though of course I recommend it. I’d like to jot a few notes on it, as is my custom in this space.

‐Ehrlich has an epigram from Edna St. Vincent Millay. I’d never heard it, but I like it a lot: “A person who publishes a book appears willfully in public with his pants down.”

‐Today, says Ehrlich, we don’t have “simply the familiar clashes of right versus left. Increasingly, it’s more about a center-right majority versus those who wish to remake America in a stridently progressive manner.”

I have always thought we had a center-right majority. I hope it’s still true. I have doubts now.

‐In a concession, Ehrlich refers to President Obama as “charismatic.” I must say, Obama’s charisma has always been lost on me. I feel I can see charisma even in those I strongly disagree with or dislike. I trust that Obama has charisma, because almost everybody says he does. Again, it’s lost on me.

‐In another epigram, Ehrlich uses the “false Tocqueville quote”: “America is great because she is good.” Tocqueville may not have said it, but he probably should have.

Besides, these things enter lore — including attribution.

I remember Bill Buckley saying something like, “Don’t bother telling me that Voltaire didn’t say the one about disagreeing with what you said but defending to the death your right to say it.”

He also said, I believe, “And don’t tell me that Shakespeare didn’t talk about gilding the lily. Everyone knows” (or he knew). (Shakespeare wrote, “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw perfume on a violet,” etc. This has been popularized into “gild the lily.”)

‐Ehrlich says we have reached a “fork in the road.” “If we continue down our current path, we will diminish beyond repair our quality of life and culture, and that which we leave to future generations. If, however, we take another route . . .”

He promises, “We can dig ourselves out of the ditch that the progressives and Obama-ites have driven us into.” But we should not dawdle too long: “Make no mistake: The time for action is now. Inaction, or just staying the course, presents us with dire consequences.”

His language reminded me of Reagan’s speech in 1964, for a time known as “The Speech.” It was called “A Time for Choosing.” In a much-quoted peroration, Reagan said,

“You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”

Frankly, Bob Ehrlich’s book could be titled “A Time for Choosing.” That’s what he’s talking about — this fork in the road.

‐Ehrlich has a paragraph on what a “great nation” does. I’m going to quote just a little of it. A great nation “avoids policies that are penny-wise and pound-foolish.” It “welcomes qualifying immigrants,” but expects them to “learn and accept its cultural values.” It “pays its bills and does not mortgage the country’s future through multi-generational debt.” It remembers that “Job One” for the government is to protect the people from harm, “either foreign or domestic.” It “recognizes that markets are far more dynamic (and efficient) than governments.”

Etc. Right on.

‐Obama, he says, is “an aggressively ideological President who is hell-bent on changing the terms and conditions of our social arrangements — not least of which is America’s still strong (but diminishing) ties to free market capitalism.”

Again, right on.

‐Ehrlich comments on Obama’s “you didn’t build that” rant. “This anti-individualist mindset,” he says,

discourages accomplishment, rejects the notion of a self-made man or woman, and provides a convenient excuse for failure. To wit, one should not be expected to make it on one’s own due to America’s inherently corrupt culture. “The man” (usually not identified) will keep you down. Indeed, this is the “go to” narrative for many on the left — just too much racism, sexism, and intolerance to overcome. But don’t worry, the federal nanny will be along shortly to make everything “fair”!

A blunt fellow, Ehrlich, as I indicated.

‐He sees the American terrain clearly, I think. He is not a radical; he’s a conservative. He is both idealistic and realistic.

[A]n increasingly diverse populace and highly complex economy have made Americans more comfortable with a larger federal role in our lives. This societal attitude would be nearly impossible to reverse. Truth be told, a large social safety net and significant degree of economic regulation are here to stay. Yet, there remains a significant middle ground between European-style socialism and a large federal government that nevertheless respects principles of federalism and freedom. It is this latter goal which should mobilize conservatives . . .”

‐You’ll like this, I’m guessing: “Opposition to [the] progressive tide continues to produce the oft-repeated indictments that seek to silence, or at the very least decertify, the right. This time-tested Clinton-esque tactic (accuse the accuser, hard and fast) is straight out of ‘Progressive Politics 101.’”

Ehrlich gives some examples: If you oppose affirmative action, “you’re a racist.” If you oppose women in combat, “you’re sexist.” If you oppose gay marriage, “you’re a homophobe.” If you oppose multiculturalism, “you’re a nativist.” If you oppose gun control, “you’re a child killer.”

Ehrlich knows how it goes — and he isn’t afraid to blow the whistle on it.

‐The ex-guv continues, “[T]oday’s progressives have added a second element to Bill Clinton’s formula: a scorched earth policy toward the accuser accompanied by a vicious intolerance. Add a complicit media and there you have it: a lethal cocktail of venomous progressivism.”

One of the things I like about Ehrlich is that he suffers from no “Clinton nostalgia” whatsoever. Many of my colleagues — my conservative colleagues, I mean — have such nostalgia. Not Ehrlich (and not me). We remember Billy J., and the sheer nastiness of his m.o.

A brilliant man, intellectually, unfortunately. Very high IQ. Because of his cornpone accent, people don’t realize that so much. Obama is given credit for being smart. (There’s some racial condescension in this.) Billy J., the bas****, is really smart.

‐Ehrlich has an epigram from Churchill — who is so epigrammable: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

‐The author took me back to the halcyon days of 1994, and that glorious Republican Congress — the first such Congress since the 1950s.

A huge freshman class (yours truly included) arrived in Washington with a revolutionary zeal and a willingness to break eggs. Some Members were first-time candidates with no political experience. There were more doctors and business people than lawyers. The collective goal was to change Washington, not become part of its culture. And many of us were Reagan-inspired 30-somethings committed to shoring up our national defense . . .

Nice. Oh, it was great (for a while).

‐Ehrlich has some interesting thoughts on the effect of new media on war-making:

Imagine the impact on some of the more draconian decisions made in past wars by our most revered war leaders: Would the British decision to bomb German civilian targets stand up to our current media frenzy? Would Churchill be vilified as a war criminal instead? [He is now, including by Pat Buchanan and similar conservatives.] Would media coverage of 6,000 killed, wounded and missing at Normandy withstand today’s hyper-critical punditry? How many times would a horrified Congress have required Eisenhower to explain himself? Similarly, could Lincoln have survived the punditry after public consumption of the carnage at Gettysburg?

True. Who would have paid notice to the speech? Pardon my blandness, but the new media environment is both good — salutary — and bad.

‐Ehrlich talks about today’s peace-at-any-cost crowd (to use a shorthand). “Some of my friends,” he writes, “are predisposed to cut individuals of this ilk a break, but not me. Their naïveté is especially dangerous in a world where bad guys are able to perpetrate mass casualty events with a modicum of planning and execution.”

‐Remember Obama’s 2008 pledge to sit down with our enemies “without preconditions” and his 2009 “world apology tour”? Ehrlich does. And he writes, “It’s Psych 101: the President wants to believe in the benefits of his outreach campaign so much that he clings to his talking points, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

I especially appreciate Ehrlich’s use of the word “clings” — given Obama’s infamous accusation that Middle Americans cling to their guns, religion, hostility to newcomers, etc.

‐“Rarely,” says Ehrlich, “does the world of public affairs allow us insight into how an anti-war progressive responds when confronted with the reality of enormous political power. But such an instructional (and disturbing) example is brought to us by” Obama, twice elected.

Ehrlich explains what he means. And then he makes one of the funniest observations of the book: Not often do you see “Chicago-style community activist” and “Commander of the United States Marine Corps” on the same résumé.

‐How does the book end? With a quotation, a plea, and a dose of optimism. The quotation is the one that is usually attributed to Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Ehrlich says, “Please do not ‘do nothing.’” Then he says, “The fundamental values that define us are under extreme stress.” (That’s really well put.) “But a national election, or two, can provide hope that things will change” — true.

‐One of my least favorite phrases of recent years is “gets it.” “He gets it,” “He doesn’t get it.” The first person grasps the situation, the second person does not. I could explain why this expression rubs me the wrong way, but, regardless, it does.

Yet it is sometimes useful. And I must say, Robert Ehrlich gets it. Gets what ails us and gets what the answer is.

I’m sorry he doesn’t any longer hold office. But I’m glad he’s in the game, writing and fighting.


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