Friday, March 4, 2016

Up with the Establishment and Other Heresies


One Toke Over the Line









The are many conservative Republicans (including friends of mine) whose talk would make you think you're in a group wearing beads and Roman sandals with flowers in their long scraggly hair and a cloud of sweet smoke surrounding their heads. They're chanting, "Down with the establishment!" Far out, man!

I have spent most of my life as a contrarian which puts me on the "bad list" of some establishments. 

I have experienced the ugly side of ecclesial establishments. Before the PCA existed there was in Central Mississippi Presbytery of the old PCUS a conservative caucus that met in advance of Presbytery meetings to determine how to vote, to plan strategy and tactics, and to decide whom would be elected. When the PCA came into existence and Central Mississippi was replaced by Mississippi Valley, it became obvious that the caucus still existed and was protective of its privileges, positions, and powers. A Presbytery elected officer retired. The nominating committee brought forth the name of a young (mid-30s) man, well-qualified by gifts and experience, irenic of temperament, fair and impartial. But the old "establishment" would not have it. They nominated one of their own, a far more political man, and they held on to their territory. Ugly. Distasteful. 

You can always count on Chris McDaniel, Mississippi purist, almost the lone elected true conservative and conservatism's savior, to attack the "establishment." Yesterday he posted:
Would someone kindly please tell Mitt Romney to go away? And take Lindsey Graham with him?
...it's not simply his words; it's that he assumes himself to be relevant. When will they finally understand? The establishment and the corrupt system they've perpetrated must come to an end.
John Kasich says he can get cross-over votes. Of course he can. Like Thad Cochran, he clearly appeals to Democrats. Why? Perhaps he's in the wrong Party.

McDaniel thinks: "Let's have a smaller party without any elder statesmen and with no one allowed who does not meet the McDaniel standards of ideological purity." Of course, McDaniel's only candidate is Mr. Anti-Establishment, Ted Cruz, who has spent his time in the Senate alienating almost every one of  his Republican colleagues.

I hate, loathe, despise, and abominate the kind of ecclesial establishments I describe above. And, while I am a bona fide member of the "down with the establishment generation," I believe in establishments. I do not consider the word "establishment" a pejorative. Every organization needs an establishment. A establishment is the keeper of corporate memory. Establishments conserve and transmit the organization's values and traditions. Establishments provide continuity and stability. Establishments have the apparatus by which to run and win elections. Establishments make it possible to run a government and to govern effectively. Establishments are organization parents - the kids indulge themselves while the adults keep things stable. This year, if the Republican Party survives, and it may not (the insurgents would really like to see it burned to the ground), and if either Trump or Cruz gets the nomination and the expected disaster follows, the Republican establishment will have to pick up the pieces and try to rebuild the Party.

The Establishment, its allies, and those it favors are the evil "RINOs." , I think this RINO business is misguided. For one thing what are called RINOs today are largely modern Reagan conservatives. But think also about the meaning of "RINO" - Republican in Name Only. Is Romney a RINO? Kasich? Rubio? A real RINO in my opinion is Cruz who has no loyalty to his Party, a fact proved repeatedly by his relations and conduct in Senate. 

The Republican Party today is more conservative than it was in 1980. There are no liberal/progressives and very few moderates left. No Jacob Javits, no Nelson Rockefeller, no John Heinz, no Edward Brooke, no Charles Mathias, et al. When people like Jeb Bush are called RINOs, you have entered the world of Alice in Wonderland.

One of the things that anti-Establishment types like to say is: "How has nominating RINOs worked out? Such folks have a selective memory. Who has won since 1950? Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Bush 41, and Bush 43. The Establishment RINOs have won as much as they've lost.

And in terms of the standards applied by the anti-Establishment crowd, its hard not to think of Reagan as having one foot in the RINO camp. He was accused by the anti-Establishment folks of his day of selling out. He was a pragmatic conservative and big tent Republican who never thought about purging the Party. You can't imagine Reagan telling Romney to go away or Kasich to become a Democrat.

What about the RINO losses? Bob Dole (who by the way was a conservative budget hawk) was not going to win against an incumbent charismatic Clinton. There is a good chance that McCain would have won, had not the economy collapsed (but he also had going against him the fact that voters usually don't give a party a 3rd term). Romney did not run a stellar campaign, had trouble identifying with the "regular guy," and had to take positions to satisfy the "base" that made it hard to appeal to the general non-ideological electorate. He also faced an incumbent, an economy showing signs of life, and an extremely well run Obama campaign.

I think one reason the Party is fractured is that the unrealistic expectations of the "further right" were encouraged by the "Establishment right." People really thought that Obamacare could be repealed (de-funded), that a budget deal conservatives would love and liberals hate could be reached, that executive orders could be overturned. The real question should have been, though questions like this do not rally the troops, "What really can be done?" Rather people expected big victories and, if victories could not be won, the thing to do was, like Cruz, to fall on one's sword. Reagan had to face this very kind of thing and spoke about how he did not believe in the strategy of dying on a hill but of living to fight another day.

The establishment had remarkable success in 2014 - in fact unprecedented. We were poised for a big victory in 2016. Now we are looking at disaster. I blame (1) unrealistic expectations, (2) a rigid, absolutist conservatism of the Cruz sort, and (3) the strange irrational acceptance of Trump. We are managing to snag defeat from the jaws of victory. We are looking at the real possibility of losing the Presidency, losing the Senate, putting the House in play, seeing conservatism set back for a generation or two, and maybe the dissolution of the Party that has been the vehicle of conservatism.

A big price all of us will pay for the anti-Establishmentarians to have their way.
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