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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Political Strategory

As Reformed Christians, or even as political conservatives, I don't know how much we should care about the fortunes of the Republican Party, per se, except insofar as it is the lone force to keep the awful secularism and horrendous socialism of the Democratic Party at bay. As a mild theonomist, I'd probably stick out like a Leninist at an Adam Smith Institute convention if I ever attended a GOP cocktail party, as much as I am indebted to my Buckleyan and VonMises brethren. However, God may use this counteractive force as no small means of common grace for the U.S., so I don't think yesterday's electoral defeats should be taken lightly.

I don't want to take an off-year, low-turnout (42% in California) election as a harbinger of doom for the 2006 elections, but California missed out on some desperately-needed policies. The state is fiscally hemorrhaging, but the voters shot down the propositions (74-76) that would have helped clot the fiscal wounds. That should serve as a wake-up call for conservatives. Beware: labor unions are alive and well, despite rumors of their demise. The prop that would have undone the hilariously awful "I can do whatever I want and never get unelected as a state rep" district lines was nixed. On the spiritually egregious side of yesterday's election, parental notification for abortions given to minors was also shot down by a very narrow margin.

Townhall's Tim Chapman thinks that the defeat was due to GOP voters who have been disaffected by the unconservatism of our Republican Congress and President (soft on immigration, big on spending) staying home and simply not caring instead of hitting the polls. Pushing, for instance, a temporary worker program for illegal aliens is no way to instill warm fuzzies in Buckley conservatives. Way to energize the base, fellas! Chalk that up as Reason #1.

The facile explanation is that California is simply a blue state. Well, California is really more purple than anything else, as you can see in the graphic. Remember, this is the same state that passed Prop 187 (cutting off some government services to illegal aliens) and 209 (anti-affirmative action). Californians, for various reasons, elect leftist legislatures yet vote for conservative propositions, historically. Up until last night, ballot propositions were good friends to us conservatives on matters of policy. However, the weakness of ballot propositions was also demonstrated - namely, that voters are subject to propaganda and manipulation. Just a few weeks ago, the Stanford/Hoover/Knowledge poll put most of the "Arnold" props ahead. But the voters were distracted by shiny objects put in front of them by labor union commercials at the last minute and bought into blatant lies, outright demagoguery, and other leftist silliness. There is a good reason to oppose propositions in principle: we are a representative republic. Both the tyranny and the ignorance of the masses, demos, comes to fruition through direct democratic mechanisms such as the propositions.

It is good to remember at this point why we are a federal, constitutional, and representative republic. Put simply, it mirrors the presbyterian form of church government. We don't let congregations vote on doctrinal issues at synod/general assembly. No, our elders do that, whose appointments are approved by the congregations. There is good cause for this: for instance, why would we let those illiterate in the biblical languages tinker with our centuries-old, tried-and-true confessions? Similarly, what does average-Joe Californian know about the economics of public employee pension plans? You get the idea.

We'll call this direct democracy/proposition issue Reason #2 that is responsible for yesterday's folly, even though this is not directly the GOP's fault.

I agree with NRO's Arnold Steinberg that Schwarzenegger made the most of a "bad hand." He was reasonably eloquent on these issues, and anyone who took the time to do a minimum of responsible research on the issues could see through the TV/radio commercial abominations.

The larger, more chronic problem is the nature of political debate today. The GOP is horrible about getting messages across and articulating their positions, often letting the demagogic left frame the debate. So this brings us to Reason #3. It is not that conservatives don't have superb thinkers and communicators. The pundits have been potent, from Ann Coulter down to (KFI radio moderates) John and Ken. The think-tanks and even bloggers have all done some great yeoman work, from Michelle Malkin, to the National Review and Townhall crowd, to the American Enterprise and Hoover folks. The problem is the GOP politicians themselves. If, for instance, President Bush sounded more like Victor Davis Hanson or David Frum in the way he defends the Iraq War, the war opposition would not be nearly as strong. The problem is that conservatives are too often ashamed of sounding conservative. But how else are you going to defend conservative policies, except to self-consciously articulate those principles? Because conservative politicians refuse to do this, they fall prey to "you're hurting the children/teachers/firefighters!" type of rhetoric, when the left smells even a whiff of budget cuts, and are forced to go on defensive. Instead they should be saying "no, this silliness is watered-down socialism, and you're not helping any children/teachers/firefighters." If we are bold and argue for the legitimacy of our political philosophies, and stop skirting around the issues of principle, then we will win for the simple fact that secularism and socialism cannot win the battle of ideas. They are, and always were, intellectually bankrupt and conservative politicians should expose their poverty to public scrutiny, consistently.

Not that the GOP's leaders are tactical geniuses except for this one area. The GOP usually has to rely on the U.S. population's inherent conservatism, the left's intellectual and policy bankruptcy, the left's tactical blunders, the left's weak candidates (e.g. John Kerry), and public backlash from the left's moonbats and "no blood for oil" crazies (Dean,, Sheehan, Soros, assorted celebrities) in order to win elections. Basically, they win on accident.

Lastly, Reason #4, the Republican Party lost out yesterday because Jesus is not their Lord. While many of the Party leaders have genuine personal commitments to Jesus, the Party is functionally a secularly conservative party. The Christian worldview supplies the intellectual pre-conditions of much conservative and libertarian thought, from capitalist economics to Just War Theory to the state's recognition of marriage. Take away this foundation and conservatism cannot be defended, nor does it have moors to objective truth to keep it from drifting into inconsistency and compromise. Sadly, most Evangelicals today don't even have a developed theology of the state enough to do anything about it. You are not going to get such a dose of the Kuyperian/VanTil worldview from Greg Laurie or Rick Warren's pulpit. As Reformed Christians, we should urge our brethren to throw out the milk bottle, already. Give them some spiritual meat, perhaps a copy of Greg Bahnsen's Festschrift, and tell them to enjoy their first steak dinner ever.


Full disclosure: I forgot to re-register to vote in San Bernardino County, so I couldn't vote yesterday. Shame on me. I will proceed to put a bag with eyeholes cut out over my head.

Category: Civitas Terrena


  • Dave-O,

    Here's your first trip to the editorial woodshed. Festschrift is a generic term for an essay collection celebrating a particular intellectual. Bahnsen's is called Standard Bearer: A Festschrift for Greg L. Bahnsen. Your penance is to find an online bookseller who carries it and link to it. I gave you an NRO link free, so don't say I never did anything nice, either.

    By Blogger Jeremy Felden, at 6:14 PM  

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