Good Government

Patrick B. McGuigan | June 7, 2008

Discontent, and a Season of Hope

Patrick B. McGuigan

This is the season of conservative discontent. As the party of Jefferson, now the liberal party, prepares to nominate a presidential candidate whose economic philosophy would be anathema to the sage of Monticello, the party of Lincoln, now the conservative party, is imploding with infighting, internal fatwas, and the politics of recriminations.

It’s like we’re living with charity toward none, and malice toward all—the inversion of Lincoln’s admonition.

In the era of permanent campaigns, primaries never really end, political fundraising is a 24/7 science, and there is too little time for arts of governance and sober measurement of possibilities. Even many of those in the “leave us alone” center-right coalition want instant gratification and government affirmation.

The old jingle about taxes was: “Don’t tax me, don’t tax thee, tax that fellow behind the tree.” Now, it’s more like this: “Don’t you dare subsidize thee, or that one behind the tree—but be sure, subsidize me.” We won’t shrink government until we act as if we believe it needs shrinking.

In Oklahoma, many Republicans have adopted principles of legislative supremacy that have for much of our state’s history made governors, statewide elected officers, and agency executives irrelevant or powerless. Too many conservatives now in power strive for the “conservative” Republican version of Gene Stipe governance, making citizens supplicants who ask government permission to exercise liberty, rather than sovereigns of the realm. Why replace their mandates with ours?

It should be, but often has not been, a “given” that “conservatives” who actively undermine and oppose conservatives in government should, themselves, be opposed.

The last time I saw Barry Goldwater was two decades ago. We had a 30-minute interview as he packed boxes in his Senate office, preparing to leave Washington after his long career in politics. He told me he thought the Republicans were “just about out of money, out of men, and out of ideas.” I thought he was wrong.

Yeah, I still believe in the audacity of hope. Both Ronald Reagan and the original “Mr. Conservative,” Bob Taft of Ohio, remain models for conservatives in politics. They were cheerful warriors, full of confidence and conviction. Those who ignore their models misconceive the purpose of politics.

Speaking of hope, I remember the late William French Smith, President Reagan’s first attorney general, relating his experience on election night 1964, the first time he met the future president.

In a room full of gloomy conservatives who were lamenting a crushing presidential election defeat for their hero, Barry Goldwater, Reagan pulled out a chair, stood on it and in a few minutes of extemporaneous speaking rallied everyone to get rid of those gloomy faces and keep believing. I once heard Smith say that he never forgot that in the soil of defeat that night was planted the seeds of future victories.

That’s how it is in the business of public policy and the people’s business. In fact, not to confuse process with principle, that’s how it is in life. Hopeful warriors, let us continue.

Patrick B. McGuigan

Independent Journalist

A member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, Patrick B. McGuigan is founder of CapitolBeatOK, an online news service, and editor of The City Sentinel, an independent newspaper. He is the author of three books and editor of seven, and has written extensively on education and other public policy issues.

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