Friday, November 12, 2004

Specter of Obstructionism

Andrew Sullivan is the creator of the verb to Fisk. It is appropriate that he be the inspiration for another addition to the blogger’s lexicon. Here is my contribution:

Inflected form of the transitive verb sul·ly
Antonym: un·sul·lied
1. Tarnished by citing Andrew Sullivan or a similarly unreliable source: He sullied his argument by quoting Andrew Sullivan on Monday as Sullivan changed his mind by Friday.
2. Cited by Andrew Sullivan or a similarly unreliable source: Andrew Sullivan sullied such-and-such blog by using the blogger’s words against his own friends.

This week Hugh Hewitt cited a post by Andrew Sullivan which suggested that opposition to Arlen Specter's elevation to Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is something short of sane. I am bullish on Hewitt, bearish on Sullivan, and hawkish on Specter. Hugh, a gentleman and a scholar, might feel sheepish when he realizes that his argument has been doubly sullied.

To avoid being sullied even once, stop and ask yourself this question: Why does Andrew Sullivan agree with me now, especially if he has maligned me or my position in the recent past, and who among his opponents is taking a contrary position?

Andrew Sullivan has been engaged in a cultural war of words for at least a year with the fine folks at The Corner on National Review Online. While the Cornerites have maintained a mostly high-minded ideological tone, Sullivan’s has become quite vitriolic. First his contempt was focused on John Derbyshire, but now it encompasses Kathryn Jean Lopez, Rich Lowry, Ramesh Ponnuru, and erstwhile friend Jonah Goldberg.

For the past week, Hugh Hewitt and the Cornerites have engaged in an admirably civil disagreement over Specter. During this same time frame Sullivan, who implied that Hewitt is merely a partisan hack only six weeks ago, wrote a post praising Hugh and disparaging conservatives opposed to Specter (gee, I wonder whom he could mean). Coincidence? I think not.

Sullivan aside, Hugh’s argument emphasizing Republican partisanship has its merits, as does the Cornerites’ emphasizing conservative principles. The difference is that, while the Republican Party realizes it needs the conservatives, we conservatives are often loath to admit that we need the Republican Party. The Republican Party must attract conservatives and moderates to maintain its majority status and advance its predominantly conservative agenda. When the modern Republican Party succeeds, it is almost always to the benefit of conservatives.

I am a Reagan conservative first, last and always, but I am cognizant of the independent streak running through the history of my chosen ideology. Sometimes there seems to be a purity test and those who fail to meet the standard can be savaged. Even Ronald Reagan disappointed his conservative supporters due to pragmatic compromises first as governor and later as president. Between jobs when he was in the business of ideas and not actions, Reagan was as pure a conservative ideologue as the last century has produced. But he was so loyal to the GOP that he adhered strictly to his own 11th commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.

I am a practicing pragmatist myself. Many conservatives were against the gubernatorial recall in my native state of California. Some who live across the continent argued that a continuation of the Davis decline would make the California electorate more conservative. Conservative Californians like Hugh Hewitt and I understood that we could not afford another minute of Governor Gray Davis. Conservative non-Californians selected Tom McClintock as their candidate, but conservative Californians like Hugh Hewitt and I understood that we needed a forceful outsider to shake up the entrenched Democrat machine in Sacramento. Unfortunately, our best hope was Arnold Schwarzenegger, another Clintonesque moderate in deep debt to a liberal wife.

George W. Bush has big ideas and a grand vision, much of which is conservative, but he is no conservative ideologue. If anything, he aspires to expand the base of the Republican Party to include more moderates and even some liberals who share traditionally conservative values. I believe that one of his best ideas is to promote a national culture of life and ownership, which he envisions as the heart of an inclusive Republican Party for decades to come.

On the issue of Specter, I think Hugh Hewitt is much closer to the philosophy of George W. Bush, so the debate is probably moot. While I appreciate Hugh's fealty to the 11th commandment, I must respectfully disagree. Ironically, it is the pragmatism of Hugh's argument that convinced me Specter cannot serve as Chairman while we have this narrow window of opportunity. I would like to see the GOP keep its majority and Rick Santorum re-elected, but I must consider that Bush could be entering his lame duck period by November 2006. Unless Bush can buck the conventional wisdom on this political tradition as he did on others, he may have less than two years to stack the judiciary, which could become his most lasting and most conservative legacy. That is why I have concluded we cannot afford Specter or any other potential obstructionist in the most critical positions of leadership.

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