Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann: A Dissent

Something’s rotten in Denmark—or, in this case, the blogosphere. Much of the Right seems to have united around Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who currently leads the 2012 Republican pack by a wide margin, thanks to a combination of Texas’ impressive job-creation record, his bold, take-no-prisoners style, and his ostensible conservatism on all the major issues.

Except…he’s not all that conservative, or all that appealing a candidate. He’s got a horrendous immigration record, he initially tried to use states’ rights as an excuse to punt on gay marriage and abortion, his 2008 pick was the radically pro-abortion Rudy Giuliani, he’s a practitioner of taxpayer-funded corporate welfare, he seems to have an Obama-like ego, he’s a surprisingly clumsy debater (to the point where he can’t even give a compelling defense of his own position on global warming), and, in the scandal that’s been getting the most press lately, he signed an executive order trying to force young schoolgirls to be injected with an unproven vaccine meant to prevent an illness which children cannot contract in schools through casual contact. 

As Michelle Malkin and Shannen Coffin have explained, the Gardasil mandate raises multiple serious questions about Perry’s principles and trustworthiness. There’s the fact that his EO circumvented the democratic process and tried to unilaterally impose a sweeping policy change. There’s the fact that his position presumes the government has the right to make medical decisions for parents for reasons completely unrelated to the justification for traditional school inoculations, as explained by Rick Santorum. There’s the fact that he both defends the mandate and condemns its critics with leftist-style emotional appeals about who does and doesn’t care about disease. And there’s the unproven but certainly plausible possibility that his decision was motivated at least partially by cronyism.

The defenses leveled by Perry and his supporters don’t hold water. First is that he apologized. Only partially—he’s said the EO was a mistake, but not the core policy (nor has he apologized to those he’s slandered as not caring about Texan children). Second is that the policy had an opt-out. But not only is it offensive from a limited-government perspective to presume that the state is going to do something to your child unless you take proactive measures to stop them, the opt-out itself had numerous shortcomings. Third—and most pathetic—is that the policy never went into effect. Obviously, we don’t give people a pass for trying to do wrong simply because they didn’t succeed!

Perry’s been taking a beating for this from several competitors, including Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul. But this week, the focus shifted from Perry’s statism to Bachmann’s incompetence, as she relayed the story of a mother who told her Gardasil caused her daughter’s mental retardation. To be clear, she absolutely deserves criticism for recklessly passing along an anecdote without bothering to verify it. (Full disclosure: This is one of several blunders that have convinced me she doesn’t have the good sense or communication ability to be the Republican nominee, and so I no longer support her for president.)

But the response from two of the Right’s biggest professional blogs has been something else entirely. At RedState, Lori Ziganto says Bachmann “has shown she is of bad character,” Ben Howe thinks she “should be ashamed” for “diminish[ing] the pro-life movement for her own political gain,” Brad Jackson & Elizabeth Blackney discuss Bachmann needing to “pray the crazy away,” and Leon Wolfe declares that Bachmann doesn’t “deserve to be one of the 435 people who gets to contribute to the creation of legislation that might one day influence health policy in America.” (Before Bachmann became an issue here, RedState’s Streiff also impugned Malkin’s “integrity and intellect” for questioning Perry, a nasty, unfounded attack on a conservative heroine which RS editor Erick Erickson refused to criticize.)

Meanwhile, at Pajamas Media, PJM CEO Roger Simon said Bachmann and Santorum sounded “rabid, and frankly scary” in criticizing Perry (please note that he’s talking about the debate itself, not Bachmann’s subsequent retardation claim). Bryan Preston has done six posts so far blasting Bachmann over this, including declaration’s that she’s “descend[ed] into self-parody” and that her “time as a serious candidate is over.”

Again, I want to be clear that the criticism isn’t what I have a problem with. Michele Bachmann has displayed a clear pattern of factual sloppiness and rhetorical recklessness. I am, however, asking why there’s such a double-standard—why all of a sudden Bachmann is being treated with a level of scorn no GOP candidate other than Ron Paul ever gets, at least not in such volume and unanimity, from the blogosphere.

Rick Perry gives speeches to La Raza and smears lawmakers who resisted his Gardasil mandate as heartless monsters who don’t care about women’s health; Mitt Romney continues to insist his state’s healthcare plan was a good thing; and Herman Cain shows no signs of having assembled a coherent foreign policy platform, despite campaigning to become leader of the free worldall of which are bigger substantive problems than repeating an anecdote without bothering to verify it—and the blogosphere reaction is much more diverse and balanced. Some criticize, some defend, but most conclude that the problems aren’t disqualifying on their own. (Heck, going back to the last election, not even Rudy Giuliani’s support for partial-birth abortion and taxpayer funding of abortion was enough for a consensus that he was beyond the pale!)   

Perhaps the most suspicious thing is that these new Bachmann critics apparently weren’t this bothered by Bachmann’s own previous blunders, like signing the Iowa Family pledge without reading it, that weird talk of Tea Partiers slitting our writs and signing a blood oath together, or calling on people to be “armed and dangerous” in opposition to Obama. Those were worth varying degrees of criticism, but she was still generally considered a respectable choice for the nomination.

What happened? Rick Perry. The biggest difference between this gaffe and all of Bachmann’s others (as well as the aforementioned failings of various other candidates) seems to be that this time, she made it while crossing the latest man to be anointed Savior by a segment of the Right that still hasn’t gotten over the hero-worship tendencies that have all too often led conservatives to gloss over the failings of various politicians, including George W. Bush, Fred Thompson, and Sarah Palin.

How many times does the movement have to replay this game until we finally see that it’s about principles, not personalities? When will we stop being infatuated with alluring poll numbers and conservative-sounding bravado, and instead maintain the detached objectivity to consistently judge all those who would be our standard-bearers?

Today’s Snapshot of Conservatism in Crisis

Steven Ertelt at LifeNews reports that GOP presidential wannabe Mitch Daniels still hasn’t gotten the message on the “truce” crap:

“I guess two things,” Daniels added. “One is that, first, those remarks were directed as much to the aggressors on the other side of these questions — for instance, the proponents of gay marriage — as much directed to them as anybody with whom I’m in agreement.”

Asked if liberals have called a truce on social issues, Daniels responded, “No, obviously not. I said I was thinking of them as much as my own allies when I said it,” he said about the truce.

Wait – so you think a.) that liberals would be willing to accept a truce on social issues, and b.) that they’d be willing to do so for the purpose of enacting conservative fiscal reforms? Does anyone else see how mind-blowingly stupid this is? Mitch Daniels is unfit to be president simply for being so clueless.

“The major point, though, was something different, and it was just this: I believe…. that the arithmetic of our times says we are headed for Niagara Falls, fiscally. You cannot run any kind of enterprise — private or public — on a self-governing basis as deeply in hawk as we now are and are going to be,” Daniels added. “…. to change the whole size and scope of the federal government in a radical way, then we are going to need a very broad constituency in this country to do that…. so that’s all I meant, kind of a priority matter, first things first. Maybe we could just concentrate on that for a little while, because I think that’s the most immediate threat to the republic we’ve known.”

The fiscal crisis is already at the forefront of the conservative conversation. There are no social conservatives calling on economic conservatives to put spending, ObamaCare, or any other issues on the back burner for the sake of fighting abortion or preserving marriage. Congressional Republicans are letting us down on the fiscal front, but it’s not because they’re distracted by social issues; it’s because they’re inept and spineless across the board.

Later in the interview, The Hill transcript indicates, Daniels returned to the truce issue, saying fiscal issues should take precedence and social issues like abortion should be “muted” for awhile.

“I would like to think that fixing it and saving our kids future could be a unifying moment for our country and we wouldn’t stop our disagreements or our passionate belief in these other questions, we just sort of mute them for a little while, while we try to come together on the thing that menaces us all,” he concluded.

Let me try to explain something to you, Mitch: abortion isn’t controversial because it’s “sinful” or “distasteful.” It’s controversial because IT KILLS PEOPLE. 1.2 MILLION DEAD BABIES EVERY YEAR. It’s not just another political issue; it’s a human rights crisis. (You claim to be pro-life. There’s no excuse for you to not already get this.) And if you really understood what our Founders thought about the conditions necessary to maintain a free society, you’d see that the fate of marriage has profound implications for America’s fiscal state.

This response is dead on:

“We cannot repair the economy without addressing the deep cultural issues that are tearing apart the family and society,” said Andy Blom, executive director of the American Principles Project.  “The conservative movement has always been about addressing ALL issues—economic, social and national security—that are in need of repair.”

“It’s unfortunate Gov. Daniels doesn’t seem to understand the winning philosophy of Ronald Reagan that brought conservatism to victory by addressing all three issues,” said Frank Cannon, President of American Principles Project.  “If Mitch Daniels is planning to run for president by running away from social issues, he will face a grassroots revolt.”

“The national furor over the expansion of abortion coverage and efforts to re-define marriage demonstrates the resistance he will face.  There is no appetite among grassroots conservatives to run away from these critical issues,” said Mr. Blom.  “Mr. Daniels is only causing divisions in the movement by this talk of a ‘truce.’”

I often wonder how many people realize the full extent of just how screwed up the Right is these days. I’m reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s words in Peoria, Illinois. Speaking of a similar cancerous confusion over first principles, he lamented that our “republican robe is soiled, and trailed in the dust.” He said we needed to “repurify it,” to “wash it in white, in the spirit, if not the blood, of the Revolution”:

Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. Let north and south—let all Americans—let all lovers of liberty everywhere—join in the great and good work. If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union; but we shall have so saved it, as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of the saving. We shall have so saved it, that the succeeding millions of free happy people, the world over, shall rise up, and call us blessed, to the latest generations.

What Liberty Demands

234 years ago today, our forefathers declared America’s independence from the British Empire.  For the support of that declaration, they pledged to one another “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”  And that wasn’t hyperbole – with their actions, they brought upon themselves the very real risk of death and imprisonment.

On this Fourth of July, compare that courage and sacrifice to the potential consequences of getting involved and standing for liberty today – some lost free time, maybe public embarrassment or the hostile words of your opponents – and ask yourself how many of us are living up to their example.

*     *     *

Further Required Reading: President Calvin Coolidge, “Speech on the Occasion of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence,” July 5, 1926

Conservatism Can’t Survive Without the Pro-Life Movement, Part II

In Part I, I argue that it would be politically foolish for the Right to further backpedal or abandon the pro-life cause. Here I want to make the case that the right to life truly is inseparable both from core conservatism and from any meaningful effort to advance conservative ideas—that, in fact, pro-abortion tendencies actually endanger the prospects of those who value limited government, the free market, and strong national defense.

As I explained on June 15, abortion is an affront to the Declaration of Independence. As the unjust taking of a human life, it is wrong for the same reason slavery, theft, assault, honor killings, rape, eminent domain abuse, and individual health insurance mandates are wrong: they are all violations of human liberty and natural rights.  Accordingly, society justly protects its citizens from them via law for the same reason.  As long as conservatism still “holds these truths to be self-evident” that all men have “certain unalienable rights” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and as long as conservatism still accepts that “governments are instituted among men” for the purpose of “secur[ing] these rights,” then philosophically-consistent conservatives have no choice but to oppose legalized abortion. Nobody can support abortion in good conscience without either honestly confronting this conundrum head-on, or asking himself what definition of “conservatism” he’s been operating under all this time.

That pro-choice views are an egregious exception to conservatives’ and libertarians’ pro-liberty rhetoric should be obvious. What may be less obvious—but is no less true—is that such dubious thinking cannot help but undermine other core conservative principles and efforts. Continue reading

Republicans Fiddle While Democracy Burns

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Enshrined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution, free speech is one of America’s cornerstones.  All sides sing its praises, and no politician can expect to safely voice disrespect or opposition towards it.

The underlings of politicians, on the other hand…

Cass Sunstein, appointed by Barack Obama to head the White House Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs, isn’t a big fan of free & unregulated political expression.  In the past, he’s argued for new laws that would make bloggers and web-hosting services potentially liable for what their commenters say, as well as make it easier to sue people who “spread rumors” for libel.

For obvious reasons, these proposals would be logistical nightmares to implement, forcing bloggers to spend less time expressing their own ideas and more time policing their audiences, lest they risk liability for the words of others.  The end result is a stifling of free speech, and make no mistake: that’s exactly what Barack Obama and Cass Sunstein intend.

Now, Sunstein has been caught proposing more regulation of the blogosphere, in the form of new federal mandates forcing websites to “provide links to sites of the other point of view…Or maybe a popup on your screen that would show you an advertisement or maybe even a quick argument for a competing view.”  An Internet Fairness Doctrine, if you will.

What do the Left’s premier guardians of free speech at the ACLU have to say about all this?  Nothing.

Of course, I expect the Democrats to pull this garbage, and their foot soldiers on the Left and in the media to quietly go along.  The real scandal here is the lack of strong, vocal Republican opposition.  If they aren’t finally corrected, and fast, the cowardice and inability to lead that dominate the GOP are going to be the death of this country.

ObamaCare Truth & Consequences

Via Power Line, here’s a list of 20 Ways ObamaCare Will Take Away Our Freedoms, and an op-ed on The Real Arithmetic of Health Care Reform (also, here’s a handy summary of what’s in the bill, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, and for you masochists out there, the bill’s full text, courtesy of Open Congress).  Read ’em, print ’em out, and have ’em ready for the next time your lefty friends spout disinformation from the White House or MSNBC.  This recap of the states’ experiences with government meddling in healthcare is required reading, too.

Also, check out my latest NewsReal post for where we go from here.  The short version: we can, and must repeal this bill, but the GOP is really gonna have to bring their A-game.  And for a great explanation of what should actually be done to improve American healthcare, Ann Coulter’s got you covered.

Conservatism Must Not Abandon the Cultural Front (Updated)

My NewsReal colleague David Swindle has been debating Pajamas Media’s Mary Grabar on the subject of drug legalization.  I side with the arguments made by Grabar, Ann Coulter, and others against legalizing drugs, but I’ve honestly never cared enough about the issue to explore it in depth.

I know there’s an argument that true conservatives should recognize that arresting people for voluntary drug use goes beyond the proper role of limited government.  But y’know what?  We’ve got plenty of cases of government overreach and violated rights in this country that don’t involve destructive behavior—stolen property due to eminent domain abuses, innocent babies destroyed in the womb, politicians constantly looking for new excuses to paw through their constituents’ wallets—that frankly, the tribulations of potheads fighting for the right to light up register pretty low on my sympathy meter and priority list.

But hey, maybe the Founding Fathers really would side with the libertarians on this one.  I’ll read with open-minded interest David & Mary’s continued exchanges, but I have to strongly disagree with one of David’s assertions:

John McCain lost to Barack Obama because of politics, not culture. Obama was a more exciting candidate who ran a much more effective campaign. It’s that simple.

A conservatism that can win is one which understands itself and defines itself as a political movement, not a cultural one. To do otherwise is to begin to destroy a functioning coalition that has been vital to defending America since Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley Jr., and Ronald Reagan brought it together in the 20th century. Conservatism must take the same approach to culture as the Constitution does — neutrality. Such an attitude worked for the document which has guided and protected our country for centuries and it will work for the Movement who has the same objective.

Far be it from me to read too much into the defeat of John McCain, the poster boy for almost everything a Republican shouldn’t be.  2008 was the culmination of years of GOP incompetence and lack of principle, and for reasons completely unrelated to ideology, Barack Obama was perfectly positioned to seize upon it.

But it’s another thing entirely to assume that culture played no part in Obama’s ascendance.  A culture that worships gratification (particularly sexual) without responsibility or constraints, that believes truth is personal and relativistic rather than grounded in permanent wisdom, that has been conditioned to expect everyone else to provide for their every need and clean up after their every mistake, that sneers at traditional morality and religious belief…these trends and attitudes cannot help but play into the Left’s hands.

Simply put, a narcissistic, relativistic, secular, ignorant culture will always be receptive to a political movement that promises to give them things paid for with other people’s money, affirms their “if it feels good, do it” mentality, and assures them that supporting statism and “environmental consciousness” are the only forms of morality or compassion they’ll ever really need.

A conservatism that disregards our culture will not win; indeed, its political prospects will only diminish further still.  I grew up in a public school system completely dominated by the Left.  I have seen time after time how easily the average apolitical teen, bereft of solid core values and spoon-feed the consensus of popular culture, assumes the Left’s claims on government’s role and conservatives’ evil to be true, to say nothing of every liberal myth from man-made global warming to the military-industrial complex.

More importantly, I have seen the Right’s feeble response.  This is a battle in which the conservative movement is largely—and the Republican Party is completely—AWOL.  How many conservatives are formulating strategies to break the Left’s stranglehold on education, both K-12 and college?  How many are drawing attention to the corruption of Church teachings on compassion?  How many on Capitol Hill are challenging the Left’s poisonous sexual dogma, or publicly illustrating the connection between the Democrat Party and the cultural forces it cultivates and feeds upon?

Republican electoral failures cannot be attributed to a nonexistent emphasis on culture; indeed, it’s far more likely that our woes are intimately tied to our dereliction of duty on this front.  The same old tactics—conservatives talking to the same radio audiences, writing in the same magazines, and posting on the same blogs, all mostly to each other—will win converts to the Right from time to time, but not in numbers that can even begin to compare to how many people are unwittingly fed liberal presuppositions about the world by stealth in their schools, TV shows, music, and churches, all of which form an echo chamber, reaffirming the messages for one another.

Republican strategists tend to think short-term: what will get us back into power in the next couple election cycles? Say what you want about Democrats (Lord knows I’ve said plenty), but they see the big picture, and play for keeps.  Conservatives need to open their eyes to it, as well, and settle in for the long haul. Any real, lasting return to the conservative values of the American Founding will require comprehensive strategies and solid commitments to oppose liberal encroachments on every front.

David invoked President Reagan in his post; let me conclude by doing the same.  In his Farewell Address to the American people, Reagan said:

I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let’s start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual. And let me offer lesson No. 1 about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins.

UPDATE: David has responded here. It seems the differences between our positions are less than they initially appeared, and I certainly agree with his central point, that the force of law is not an instrument of value enforcement.  I’ll have more thoughts later, but thanks to David for his thoughtful reply.