Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Don't Smoke the Kristol Meth

Whatever else Republicans do in trying to pull themselves up off the floor after a much-deserved drubbing, they ought to avoid like poison the political counsel of Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol, who would have the GOP abandon what shreds of principle it has left in a pointless quest to regain power.

I say "pointless" because that's what power is without principle -- as the GOP aptly demonstrated in the last 8 years.

Kristol, in two recent New York Times columns, unmasks himself as a non-con rather than a neo-con -- meaning he has nothing in common with conservatives except an empty label. It's the Kristol Republicans who helped sever the party from its traditional moorings, leading directly to the disaster at hand. Cut adrift, party insiders fell victim to every seduction that power can offer, from pork-barrel pigouts to reckless acts of nation-building, with Kristol cheerleading from the peanut gallery. And the party will be dashed on the reef, never to recover, if it doesn't disregard this new siren song.

Several weeks back, ably filling in for regular New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman (meaning that I couldn't tell their columns apart), Kristol argued that Republicans must abandon their slavish belief in free markets and free enterprise if they want to regain power. Wearing Adam Smith neckties is fine for the dweebs that hang out at Heritage Foundation events, Kristol all but said. But these ideas just aren't trendy at the moment -- and they certainly aren't worth losing congressional races over!

Kristol yesterday delivered another broadside -- and another dose of bad political advice -- arguing this time that Republicans no longer can win on the limited government platform. That, too, is passe in Kristol's view. Just as conservatives and libertarians must acknowledge that free markets and free enterprise need to be managed by the wizards in Washington, we must give up on the archaic idea that government should be modest in mission and power. "I can’t help but admire some of my fellow conservatives’ loyalty to the small-government cause," Kristol sneers. "It reminds me of the nobility of Tennyson’s Light Brigade, as it charges into battle: 'Theirs but to do and die.' Maybe it would be better, though, first to reason why."'

Most who ascribe to freedom philosophy already know the "reason why," Bill. We've thought the matter through and decided that political and economic liberty are practically and morally superior to their antipodes, statism and socialism. Kristol's attachment to these ideas is obviously more tenuous, conditioned on whether they help or hinder his party of convenience. I would rather see the Republican Party lose elections than see it lose its soul.

Remove economic and political liberty from the old-line Republican platform, as Kristol advises, and the platform will collapse. What will be left then, except a malleable mish-mash of "position statements" tailored to win congressional races but detached from any over-arching economic, political or moral philosophy. Knee-jerk support for Israel does not a party platform make, contrary to what Kristol and other neocons (oops, that's non-cons from now on!) seem to think.

Republicans don't need to repudiate these timeless ideas; they need to rediscover them, revive them, re-fashion them in a way that works in a modern context. If that takes years, and means they're out of power for a while, so be it. That will give the statists and collectivists the time they need to make an even bigger mess of things -- setting the stage for a revival of popular interest in the limited government virtues our founders espoused.

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