Liberty Opinion: 16 June 2008
A Republican leader came to Kansas to explain why electing Republicans who want to help Democrats win is a good thing. The Democrats believed him. Denis Boyles didn't.
How Republicans Lose
Republicans keep getting the door slammed in their faces all over America, and they just don’t know why.
This week, Michael Steele, the chairman of GOPAC, and thus the party’s principal candidate-hunter, came to Kansas to show them exactly why. When a Kansas Liberty reporter asked him what he thought of RINOs (an acronym for, as you know, “Republican in Name Only”), Steele bristled.
“I reject that phrase,” he said. “I just think it’s stupid. It says to some candidates, ‘You’re not pure enough to be a real Republican.’ If we truly have a big tent, then to call people RINOs is a lie. We want to respect people with different views. We can have Republicans that are conservative and are liberal, and we won’t kick you out of the party.”
The rough translation: “We’re not a party that believes in anything. We’re just a party that wants to win elections.” Steele’s Republican Party, in other words, is the party of cynicism. And if there’s one thing Americans despise in politics, it’s cynicism.
They despise it more than they despise George W. Bush, for example. The conventional wisdom shoveled at them by the press and their polls is that the GOP is flagging because the entire nation—with the exception of two elderly people in Kennebunkport, Maine—is done with George W. Bush and his practice of explaining why he fattened government by uttering short, barked, semi-intelligible “thoughts,” to apply a common word in a new and novel way.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons why many Americans are tired of Bush, but that’s not why Republicans are being shunned. They’re being ignored because of men like Steele who ridicule the notion of vision and principle. He forgets that the “vision thing”—as W’s father once sneered, just before he lost an election—is what wins votes.
It was only 14 years ago that Republicans turned the Congress upside-down with a popular vision of a government that was smaller, more responsive, less expensive, and comprehending of basic ethics and morality. They were above all serious about their intentions. The huge freshman class that came to Washington that year was notably short on cynics. So they were adored.
Today, Bush’s poll popularity may be in the twenties, but Congress’s is in the teens. Only journalists are less popular. Faith in public institutions is almost non-existent; many Americans feel that a nation that is inherently optimistic is being run into the ground by a bunch of people who are fundamentally pessimistic. And pessimism—and the sense that principles and values are meaningless—breeds cynicism.
In Kansas, especially, a rather significant cohort of cynical Republicans—they call themselves “moderate” with as much sincerity as they call themselves “Republican”—have insured the relentless progress of policies that fairly describe the Democratic Party’s vision for Kansas and for America.
In a state nominally Republican, those RINOs Steele thinks don’t exist have worked with the Democrats and the state’s liberal governor to bloat the educational bureaucracy, overspend the state’s tax revenues, establish a safe haven for practitioners of late-term abortions that appall men and women in the rest of the civilized world, curry favor with the nation’s powerful green lobby at the expense of citizens, leave unexamined a deeply corrupted selection process for the state judiciary, and employ the office of attorney general to wage purely political battles. Moreover, and perhaps of interest to Steele, they’ve worked to defeat Republicans and to support Democrats, including Nancy Boyda, Dennis Moore and Kathleen Sebelius.
To the extent people know about this kind of cynicism, they abhor it. However the only person more cynical than a Kansas Democrat pretending to be a Republican is a Kansas journalist pretending to fairly report the news. Next Monday, there’ll be 120 or so fewer of those, since the Kansas City Star, the chief exponent of cynical journalism locally, has made itself irrelevant to readers and is slowly going broke.
To his credit, Kris Kobach, the man toting the impossible burden of trying to keep the state Republican Party in one piece, understands the price of Steele’s cynicism. “Politicians,” he wrote to me in an email exchange, “who exploit the Republican label in a calculated effort to mislead voters only weaken the Kansas Republican Party."
Kansas, he said, has learned the lesson of the big tent the hard way. “Both the current Lieutenant Governor, Mark Parkinson, and former Attorney General Paul Morrison won statewide office as Democrats after holding lower offices in strongly Republican Johnson County,” he wrote. “When they held those lower offices—D.A. for Morrison, and State Senator for Parkinson—they called themselves Republicans. Clearly, they claimed the Republican label at the time simply because it was necessary in order for them to win those offices, and not out of any belief in Republican principles. When abandoning the Republican label became politically expedient for them…they did so.”
Moderation’s not a bad thing in a Republican, and neither is loyalty, but cynicism certainly is. As Steele will soon discover, voters are not interested in electing people whose only dream is to win an election.
Most adults know that the difference between a “big tent” and a circus is the clowns under the canvas. If Steele had listened more carefully to what Republicans think of the Morrisons and Parkinsons that have defined what it means to be a “moderate” member of his own party in Kansas, he might have discovered why he lost his bid for a U.S. Senate seat two years ago.