Last week’s election is already proving to be a litmus test of true conservative principle. The people who are seizing the opportunity of this setback to blare all over the country that conservatism is dead were never conservatives in the first place. Many people who have been posturing as conservatives are now taking advantage of the moment to try finally to push off the political table the conservatism they have never really accepted. We are in a critical time of discernment for conservatives, and it is important that we see clearly what is going on in the flurry of activity following in the wake of the election.
As the shake-up this week makes clear, there is right now no real leadership of the Republican Party. At this critical moment, it is the grass roots people of the Republican Party who have the fate of the party in their hands. Grass roots moral conservatives — many of whom, by the way, did not mobilize on election day because they did not feel any enthusiastic support for the incompetent Republican leadership that is now being swept away — need to show the way to authentic renewal of the Republican Party as the national voice of moral conservatism in America.
One key question we face is who will come forward to provide these people with the kind of voice and leadership that will speak to their hearts, give voice to their hearts, and actually represent their hearts, in the great national struggle to determine the future of this country. I think there will be such voices on the Republican side over the next several years. In fact, I personally guarantee it.
But we are going to have to fight an enormous battle within the Republican Party in order to resist the siren song telling us to abandon conservatism and put pro-abortion Republicans on the 2000 presidential ticket so Republicans can “move forward” and imitate the Democrats, because “that’s all the hope we have left.” These are the lies that will now be dinned into our ears in the hope of demoralizing the true moral conservative majority in the Republican Party. We can’t listen to this; we have to fight and defeat it now.
If we lose this battle, we will increasingly see results like that in the Minnesota gubernatorial race last week. When and if moral conservatives are effectively cut out of the political process, we will begin to get in their place a kind of confused and mindless libertarianism — the “anything goes” sort of libertarianism — which is good on economic issues in some respects, but is finally destructive of the moral discipline needed to sustain liberty. With such libertarianism competing against the special interest manipulative politics of both the “money is God” Republicans and the materialistic Democrats, it’s hard to know what will be decisive. But I suspect that the person who offers the most thorough going licentiousness has the best chance of winning. And the country will lose.
Because the struggle for the soul of the Republican Party that is now entering its final phase is so important, I want to take the time this week to lay out some critical points that are often overlooked. We need to understand these things in order to interpret some of the events and some of the propaganda that will be coming at us from all sides in the weeks ahead.
The most important point is that moral conservatives won’t win this fight unless we realize that we need to organize and seek victory without depending on politicians, even many of the ones that we think of as conservative. Politicians don’t like moral conservatives because they can’t be bought, they can’t easily be manipulated. And so anyone who is a politician first and a moral conservative second will be entirely unreliable in the battle we are now facing.
For instance, a lot of them don’t like me, and I say this from experience. Political people have come to me over the years thinking that they can offer me various positions and financial incentives. And they have found it very difficult to understand it when I have turned them down. When they realize that I can’t be bought, they try to figure out what I “really” want — because the experience of rejection doesn’t occur within the political culture with which they are familiar. The notion that what I would want in order to work with them is the assurance that they will do the right thing is simply unintelligible to them. And yet all I have said is that my “price” is that they do the right thing for this country, for its families, and on the issues that affect the conscience of the nation. But this price is, far too often, too high.
Politicians are not willing to do business on such terms because sometimes doing that will serve their ambition — but sometimes it won’t. Sometimes it means they’ll easily get re-elected, and sometimes it means they’ll be risking something — and they don’t want to do that. So they don’t like people who put the emphasis on issues that don’t have a price tag or a kick-back.
And my own experience here is just an example of a fact that is true of everyone who is part of the moral conservative constituency. We can’t be bought, and the politicians know it. We can’t easily be bought with the promise of a tax bribe, the promise of a Social Security check, the promise of a government welfare program, and so on.
And since we can’t be bought, we can’t be manipulated. And since we can’t be manipulated, we can’t be controlled, and so the politicians don’t like us.
That is what politicians are like — Republican and Democrat. They don’t like true moral conservatives because a true moral conservative can’t be bought in that vulgar materialistic way. And so there is a great problem for the Republican Party, because the Republicans need the moral conservative constituency, and the Democrats don’t. Over the course of the last 40 or 50 years, the Democrats have built their whole coalition on the demeaning view of human beings which holds that every group can be bought, every person has his price. So they figure out the price and say, “let’s make a deal, and you’ll get a piece of the action,” just the way that the mob forms coalitions. And this is the Democratic Party’s concept of the body politic. We’re all just a bunch of thugs, trying to get our piece of the action, and the Democrats are going to give it to us. They’ve built their politics on that understanding for decades, and it is easy for them.
Then Newt Gingrich came along. He wanted the Republicans to do the same thing, and of course it hasn’t worked. It nearly got them blown away on this last election day, because Republicans can’t work that way. The “let’s make a deal” method of politics excludes the constituency of principle. That base of moral conservatives — people who are motivated by their love of this nation, of its ideals, of its justice, of its moral principles — is composed of the people who are essential to the success of the Republican Party.
Since they can’t be bought and they can’t be manipulated, the Republican politicians don’t like them. They have not wanted to rely on such people because at some point the moral constituency ceases to be a mere tool and becomes a constraint, and politicians don’t want constraints. They want to keep all their options open, so they can flexibly win and get power and keep it with ease. They don’t like moral conservatives because down the road a piece we might tell them that if they don’t do the right thing we won’t vote for them, no matter how much they offer us, and how are they going to control us then?
And in the aftermath of the last election, Republican politicians are already making all kinds of arguments with the hope of getting the moral conservative agenda somehow off the table and out of the whole political game. They want us back in the churches and out of politics because we can’t be bought.
But we can’t go back to the churches and leave the fate of the nation to the politicians. I believe deeply that the moral conservative constituency is not just vital for Republican politics. It’s vital to the country, because if that decent element of the American heart is not mobilized, then this nation will not acknowledge the discipline that these politicians ought to acknowledge — that there are basic moral principles and that we must respect those principles in our life and policies if we are to maintain our liberty.
This is not simply a prejudice of pinched and hidebound moral conservatives. It is an essential truth of self-government, without which ordered liberty cannot survive. And therefore the constituency for that truth is a constituency that is absolutely necessary in our active political life.
That is why the moral conservative people of this country must be mobilized. There is no way to save our liberty and to save self-government in this country unless the element of decent conscience which acknowledges the constraints implied by our moral principles is organized and activated, and indeed assumes a position of leadership in our political life.
I believe that it is the historic mission of the Republican Party to acknowledge that truth, and not to manipulate but to serve the constituency of conscience. But this is what the party’s corrupt leaders don’t want to do. And since they don’t want to put long term constraints on their lust for power, they would rather go down to defeat in the short term.
I think that this amazing willingness of establishment Republicans to accept defeat rather than acknowledge moral principles in politics reflects the deep-seated cultural choices that the Republican establishment has made. Many of the men and women in positions of power in the Republican Party — including many that are routinely identified as “conservative” — have implicitly made the choice, at bottom, for the Godless, hedonistic, materialistic culture that now dominates in our universities and our intellectual life.
They’re embarrassed about the other view, because it is not sophisticated enough. In their hearts, many of them can’t accept the fact that their fellow citizens actually still believe in God and consider demeaning the notion that human beings are just animals. So the Republican political elite and their contempt for the moral constituency reflects a cultural divide in our society, with those who have accepted the Godless culture of scientific materialism on one side, and those who still have allegiance to the culture of our liberty, based upon faith in God and acknowledgment of His authority, on the other. And that is where the battle lines are drawn for the struggle politically that is to be waged within the Republican Party over the next several years.
We are already starting to see the first signs that the insincere, so-called conservatives are coming out of the woodwork in order to interpret the outcome of the election in such a way that we must jettison the conservative agenda, the moral agenda. The allegedly conservative George Will has already written his “more in sorrow than joy” column in which he says that this election shows that we just have to give up this conservative stuff.
Of course it shows nothing of the kind. What it really shows is that when you have a leadership that does in fact give up the conservative message, they come to the brink of electoral disaster. The Republican leadership ran strong when they projected and acted on conservative principles and were pursuing the conservative agenda, and they won in ’94 on that basis. And even in ’96 they retained control of the Congress while Bob Dole went down to defeat, because of the perception that they had fought vigorously for at least a few of the principled things they had promised. Then they went to the polls in ’98 after giving the true perception that they had surrendered, compromised and Clintonized on every issue, and they nearly lost control of the Congress. In fact, without the impeachment passion motivating some moral conservatives to go to the polls, Republicans would have lost control of the Congress this time around.
So while the reality of the events demonstrates that if Republicans abandon conservatism they will lose or nearly lose elections, we have George Will and others saying that now we’ve got to abandon conservatism. The logical conclusion from the facts is that if we abandon conservatism we will lose elections, and if we restore our conservatism, we will win elections.
But not for these pundits. And why don’t they come to the logical conclusion? Because they’re not conservatives. They are looking to push this whole conflict toward the liberal line, because somewhere in their heart of hearts they really believe that’s sophisticated. Brainwashed by the intellectual culture of the time, not wanting to appear to be unsophisticated, they actually go along with the corrupt culture that pushes for statism. And sad to say, some of them have successfully masqueraded as conservatives for years. But the truth will out in the weeks and months ahead. In many cases it is going to be as clear as day that they were not the conservatives that many people told us they were.
For the sake of the nation, moral conservatives need to think carefully about the truth that is in front of us. It is a fact that this leadership of the Republican Party in the Congress abandoned the conservative agenda in favor of pork barrel: they eagerly embraced the New Deal style “bribe ‘em, buy ‘em, and sell ‘em” politics. Acting like Democrats, fighting the Democrats on their own ground, they nearly lost the Congress. And if they continue to do this, they will lose both the Congress and the presidency in 2000, and I think in doing so will help to seal the fate of this Republic, perhaps for all time.
What happens in the course of the next several years will be crucial to America’s future, and perhaps the most critical battle will be fought right now within the Republican Party. At stake is whether or not there will be a national political party capable of sustaining the principles of self-government in our national discussion.
For this reason, we must remove the entire class of Republican politicians who have for too long offered us leadership without vision, without conviction, and without principle. They have to go.
It seems clear already that while the shake-up within the official Republican leadership positions in the Congress is a clear admission of the great failure of the Gingrich era, it will not mean the beginning of real principled leadership either in the Congress or the party as a whole. And so we simply must move the politicians aside in the course of the selection of the next Republican presidential nominee. The Republican politician fraternity cannot be allowed to put forward another squishy-soft, muddled, unprincipled individual to run for the presidency of the United States, who won’t be able to speak to and for the decent heart of the core conservative constituency on the basis of whose support alone the Republican Party has any chance of winning.
This is the battle. The past election day drew the battle lines clearly and simply within the Republican ranks. We are all either going to go with this unprincipled leadership that has taken us right to the brink of defeat — we’re going to jump over the cliff and destroy the party — or we’re going to return to the path of conviction and integrity, and articulate for the American people — clearly, forcefully, and with intelligence and sincerity — the course that restores a sense of true American moral principle and conduct.
I personally guarantee that there will be such a choice among the candidates for the next Republican presidential nomination. So the only question you face is which side of the battle you will be on. Much depends on your answer.