The most depressing thing about having the GOP be, by default, the political party that ostensibly represents conservatives is its utter inability to actually do anything. For decades, conservatives have been working for and voting for candidates who promise to cut back the size of government, stand up to the Left, reform the Ponzi Scheme known as Social Security, simplify the tax code, etc., and yet how many of these things actually have been accomplished? Correct if you answered zero. True, he did reform the tax code (an improvement quickly undone by Clinton) but not even the sainted Ronnie himself made good on his promises to get rid of the departments of Energy and Education, or of checking and reversing the growth of the Leviathan state. As the von Mises Institute noted near the end of the Reagan years:
The budget for the Department of Education, which candidate Reagan promised to abolish along with the Department of Energy, has more than doubled to $22.7 billion, Social Security spending has risen from $179 billion in 1981 to $269 billion in 1986. The price of farm programs went from $21.4 billion in 1981 to $51.4 billion in 1987, a 140% increase. And this doesn’t count the recently signed $4 billion “drought-relief” measure. Medicare spending in 1981 was $43.5 billion; in 1987 it hit $80 billion. Federal entitlements cost $197.1 billion in 1981—and $477 billion in 1987.
Foreign aid has also risen, from $10 billion to $22 billion. Every year, Reagan asked for more foreign-aid money than the Congress was willing to spend. He also pushed through Congress an $8.4 billion increase in the U.S. “contribution” to the International Monetary Fund.
His budget cuts were actually cuts in projected spending, not absolute cuts in current spending levels. As Reagan put it, “We’re not attempting to cut either spending or taxing levels below that which we presently have.”
The result has been unprecedented government debt.
Ah, the good old days, when a billion was still a lot of money.
In short, the Republicans are mostly bark, and very little bite; even when they get the chance to do something, they don’t — blocked by their own political ineptitude, or by members of their own party, who owe more allegiance to their fellow club members in the House and, especially, the Senate than they do to the people who elected them in the first place. As Texas Guinan used to say to visitors to the speakeasy nightclubs she fronted for the great Irish-American gangster, Owney Madden: ”Hello, suckers!”
And speaking of suckers, now we have the scandal-ridden administration of Barack Obama, whose many outrages my colleague Victor Davis Hanson has noted here, in one handy clip-and-save piece for reference. They include using the IRS to go after its political opponents; intimidating the AP and Fox News by going after their phone records; the NSA’s domestic spying program, for going after the American people; the ongoing impeachable disgrace of Benghazi; and the compromised election of 2012, which has rightfully earned Obama the name “President Asterisk” from James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal.
Any one of these would be enough to bring down a Republican president, but as I noted here, the Praetorian Guard known as the legacy media is adamant in its refusal to add them all up. As far as Democratic malfeasance is concerned, the New York Times (zillionaire Carlos Slim, second largest investor), the Washington Post (new plaything of billionaire Jeff Bezos), the Boston Globe (part of billionaire John Henry’s Red Sox empire — do you see a pattern here?), et al. adamantly remain stuck in Dog World, with each new revelation existing sui generis and in any case entirely unrelated to the man in the White House:
In other words, Obama and the Democrat-Media Complex exist in the Context of No Context. This allows the president to stay on the campaign trail (the only thing he really knows how to do; it’s certainly not basketball or golf) and, in effect, to run against himself. The media allows him to hold one position — say, opposition to gay marriage — for years and then suddenly switch sides after “evolving,” without ever mentioning again his former opposition. (That’s because, in their hearts of hearts, they knew he was lying all along.) To bring it up again would not only be bad form, it would be indulging in “analysis” in the sacrosanct “news columns,” which as we all know are completely free of spin, attitude or snark unless some Republican or conservative deserves it.
(A quick aside re the Globe: a newspaper that used to be justly celebrated for its outstanding sports section, especially its baseball coverage — the fons et origo of the great Peter Gammons – now reports directly to the man who owns the ball club the beat writers are covering. Good luck with that! As I said when Warner Communications, and later AOL, took over Time Inc., “synergy” is what we used to call “conflict of interest.”)
And speaking of conflict of interest, where is the pushback from the other side? For years, conservatives have been watching stick figures like Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah huff and puff over various indignities and then drop the issue in order to reach across the aisle yet again; when it comes to follow-through, the Establishment GOP is just as bad as the Democrat-Media Complex. Better to be a toothless watchdog than to lose your sinecure and actually have to work for a living.
That’s why senators like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are catching on with the conservative grass roots. Pace Jennifer Rubin, whose work I admire, I think both of them have a real shot at the nomination in 2016, and for some of the very reasons Rubin cites as strikes against them, lumping them in with the faded Rick Santorum, whose social conservatism simply will never play with the wider electorate:
1. We’ve had a president long on rhetoric and short on executive expertise. Enough already.
2. Hot-button rhetoric may play well on talk radio, but under the glare of national media and in a race where the most critical job in government is at stake, the act wears thin. (Santorum’s folly on the Devil, contraception, etc. is a prime example.)
3. They personify the strident, angry Republican whom voters in general elections disdain; GOP voters hungry for the White House know this.
4. None of them have demonstrated the ability to work well with others or field an expert team of advisers.
5. Paul and Cruz are too new to the scene; Santorum’s been around too long.
6. They appeal to the tea party, but not the vast swath of mainstream Republicans. In GOP primaries, the winner is almost invariably not the most radical candidate. Barry Goldwater is the exception and the warning for 2016.
7. Quite simply, none of them is as impressive as any of the seven candidates (Gov. Chris Christie, Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, John Bolton and Gov. Rick Perry) I’ve discussed this week. I mean what have these characters actually done?
Okay, stop laughing, Christie and Rubio have already self-detonated, Ryan has gone wobbly on immigration, and Jeb Bush is named “Bush.” Of this list, only Walker, the hero of the Battle of Wisconsin, and Rick “Oops” Perry have any appeal to the Republican base. As for the question, what have they done, Paul staged his epic filibuster while Cruz has been elevated to lefty Public Enemy No. 1 faster than you can say “Sarah Palin.” In short, they appear — appear — to be the kind of leaders conservatives have been awaiting a long time: unapologetic and unafraid of what both the Democrats and their own colleagues think of them. Bonus: They don’t care what the national media think, either. As Newt Gingrich discovered last year, punching the “national media” in the face is a surefire crowd-pleaser.
As a great American famously said, “Americans love a winner, and will not tolerate a loser.” In words that ought to resonate with anybody with a pulse and a sense of patriotism for our country as it was founded (and not as Obama is trying to “transform” it), he also said in The Speech:
I don’t want any messages saying ‘I’m holding my position.’ We’re not holding a goddamned thing. . . . Our plan of operation is to advance and keep on advancing. We’re going to go through the enemy like crap through a goose.
Or words to that effect. Republicans have been holding their position and tolerating losers long enough. Why not try something different? Hey, it worked for Patton.
UPDATE: Mark Levin writes to clarify the Reagan years:
Yes, Reagan promised, and but for Congress he would have delivered. His proposal to abolish the Dept of Ed was killed in the Republican Senate by Howard Baker. Budget after budget was killed too; he vetoed congressional spending repeatedly, shutdown the federal government half a dozen times. The libertarians are fond of pointing to the supposed Reagan failures, and we can admit up front that he was not perfect, being of flesh and blood, but he put up one hell of a fight. People forget.