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Conservatives &Virginia politics Richard Falknor on 13 Jun 2009 08:58 pm

Will Conservatives Fight? In Virginia? In Maryland?

“But it took the Statist nearly eighty years to get here, and it will take the Conservative at least as long to change the nation’s direction. Still, there is no time to waste. The Conservative must act now.” —  Mark Levin

Conservatives generally know why we fight (to borrow Frank Capra’s title of his World War II movie series) — but will we do so?  Here is today’s scary example of why we should from National Review on Line.

But will we pay the price  —

  • in the coin of personal time and commitment,
  • in the coin of angry responses from those friends, family, and colleagues with whom we start to disagree forcefully (no matter how politely),
  • in the coin of mastering the details of the administrative state in order to get it under control, and
  • in the coin of dislodging the GOP establishment-political consultant complex, from Annapolis and Richmond to K Street and the Hill in Washington, D. C. — master deceivers who would beguile us into ‘going along to avoid something worse’?

VIRGINIA: What should conservatives fight for?

In Virginia, it is, after all, fun to track the personalities in the gubernatorial race and discuss the latest polls.  Understandably one enjoys following one’s ‘own’ horse in the race.

The problem is that conservatives don’t know (and this is the charitable take) whether we actually have a horse of our own.

Some background:  In 2002, the former president signed the McCain-Feingold anti-free-speech legislation. In our view, that was a watershed year where a Republican president casually treated the constitutional protection of free political speech as a curious antiquity.

As George Will wrote – –

“In the predawn hours before Bush dashed off his signature and then dashed out of town (to raise money, including soft money), plaintiffs, most of them Bush supporters, lined up at the federal courthouse on Constitution Avenue. They will defend the Constitution against the law he signed. It is his job to defend the Constitution, but someone has to do his job when he will not.”

The message was not lost on the GOP establishment.  Henceforth ‘R’ after a candidate’s or an incumbent’s name, national or local, no longer had to be a reliable emblem of a firm stand on basic principles. If a Republican White House was ‘flexible’ on free political speech, why should rising Republican apparatchiks be stuck with a former generation’s constitutional scruples.

‘R’ among Party stalwarts in Virginia and Maryland, moreover, too often meant “people like us,” even if ‘D’ meant more and more the organized Hard Left.


The Old Dominion conservative might wonder what set of circumstances the good Mr. McDonnell envisions when he refrains from signing the gubernatorial no-new-taxes pledge? Does he suggest that he will not find state budget cuts to pay for expanding highways and relieve traffic congestion? “Jobs” and “energy” may be stirring slogans, but vague on likely follow-up. “Cut traffic congestion” might work better.

A long-time Virginia conservative said to us recently that when she closed her eyes listening to the former attorney general at the Republican convention in Richmond last month, she thought for a moment she was at a Democrat convention.

There is an overly-governmentalist tone to Mr. McDonnell’s solutions. He speaks of  coalitions of state and local governments and business interests to solve this or that assumed problem or top-down objective — rather than trusting consumer choice, and empowering citizens and parents to make these choices free of unreasonable constraint. For example:

As Governor, Bob McDonnell will appoint a Public School Turnaround Leader, at the Department of Education,whose sole mission will be to focus on the underperforming schools and set in motion urgent plans to eliminate obstacles to success. The leader will also increase coordination efforts between the Department of Education,local colleges and universities, the private sector and local schools to aid underperforming schools on a case-by-case basis. This new generation of education leaders will know what a successful school system looks like and how to implement it in failing areas. Turnaround experts must be given measurable goals,timelines and resources to succeed. (Underscoring Forum’s.)

Perhaps the state education cartel is a cause of under-performing schools, so the advice the cartel is likely to offer may not be a good cure.

Some of McDonnell’s approaches may be helpful in building coalitions for November’s election.

But they are also a stretch from an emphasis on the productivity and freedom of a market economy — and would not likely pass the Milton Friedman or Ronald Reagan statism tests. 

The Manhattan Institute’s Jim Manzi brings to light the contradictions in the statist approach in his “Factory Man” in NR/Digital (subscription required) —

“Which new sectors will actually be productive, and how they will ultimately develop, is highly unpredictable. This is why the free play of markets with limited intrusion by the government is so essential. Almost all industrial policy ends up protecting existing institutions: This is a function of human nature and is not fixable with clever program design. In practice, industrial policy normally means maintaining jobs that a ruthless market would eliminate, and subsidizing technological developments that can be exploited by existing large firms. But these are rarely the sources of new high-wage jobs. Ironically, these attempts to protect ourselves end up creating a sclerotic economy that in the long run puts everyone at greater risk. The painful reality of economic growth is creative destruction, and in a globalized economy, to lose out in this race is ultimately to put ourselves at the mercy of those who may or may not share our interests.(Underscoring Forum’s.)

. . . . . . . . . .

“We need a new vision for schools that looks a lot more like Silicon Valley than like Detroit: decentralized, entrepreneurial, and flexible. This will not mean abandoning traditional, disciplined learning, but rather incorporating it as a baseline and doing other things as well. The traditional response is that there are only so many hours in the day. True, but getting more done per hour of labor is just another way of saying ‘increasing productivity,’ and we can’t let education exempt itself from the ongoing productivity revolution any more than we can the auto industry.”(Underscoring Forum’s.)

What about McDonnell on the cap-and-trade issue? Mr. McDonnell has rightly weighed in against card-check nationally.  But if card-check is an infringement of liberty, any likely Federal cap-and-trade legislation is vastly more intrusive — except that some big businesses will profit from it.  Perhaps candidate McDonnell can come down hard against ‘cap and trade’ as it works its way through the Congress?

MARYLAND: What happens when conservatives don’t fight.

Few state-level conservative causes have gotten more expert help than alternatives to single-payer health insurance in Maryland.

Whether or not such a conservative alternative would have been enacted, understanding it and getting behind it and pushing it politically over the last several years would have prepared Maryland conservatives better than those in most states to weigh in on the Kennedy bill and articulately hold all our Congressional delegation to account.

Business groups under the leadership of Rocky Worcester have held policy conferences on the danger of single-payer health insurance since at least November 2000, bankrolling crucial and persuasive studies and revealing its costs. National experts like Heritage’s Bob Moffit, also a Marylander, worked patiently with center-right groups in the Old Line State. State senator E. J. Pipkin introduced reform legislation along free-market consumer-choice lines. Hands-on practitioners of such reform in other jurisdictions like Ed Haislmaier testified before the General Assembly. 

But Bob Ehrlich, the first Republican governor in decades, wouldn’t make Maryland health-reform a legislative or even a jawboning priority. As Ed Haislmaier wrote

“Also unfortunate is that, in failing to follow up the Governor’s veto of the Fair Share Act by offering a substantive alternative, the Ehrlich Administration missed an opportunity to redirect the legislature toward a more meaningful health reform debate. Thus, with the General Assembly’s enactment of a veto override, the Governor’s veto was consigned to the role of just another futile gesture in the drama.

Moreover the local health-provider trade groups were apparently hostile. The state Party hardly helped.  (Only after Mr. Ehrlich’s defeat in 2006 did the state Party come under more enlightened leadership, establishing anti-tax and environment commissions to provide Republican candidates with essential facts and analyses.)

It is too easy to cast the blame, however, on former governor Bob Ehrlich, who wasn’t comfortable in a conservative skin and was clearly a centrist. The failure was ours.

In Maryland various constituents of the center-right failed to come together as ‘conservatives’ but remained in the 1980’s mode of taxpayer-advocates alone, gun-rights advocates alone, immigration-enforcement advocates alone, and so forth. (Only the Maryland values leaders seemed to have a more inclusive reach as conservatives, often addressing fiscal matters.)

As Patrick Ruffini wrote – –

“Today on the right we have social conservative groups, economic groups — subdivided into tax cutters and spending hawks, national security groups, gun groups, etc. but no truly mass-based conservative movement. Perhaps the best exponent of across-the-board conservatism is Rush, but he has no lists and no way to mobilize his audience directly to donate and volunteer. When conservatism was a minority we may have needed single issue groups to pick off, say, pro-gun union members. But since Reagan, an entire generation has grown up thinking of themselves as nothing but conservatives. And they have no representation among the 1980s-era groups.” (Underscoring Forum’s.)

Up until the disaster of November 2008, moreover, too many Maryland conservatives still thought it was high treason politically to criticize Republican candidates or incumbents or even openly to discuss their public acts, voting, and statements.

And what about a possible electoral turn-around in 2010? Consider this scenario.  An outraged electorate hands control of the House of Representatives back to the Republicans in November 2010.  How well do you think the current House leadership will handle that possibly-last-chance-for-America opportunity?  Recall that Republican Leader John Boehner and Republican Whip Eric Cantor both voted for the bailout twice last fall — as well as supported the former president’s big-government expansion consistently. 
Both voted for No Child Left Behind, the Medicare Prescription Drug Entitlement, against free political speech in a 2006 Republican vote which George Will called “traducing the Constitution and disgracing conservatism.” As we said, both voted twice for the TARP bill last fall although one wouldn’t know it from their current ‘free enterprise’ rhetoric. At least Mr. Boehner did not join Mr. Cantor in voting this year for a punitive 90-percent tax

Do these two men have the sound judgment to guide a Republican House?

Will conservatives nationally and locally themselves have a plan for such an unexpected opportunity and fight for it – – or will they let themselves be steamrolled by the GOP establishment-consultant complex?

What to do now?  Learn the basics of proposed legislation like consumer-choice health reform and the many dangers of cap-and-trade and the other variants of a carbon tax.  The Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the American Enterprise Institute as well as the National Review Online’s “Corner” provide understandable facts and informed opinion in frequent postings. The proceedings and votes of the Congress are on line.  Americans have more information quickly available at home than at any time in our history.

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