Yesterday I received my appointment by City Manager Mike Hein to the City of Tucson’s Citizen’s Commission on Public Service and Compensation. That is a rather long title for the seven member group that meets over a two-month period to recommend the salary levels for the Mayor and City Council members here in Tucson. Since the City Manager is so interested in cutting from various parts of the budget, I think it will be difficult to justify a raise this year.
Former speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once quipped that “All politics is local.” Apparently, southern Arizona’s own Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is content politicking from afar. She reportedly has no plans to run in the 2010 gubernatorial election for the post being vacated by Janet Napolitano (who’s also going to Washington). My question: why not?
But I have to say, it is quite the relief to see the other side infighting instead of us.
This is not to say that the GOP is in the clear. In fact, RNC Chairman Mike Duncan recently addressed the GOP split between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘reformists’ in crafting a political way forward. That said, I think it is still safe to conclude that Dems coalition has always been much more at odds.
Since the 1950s, the conservative movement has prided itself for its emphasis on ideas. Conservatives see themselves—unlike liberals, who work as a coalition of special interests, with leaders promising various handouts—but as a movement founded on intellectualism and ideas, as informed by a series of first principles. Indeed, the modern conservative movement, spurred by thinkers such as Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley, Jr., reignited this emphasis, and eventually built the foundation of a coherent political movement. By adding thinkers such as Milton Friedman to the mix, the conservative movement turned into a tidal wave, culminating in the Reagan presidency and the Republican Revolution of 1994.
Yet, somewhere in the last several years, the Republican Party lost the battle of ideas—or more accurately, abandoned the battle of ideas. During President Bush’s first term, he conducted, along with Republican Congressional support, a relatively active domestic policy, which included income tax cuts, progressive elimination of the death tax, dividend tax cuts, the Medicare prescription drug plan, and so on.
But was there any signature domestic issue in his second term? Granted, much of the 2nd term took place under the haze of the nation’s two wars, and the Bush Administration has superbly protected us against further attacks. And we have two unbelievable additions to the Supreme Court in Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. However, successes—and even offerings—have been few. I point to the failure of many Congressional Republicans to back President Bush’s plan for Social Security reform as the beginning of the party’s entry into the current valley bereft of meaningful ideas. Since then, Republicans (at least the leadership) have floated along rudderless, failing to suggest much in the way of, well, anything.
As previously proffered in this forum, the conservative movement has some outstanding potential leaders out there—but they need to drop the “potential” label and start to lead conservatives again.
Where will we start? As Yuval Levin said in the December 1st issue of National Review, “Winning the next election requires…us to ask what we believe about government, about man, and about our country; to ask what problems concern the public today that might be addressed by changing something about government; and to ask how our beliefs might be applied to those problems in practice. This is the threefold task that now (as always) confronts conservatives.”
In essence, we must visibly identify our first principles and then cogently and persuasively articulate policy proposals that reflect those principles. It’s not enough just to determine what we believe; we have to take the bold step of translating those beliefs into a meaningful policy agenda.
But this isn’t a new strategy. Fifty years ago, WFB said,
When one declares oneself to be a conservative, one is not, unfortunately, thereupon visited by tongues of fire that leave one omniscient. The acceptance of a series of premises is just the beginning. After that, we need constantly to inform ourselves, to analyze and to think through our premises and their ramifications. We need to ponder, in the light of the evidence, the strengths and the weaknesses, the consistencies and the inconsistencies, the glory and the frailty of our position, week in and week out. Otherwise we will not hold our own in a world where informed dedication, not just dedication, is necessary for survival and growth.
Conservatism isn’t a particular set of policies, but a set of first principles (or premises, per WFB) that inform specific policies. Policies that can change and conform overtime according to circumstances, but are nonetheless founded upon those first principles.
Herein lies the challenge: how do we apply decades-old principles to contemporary issues? In a way, conservatism needs to return to its intellectual roots, while at the same time innovatively anticipating tomorrow’s battles.
Already, in the few weeks since the election, conservative thinkers have been doing just that: re-articulating first principles in anticipation of fashioning specific policies in the future. And, here at Ex Deserto, we hope to do our small part in driving the message—that conservatism is a lasting intellectual movement, a lasting political movement, and a lasting solution in reaffirming America’s special place in history.
Congratulations to my friend Christopher Finlayson on being elected the new Attorney General of New Zealand. Chris and I met in Rome in 2001 where we were both studying Latin with the pope’s Latinist, Reggie Foster.
eHarmony’s settlement with the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights (NJDCR) showed that the company’s corporate bottom-line pandering to the homosexual market trumps society’s traditional view of marriage. Perhaps eHarmony desired to open up a one-stop, all-inclusive dating service from the beginning, but it just lacked the impetus to wade into controversial waters. Whatever the reason, as of March 31, 2009, it will launch Compatible Partners, a service designed to cater to the gay and lesbian community.
The settlement arose out of a dispute in 2005 when New Jersey resident Eric McKinley filed a complaint against eHarmony.com alleging discrimination based on his sexual orientation. McKinley, a homosexual, felt oppressed when the private corporation, eHarmony, obstinately did not offer an option allowing him to find his own “match”. After three years of litigation, the dating website caved. It settled with the NJDCR for $50,000 and paid McKinley $5,000. It also agreed to launch Compatible Partners.
Lest eHarmony purport to be the victim, the site was not under unbearable pressure to offer a same-sex dating service. Rather, it was a strategic decision to garner more revenue to the already immensely profitable website. It could have ceased to operate in New Jersey, solicited support by other organizations, or even adopted the radical notion of fighting the meritless claim.
If conservatives are to regain national prominence, it will require the support of corporations standing for basic institutions: marriage perhaps as society’s cornerstone. Conservative change occurs not only in the courtroom or legal area, but also in the corporate culture. eHarmony is evidence of this change, a model of how to relinquish traditional values. Buckling under the threat of opposition is not a step in the right direction. Pun intended.