Wednesday, November 10

So what's the blogosphere's post-election role going to be? Well, Hugh Hewitt doesn't really have to wonder about such things, because he's been blogging for a long time already and will be blogging through many more election cycles, I suspect.

But I'll forego a long-term philosophy for right now to focus on what I think center-right bloggers ought to be doing for at least the next four years: preventing a catastrophic split in the Republican party.

There is evidence that this is possible (and common sense tells us so). Though it's conventional wisdom that power oscillates between the two major parties, we can't ignore the fact that Republicans have won 7 of the last 10 presidential elections (with no true liberal winning any of them). So it's a reasonable assumption that the balance of power is, right now, aligned toward conservatives, or at least the center-right.

And already, people have their hands out expecting political payback. Wonder why many evangelical leaders have been so quick to claim they played a major role in the president's re-election? In these crucial post-election weeks, when the story of this election is written and typeset for history, every interested party is trying to frame it every which way. And Dr. James Dobson and others are no exception.

Does anyone else see trouble brewing? Already, many are pushing to derail Sen. Arlen Specter's ascent to the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. I won't delve into the specifics here, but instead refer you to others who have commented rather intelligently and insightfully thus far on the situation. There seems to be a robust and, I suppose, healthy debate in the center-right about whether Specter should be denied the chairmanship.

After reading about this for a few days now I, without reservation, agree with Hugh's take. Perhaps it's because In, But Not Of has so shaped my view of the political process that I feel this is a time for pragmatism. Those that demand ideological purity within our party are short-sighted.

Surely everyone agrees that the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee is a key role. But to insist that a strong conservative be installed there at a cost of much political capital is not a wise move. Hugh is right- they're fighting the wrong battle.

The purpose of parties is to win elections. Our political system inherently favors just two parties, so it is practical and inevitable that to win elections we must compromise on some points. Hugh says:

Evangelicals have to give the majority coalition in which they are dominant part the opportunity to deliver political accomplishments over a period of time, and they must accept less than perfection on the part of the coalition --because it is a coalition, not a pure majority. This is why I wrote my book this past year, and why it remains necessary to keep reminding people that there are not enough conservatives in this country to gain a governing majority. It is easy to lose sight of that undeniable fact just after a sweeping win. But if the center-right does forget, it will be back in the minority in two short years.

I think he's right on. This is something I've thought about a lot over the past few years as I've tried to understand what my role as a Christian should be if I do, in fact, work somewhere in politics. There seems to be a lot of pressure (often from evangelical groups) to not cave or compromise on any points. Indeed, I hear conservatives all the time criticize the president for this or that "compromise" - e.g., "settling" for a partial-birth abortion ban when they think we should seek to end all abortions.

I won't open that can of worms now except to say that, were the abortion debate a football game, Roe v. Wade was a punt downed inside our five yard line. The PBA ban was a first down. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act was another. But we're still in no position to fire at the end zone, and there's no reason we should be resorting to Hail Marys (I mean the passes, not the prayers- bear with the metaphor). Think field position.

This all has a point, I promise (go back and read my first paragraph if you're wondering where I'm going with this). So there's this pressure on conservative pols, often from evangelical groups, to push for an absolute agenda. Is it worth it to try to win every battle at the expense of winning the proverbial war? If we lose elections, we don't get to make any decisions. Each politician, and especially each Christian in politics, needs to decide in his heart what lines he won't cross and what compromises he won't make.

That aside aside (and it really is in line with my point, I promise), I think a crucial role for bloggers right now is to build bridges within our party. There is little binding social and fiscal conservatives but the desire to win elections; then again, that desire is the glue of every political party. But we must remember why we support a party in the first place: not because we foolishly believe it will give us everything we want, but because we see it as the most effective vehicle for advancing our basic, common agenda and enabling us to fight for our particular passions.

So the evangelical flap over Specter is but one example- a very important example- of the caution with which we must tread. Yes, evangelical voters were important to the president's victory, and they should be proud of themselves. But so should 9/11 Democrats, "security moms", national security wonks, fiscal conservatives, and libertarians, moderates and liberals who all voted for the president because they saw him as the better choice.

This is the Republican party, not the Dobson-Falwell-Robertson Coalition (sorry, James, for linking you with those other two, but I had to make my point). Democrats would love nothing more than to effectively paint Jerry Falwell as the face of our party, and indeed they are still trying to do this.

The requisite disclaimer: I am not, of course, discounting the obvious importance of the president's evangelical base. These are just cautionary words.

So what are center-right bloggers to do? For starters, let's keep the discourse civil, as most of it has been thus far. My political communication professor makes the point that Democrats are more likely to "eat their own" when it comes to intra-party politics. But Republicans are not immune from this; see Pat Buchanan's "culture war" in 1992, along with at least one rough-and-tumble primary in recent memory. Let's remember that we're working toward a common goal.

I always wondered who those "opinion leaders" were I learned about in my Intro to Mass Communication class my freshman year. I now know that today's opinion leaders are bloggers. As opinion leaders in our party (even those of us low-traffic bloggers), we can help determine the dominant memes and push key issues to the forefront.

Let's continue the bridge-building by making a habit of reading and sharing blogs not exactly like our own. For me, for example, that would include FroggyRuminations for a military perspective and, say, Glenn Reynolds for a libertarian point of view. There are others, too- blogs by "conservatives" of all stripes. And hey, don't forget about those left-of-center blogs (the ones that aren't too hysterical). DailyKos and TalkingPointsMemo are popular and influential examples, though even they have suffered some of the rampant post-election malaise.

And, you know, we can talk about other things, too. Like federalism and analyzing the pollsters: not exactly hot topics in themselves but perfectly suited for discussion in the blogosphere.

Hugh is confident that cooler heads will prevail in the Specter situation. I think, with Sen. Santorum's support, this is a reasonable assumption. The president campaigned to help Specter win the primary (perhaps on the assumption the more conservative challenger couldn't win the crucial race); I don't foresee him leading any charge to oust the Senator.

Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and others need to take a step back and think long-term here. The decisive election victory conceals what is, in truth, a fragile majority coalition. This is nowhere more apparent than in the Senate, where the GOP holds a solid 55 seats, but some of those seats are occupied by rather "moderate" Senators (e.g. Specter and Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee). Hugh urges us to remember Jim Jeffords. We ought to guard and treasure this coalition. Who knows what will happen over the next four years, and what the winning coalition will look like in 2006 and 2008?

So bloggers, continue to get the word out. Flesh out these ideas. Channel these memes. Hone our arguments and scatter them to whichever opinion leaders will listen. Let's start now by supporting Specter's chairmanship.


At November 10, 2004 at 1:58 PM, Blogger daddyddc said...

That was a mouthful to say the least. :) I will continue to blog on topics that interest me (politics, christianity, sports, etc.), and I hope that interest anyone who happens to come by my blog. Good post. Keep up the good work.

At November 11, 2004 at 12:37 PM, Blogger Stephen said...

I agree with your football analogy regarding the abortion debate. I find it troublesome however to argue that evangelicals should practice some restraint when liberals and Supreme Court justices shoved pro-choice down our throats in 1973. These left-wing fanatics apparently were not required to show restraint. They were not required to meticulously chip away at pro-life legal protection. All they had to do was convert one long play, or rather down a punt inside our own five yard line.


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