Good column by David Brooks in today’s NYT. RTWT. Brooks, implicitly, responds to Jonathan’s post asserting that there is a lot of Clinton in Bush. The idea there being that Bush will trim his sails to be reelected, and that this is a disappointment to conservatives and libertarians who have principles, who recall the days when the Republican minority was motivated by the ideas of people like Milton Friedman and Hayek and Russell Kirk and Irving Kristol — and was led by ideological purists like Barry Goldwater and (so it seemed) Ronald Reagan and even Newt Gingrich. Brooks points out that this is all a function of being a majority party. You compromise your principles to stay in power. Intellectual clarity and revolutionary fervor are obstacles to actually winning elections and operating the government. The majority party gets to exercise power in a way which is at least partly consistent with its principles, while its opponent gets nothing. The minority gets to enjoy its own ideological consistency, while losing elections.
Minority parties are pure but defeated; governing parties are impure but victorious. The Republicans are now in the habit of winning, and are on permanent offense on all fronts. They offer tax cuts to stimulate the economy and please business. They nominate conservative judges to advance conservative social reform and satisfy religious conservatives. They fight a war on terror. They have even come to occupy the Democratic holy of the holies, the welfare state. In exchange for massive new spending, they demand competitive reforms.
Of course, a party which loses touch with its founding principles eventually withers, begins suffering defeat, and has to reinvent itself But that can be a very slow process. Look how long the New Deal coalition hung on to power.
I am not particularly dismayed by this process. It is fun to look back at the liberal wailing when FDR was president. They saw him betraying their principles all the time. Few now would say he wasn’t liberal enough for his time and place. He was as liberal as he could get away with, as he minimally had to be, to keep the liberals in his party on the ranch on election day. This is how it always is.
As den Beste put it, in another context “The standard isn’t perfection. The standard is the alternative.” The alternative is Daschle, Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, Dean, Sharpton and the whole sorry crew. Give me W, Bill Frist and Denny Hastert any day.