Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Importance of Respect in Building a Conservative Movement

As the calendar approaches Labor Day, one could say that politically speaking, we are in the calm before the storm.  With people taking their last opportunity at vacation, school starting, and football games occupying people's time on weekends, politics is taking a bit of a back seat.   This is a good thing, because in politics as in all areas of life, people sometimes need time to breathe and relax before things intensify again.

And, things will indeed ramp back up soon.  On a national level, with Rick Perry just entering the race and Sarah Palin considering a bid, things are going to heat up quickly with five debates in six weeks beginning September 7.   Over the next few months, candidates will begin to emerge for U.S. Senate races and the newly drawn Congressional seats all across the country, including here in Kansaas.  At the state level, battle lines are currently being drawn for what will surely be an historical attempt by conservatives to take the Kansas Senate, with a slate of exceptionally strong conservatives taking on both Democrats and the most left wing of the Republican caucus.  Here at Kaw & Border, we will of course be covering this.

Given the heated nature of those races just over the horizon, we should take this down time not only to relax, but to look more broadly at the future of the conservative movement in Kansas -- for if conservatives are indeed successful in both August and November of 2012, a "new normal" will emerge in Kansas like none we have ever seen before -- one with conservatives in control of the House, the Senate, the Governorship and most every statewide office save Insurance Commissioner.

Yes, conservatives will have finally won, and likely achieved victory in a political reality in which the fromer-moderate wing of the Republican Party is essentially killed off and where the Democratic Party is so weak it has little to no means of growth, at least in the next few years.  Of course, nothing in politics is permanent but if the conservatives should be successful of defending their 63 in the House and achieving 21 in the Senate, it they will likely have control for at least four years, if not longer.

However, while indeed such a victory should be cause for immense celebration because of the decades of blood, sweat, tears and prayers that would have taken to achieve, it will present new challenges as well.  Much like the dog who catches up with the car, conservatives will have to decide how to handle themselves once they achieve full control.

One of the realities of "absolute power" is that when you don't have anyone to beat up in the opposition, your opposition often becomes each other.  Certainly, disagreement is healthy and welcome, but if and when conservatives obtain complete control in Kansas, one of the key challenges will be to ensure that such disagreement is communicated with respect -- both from those communicating a disagreement and from those who would seek to stifle disagreement for the sake of unity.

We are raising this point because of a couple trends that are starting to creep into the political lexicon:

1. Overuse of the term "RINO".  Make no mistake, there are RINO's -- John Vratil, Tim Owens, Terrie Huntington, etc.   The list is not short.  However, too often, both at the national and local level, certain folks within the conservative movement are beginning to toss the "RINO" label at anyone who dare takes a different view on a particular issue, or even when there is an agrement on an issue and there is just a slightly different strategy for getting there.  

Case in point on this front is the recent debate over the debt ceiling hike.  We at Kaw & Border preferred the stance that Tim Huelskamp and Kevin Yoder took in voting no on debt hike.  However, Paul Ryan, Allan West, and others who voted yes are NOT RINO's, yet there were attempts by some in the conservative movement to label them as such..  Neither is John Boehner, Mike Pompeo, or Lynn Jenkins.  Wherever the "RINO line" is, those individuals are on the right side of it, not the RINO side.  We're all headed in the same general direction.

Now, this does NOT mean that conservatives can't or shouldn't express disagreement with those individuals over a particular issue such as the debt ceiling -- in fact, they should do so and do so in an EFFECTIVE and respectful way.  On the flip side, those who voted "less conservative" (using that term loosely) -- often referred to as the establishment -- should not seek silence or "penalize" those who voted no and take a more firm position on those issues.  What should happen is that there should be a vigorous debate and then we should keep marching forward. 

The point here is that if we overuse the term RINO to mean anyone who doesn't agree with a certain conservative take on an issue, we cheapen the term.  A RINO is someone who is truly not a Republican in any shape or form, and is only running as a Republican because they could not get elected as a Democrat in a state like Kansas.  The aforementioned Johnson County Senators are perfect examples. 

However, there are many great conservatives who may take a different stance on one issue or another but are NOT RINO's -- and we do a dissservice to the movement when they are labeled as such.

Again, it's all about respect.

2. Trying to Define Certain Positions on Issues as "THE Conservative Position".   This trend is a little harder to define but is likely to play out once conservatives gain control of a state's branches of government.   Conservatives will theoretically have the votes to pass anything they want, but there will be disagreements on how to move forward, and there will be natural tendencies -- tendencies that need to be resisted -- for some to call their own position as "the" conservative position, when in fact there may be two or more different approaches to the same issue, with both viewpoints representing solid conservative princiles.

Now, there will be some issues -- the life issue for example -- where people are generally unified, and where conservatives should be expected to largely hold the line.  We mentioned the life issue.  We also believe that the same should hold true for marriage, a general reduction in spending, a general movement towards lowering taxes, etc.  And, certainly there will be a need to ask for those principles to be adhered to and to encourage legislators to not drift with the political winds for fear of re-election.   However, there WILL BE disagreements, sometimes strong ones, over the particulars of such legislation and we'll need to be respectful of those disagreements.  There is a large difference between voting a different way on a particular bill or issue because of political reasons and voting a different way because you legitimately have a disagreement -- and we need to learn to distinguish the two.

Here are a few issues where we could see this playing out:

1. Alcohol Sales.  There are some conservatives who want to allow hard liquor to be sold in grocery stores and convenience stores, as they see it as a free market issue.  There are some conservatives who want to keep the laws as they are, who see that the "liquor store" model for such products to be a good compromise between easy access and consumption.    There is also the separate economic argument about not harming liquor store owners who have been used to the laws in this state for decades.  The core issue here is how conservatives approach both economics as well as social policy on alcohol.  Those on the more 'libertarian side' should refrain from calling those on the other side as extremists who are backwards thinking, and those on the more 'anti-booze' side should refrain from labeling those on the more libertarian side with similar unfair terms.  There are two sides to this issue -- both with merit, both coming from conservative principles, and that debate needs to be held with vigor, free from labels which demean deeply held viewpoints.

2. Taxes.  There is not one conservative approach to tax reform.  Generally, we all want lower taxes.  However, there will be disagreement on tax REFORM and how to get there.  Some want a FairTax model, which moves away from the income tax and more towards sales taxes.  Some prefer a flat tax model which throws up the caution flag on moving to a sales tax model for fear of regressiveness, stifling sales in general, and increasing government involvement in transactions between individuals and business and between two businesses.  Some want to lower both sales and income taxes, keeping both in place but both at a lower level.  All of these positions deserve a hearing and vigorous debate.  Those promoting a FairTax like model should not call those opposed to the FairTax RINO's because they support retaining the income tax (though a lower one) and those who oppose the FairTax shouldn't label FairTax people as crazy or unrealistic, because they bring a well thought out position to the table. 

 3. Libertarianism vs. Traditional Conservatism.  This is a broader concept, but it's one that could likely start to play out over time as libertarian thinking begins to make its way into the conservative movement.   While we believe any efforts to undermine the definition of marriage should be resisted, there is room for disagreement on other issues, particularly economic type issues.  Now, this blog is generally going to lean towards the traditional conservative line of thinking, but we also believe that the libertarian thinking shouldn't be excluded or shunned -- but welcomed.  Let the debate play out.

Again, it's all about respect and being able to debate issues without tossing labels at each other within the conservative movement.  Remember, there are long term consequences if we don't go this path -- the movement could splinter, which could lead to a lack of progress on issues we care about while also providing an opening for our liberal opponents to regroup and make gains in a direction none of us want.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't ever have a conservative vs. conservative primary, but it also doesn't mean we should ever completely fracture either.  Our disagreements need to be communicated with humility and reason, not emotion or vindictiveness.

If they choose the right approach, conservatives, should they continue to win, could be in power for a long time to come and we'll have a better state and nation as a result.