Where to begin in describing such an amazing week?
First, despite some folks’ queries of whether the NR cruisegoers were gloomy or depressed in the aftermath of the 2008 election, everyone I encountered was in great spirits, and not just because they were consuming great spirits. I think almost everyone sensed there is something liberating about being in a position of opposition; you no longer have to hold your tongue or take it easy on a figure like Bush, McCain, or congressional leaders because they’re “your guys.” On every bill, issue, and event that comes down the pike, you can call them as you see them.
(A moment for a sales pitch: Yes, NR cruises are a pretty penny, and the economy is hitting a rough patch. I’d just say that if taking a vacation, and in particular a cruise, in the coming years has crossed your mind, this is probably the one you want to be on – partially because the Cruise Authority and Holland America handle everything so well, partially because this is a cruise vacation with all the usual trimmings of exotic ports and pools and sunsets, etc., but on top of all that, you get to talk with the Mitt Romneys and Fred Thompsons and Victor Davis Hansons and Mark Steyns of the world. Mrs. CampaignSpot got to talk Turkey with Bernard Lewis and his coauthor Buntzie Churchill and chasing terrorists with Andy McCarthy. You just don’t get that kind of an experience on other cruises.)
On the cruise, my “work” consisted of moderating two panels, the first on the bailout and the economic mess. Former Governor Mitt Romney was the panelist who had backed the bailout, and was more or less forced into the bailout/rescue bill defender’s role, even though he ha d qualms and readily pointed out that it was impossible to know the consequences of inaction. He and Pat Toomey of the Club for Growth had a good-natured back and forth on the wisdom of that bill, and it was great to see two political veterans going at it with vigor but not ire.
It’s easy to overlook conservative reform efforts at the state level, and Darcy Olsen and her colleagues at the Goldwater Institute in Arizona are a group I’m going to have to keep an eye on in the future. If you read NRO and NR, you know Byron York and Ramesh Ponnuru and their capacity to be insightful with milliseconds of warning about the topic at hand. And then there was Mark Steyn, who somehow manages to sound brilliant and uproarious even when he’s just clearing his throat, who brought the perfect illustrative anecdote to every topic.
If that panel had a surprise star, though, it was Father Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute, who cut through a lot of numerical haze by pointing out the moral dimensions of all economic choices – and that it is morally wrong to accept a loan that you know you are unlikely to be able to repay, and that it is equally wrong to loan money that is not yours to someone you know is unlikely to pay it back. At the heart of the housing/banking/market chaos is a lot of people who faced a choice that they had to know was wrong on some level, and did it anyway.
That was the “hard” panel – a very enjoyable afternoon – and my second moderating role was more or less as the designated driver on one of the two comedy nights, hosting Mark Steyn, Jonah Goldberg, and Rob Long. Moderating those guys is like of like being the pitcher or pitching machine at the Home Run Derby at the All Star Break – you just toss up a softball – Barack Obama! Sarah Palin! – and watch the murderer’s row of comedy knock it into the upper decks. (Where else can you watch Jonah doing his impression of Sarah Palin as a naughty librarian?) A lot of folks told me afterwards this panel alone made the cruise worthwhile.
Needless to say, I’ll be on every cruise that I’m invited on in the future; large turnouts like this one (700+!) probably make that prospect more likely.
Beyond that, after many discussions on the cruise, I think the prospect of Democratic-controlled government is going to quickly have several good effects on conservatives. First is the easy unity of opposition; it is much simpler to rally people against a proposal than to build a coalition for it. The left has, for the past eight years, had the easy task of rallying people to “we don’t want Bush’s agenda”; if there’s any part of that agenda you didn’t like, sooner or later you were likely to sign up. Now the lefties have the harder task of saying, ‘here is the agenda that can unify a House caucus from Maxine Waters to Heath Shuler and a Senate caucus from Ben Nelson to Bernie Sanders.’
Second, being out of power will force conservatives to set priorities. If GOP Senators are nervous about filibustering too much of Obama’s agenda, it will force them to think hard about which ideas they think will be most deleterious to the economy, the social fabric, and America’s standing in the world. When ammunition is limited, you pick your fights carefully, and look hard for the most bang for the buck. One can argue that conservatives were spread all over the map on what issues drove them.
Third, echoing the earlier point a bit, conservatives have been spared the inevitable pain of living with the bad decisions of a President McCain. No more holding of the nose, no more looking the other way, no more averting one’s eyes from the embarrassing out of party or ideological loyalty.
For another assessment of the cruise – with lots of video! — one of our guests, David in Florida, has posted a several-part diary of his experiences on the cruise over at Red State.
Posting will be more regular this week, but not completely back to normal pace, as I’m spending the week as a Media Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.