Monday, October 12, 2009

The Politics of Realism

In case it wasn't already clear to you, Kaw & Border is a believer in the conservative movement. We believe in such things as lower taxes, limited government, empowering the individual, the right to life, and the rule of law -- and we believe in promoting those principles wherever possible, and making the term "Republican" actually mean something again other than a mere label for a political party.

In that same spirit, we also believe in electing conservative candidates to public office and giving them the support necessary to win. Not supporting these candidates will mean the causes we are fighting for will never be implemented. We've talked enough about great candidates on this blog to make this abundantly clear -- you have to win elections in order to win the battle on policy.

In trying to achieve these two noble goals, it is also important we also remember the old axiom to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good -- or in the case of some, letting the good be the enemy of the perfect. It is important that as conservatives, as activists, as candidates -- we stay focused on the game at hand -- in the words of Hank Stram, "Let's matriculate the ball down the field, boys."

Politically speaking, that means rather than attempting hail mary passes, we should focus on continuing to make short but steady gains, and in the process, setting realistic and achievable goals both in terms of fielding candidates and pushing for certain policies. While this requires patience, this strategy, over time, results in the same finale we're all looking for -- better policies, better politicians, and, as a side benefit, it also makes longer term "dreams" more achievable as well.

One would think this concept would be simple to grasp on the surface. However, while most of the consequences in this era of "Facebook politics" are positive, one challenge can be that sometimes groups or individuals become so driven and so passionate about the trees that they forget to see the forest -- i.e., they demand perfection on an issue or in a candidate, and they end up, either intentionally or not, vilifying those who are not perfect, and end up undermining quality candidates who they are in philosophical agreement with on 95% of the issues.

As Ronald Reagan once said, "the person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor."

We call it the Politics of Realism -- i.e., in our pursuit of noble conservative goals, making sure we stay focused on goals that are achieveable, and not vilifying those who not perceived as perfect and/or disagree on the nuances of a particular policy.

Specifically, we at Kaw & Border have noticed a few trends lately that concern us, both when it comes to politics as well as policy:

One of the most active grassroots organizations are those who support the FairTax. Now, don't get us wrong -- we believe the FairTax supporters have every right to push their issue. However, one trend we have noticed among them is the direct criticism of candidates who have not yet endorsed their particular idea for tax reform. One email forwarded to Kaw & Border criticized a local Congressional candidate for simply studying the issue...God forbid.

Many conservatives support tax reform in general, but may not support the FairTax for one reason or the other -- and those that fall into that category shouldn't be treated like they are no different than a tax-and-spend Democrat. Browbeating candidates who support tax reform but aren't quite on board with one version of it is not a way to achieve victory nor win the support of those who are legitimately on the fence on the issue.

Finally, whether one agrees with the FairTax or not -- and conservatives have legitimate opinions on both sides of that coin (we won't get into that here)-- it is not likely to be implemented anytime soon. The reason is that it would require a repeal of the 16th Amendment in order to prevent a tax on both income and consumption. Such a repeal would require a 2/3 majority in Congress and then 3/4 of the states. Even if Republicans were to have control of Congress, getting to those numbers is a very difficult task.

What is achievable is getting to a majority in Congress of those who believe in tax reform period -- whether it be significant tax reductions, simplification of the tax code, or even a flat tax -- proposals that move the ball closer to what the FairTax people want. And, it could be that when such ideas are implemented, people are happy with it and that slows support for the FairTax -- and it could be that's what they fear.

The fact is the FairTax idea has been being pushed for over a decade, despite the fact the FairTax folks are a very dedicated, largely conservative full of passionate individuals who spend many hours devoted to their cause. Perhaps if that energy was devoted to tax reform in general and supporting candidates who are legitimately committed to tax reform, they might find their ball getting advanced quicker than it is now.

On a political level, we also see this demand for perfection playing out as well.

Take the battle for the U.S. Senate. There are only a certain number of seats available -- and four of them - Connecticut, Illinois, Delaware, and New York -- are legitimately open for the taking like they haven't been for Republicans in literally a generation. However, in each case -- due to the makeup of each state -- the likely Republican nominee will be someone quite moderate. In Connecticut, Rob Simmons. In Illinois, Mark Kirk. In Delaware, Mike Castle. And in New York, George Pataki.

Let us be clear -- Simmons, Kirk, Castle, and Pataki are not our kinds of Republicans. And, if they were running in Texas, Alabama, Florida, and Kansas, we wouldn't support their candidacies. But they aren't. And most importantly, they could all legitimately take the seats that are or were recently held by Chris Dodd, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton. The psychological impact of taking all these seats -- combined with likely conservative takeovers in Colorado (Bennett), Arkansas (Lincoln), Nevada (Harry Reid), and Pennsylvania (Specter)-- would be a political earthquake that we have not seen before.

Yet, a simple trip down conservative blogs and grassroots sites reveals a great deal of sniping at the candidates in those four seats, even though there is no realistic conservative choice in any of them that could prevail in November. This sniping, if it continues, could have a bad effect on Republicans ability to make gains in Congress.

Our point is this -- in states that are to the hard left of American politics - there is nothing wrong with supporting candidates who are even 60% with us -- over those who are on the opposite side of everything we believe in.

At a local level, we also have to be careful. There are a lot of conservatives quite upset with Senator Sam Brownback, who is running for Governor. Go to any tea party or conservative website and you'll see the criticisms. To be sure, Sam's record isn't perfect, and there are legitimate reasons to criticize him.

However -- Sam Brownback represents the first time in Kansas history for a conservative to be elected Governor. He is, unquestionably, a pro-life, pro-lower tax, pro-limited government, pro business Republican who would likely support judicial reform, budget reform, and the enforcement of our state's abortion laws.

Yet, what's happened in the past few months is that Sam's numbers have dropped below 50%. He is now at just a 48% approval rating...a probably safe yet dangerous number, if Democrats actually had a candidate. Though this alarmingly low number is not exclusively due to the constant doubt about Sam that is out there, and though perhaps Sam himself could do more to address it, the point is that the constant drumbeat of doubts has an effect, right when we as conservatives should be the most excited and rallying behind him. If someone has an issue with Sam's strategy, that's fine -- but there is way too much "bash Sam" talk out there for this blog, for pretty shaky reasons.

Finally, in the 3rd District race, we've pointed out regularly on this blog about the constant speculation about potential candidates, while a passionately conservative candidate -- Patricia Lightner, who has the personal profile to appeal to a large cross-section of voters necessary to win -- continues to campaign her butt off throughout the district.

Lightner, in some folks eyes, is not their ideal choice...a view of Facebook posts and on some websites reveals talk about how though they love her on the issues, they don't like the fact she's a lawyer, or was a lobbyist, or that she doesn't give fiery speeches....so they go off on a never-ending search for "St. Perfect Candidate".

In our eyes, as we've said before, Lightner is a great candidate -- conservative yet independent, outspoken yet not in your face, strong yet thoughtful, principled yet respectful. She may not be perfect for one reason or the other, but no candidate is -- not other state legislators, not a certain radio talk show host, and certainly not a local newspaper publisher.

That's to say she doesn't have faults. Every candidate does. But the point is this search for the perfect eventually harms the good -- the cause we are all fighting for at the end of the day -- which is defeating Dennis Moore with a conservative candidate. The fact is, in most races, candidates have been out for nearly the entire year, building support, organization, and funds. In the 3rd District, potential candidates have had MONTHS to get in the race, yet only Patricia Lightner, Daniel Gilyeat, and John Rysavy have done so.

It's mid-October, folks, and the election is not all that far away -- and there comes a point where energy is better spent on helping the candidate who has been in the race for months and is already walking -- versus putting together petitions in an attempt to convince candidates who aren't in the race to simply think about running, let alone put together the massive campaign necessary to win a Congressional race.

While this desire for perfection is understandable in the light of so many failures of people in public office, and may be driving the desire to find those outside of the political arena, we should not let it cloud our overall judgment when it comes to realistically achieving our aims...particularly when those efforts could end up splitting the votes of those conservatives, thus opening the door for a Pat Colloton to get in.

These are just three examples of where the conservative movement may want to adjust its intensity-meter. Let's not forget that the only way we'll ever achieve our aims is to actually win elections. Winning elections is not easy -- it requires months of careful planning and a great deal of momentum and enthusiasm. Winning elections also means electing human beings to public office, not robots who simply respond to commands, but to persuasion and reasoned arguments. That's how you win on policy, and that's how this country ends up being better than it was before we got started.

Achieving victory on both politics and policy will be built through realistic aims, goals, and the unity of those who agree on 90% of the issues, focused on the election of those who are not perfect, even if we'd like them to be.

Let's not let the 10% destroy us.