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O, Cruel Fate!

At The Corner, the Derb has been fighting the good fight of explaining why the GOP getting trounced is not so bad and is actually essential to improving conservative influence on the GOP.  (As someone not in the GOP with no terribly great interest whether the party is “reformed” from the inside–can sarcophagoi be reformed from the inside?–the second point is less important to me, as my interest here is in arguing for how conservatives should respond to an administration and majority that have governed as if they were New Frontiersmen.)  He is, of course, being accused by the usual suspects of wanting a utopia (which he does not) and an “ideal” politics (which he doesn’t want, either) in which no compromise ever occurs.  Of course, for there to have been any compromise conservatives, particularly social and restrictionist conservatives, would have had to have gotten something that they wanted signed into actual law.  They would have had to receive some credible action on something they take seriously (and, no, mucking about in the private business of one Florida family does not count).  When confronted with rational complaints against GOP failure, the Big Picture is invoked (remember how the “future authorizes every kind of humbug”?) and, for an added touch, Ponnuru becomes rather philosophical:

You’re right that sensible voters have been following the advice I give for years, and it has yet to usher in an ideal political situation. That’s because it’s timeless advice, and because the world does not exist to make us happy.

Yes, the advice to forget your principles and keep voting for the same party indefinitely regardless of what it does is timeless.  It has been around for my entire lifetime, and has existed much longer than that.  It has always existed since men first gave thought to such political problems.  The trouble is that the people who offer this “timeless” advice are very often people with a vested personal or professional interest in the outcome (did I mention that Ponnuru’s wife works for Roy Blunt?), or they are the sort of people who say, “It is better to go along than get along.”  They are the enablers of dependency and misrule.  Theirs is the classic voice of the party functionary who tells the protesters, “I want what you want, but by working within the system.”  This is said not to achieve the goals of the protesters by a better way, but to dispere the protesters and ensure that the party’s control over them is not endangered.  Also, pay no mind to the fact that the system is inherently flawed and biased towards the creation of ever more party functionaries who will continue to amass power in central government, where they, the party functionaries and their hangers-on, have the most access to it.  My favourite part is that “the world does not exist to make us happy,” as if conservatives were complaining about the structures of “the world” and the injustice of the universe.  One might mistakenly expect this sort of dreary invitation to fatalism from someone who actually embraces pessimism (which would be to misunderstand pessimism), but the party loyalist who is normally a little too optimistic about the party itself is much more likely to tell supporters to resign themselves to their fate because they should not expect anything better.  Thus, should someone say that the party’s recent actions were not what he signed on for, they will preach the good word to you: “Man’s lot is sad in this world, and full of toil.  So shut up, peasant, and get back to working those phone banks for Mr. Mehlman!”  

Those who listen to such voices calling for their submission and resignation to the inevitability of GOP corruption and betrayal, rather than acting to hold them somewhat accountable, will deserve whatever they get and will have hardly any right to complain in the future should the GOP somehow maintain control and things get worse.  Who in this debate is appealing to the principles of self-government, and who defends the perpetual claims of an abusive overlord?  If you are inclined to side with the latter in the fear that the next overlord will be worse (and you have some reason to think so), do not expect that the overlord will become any wiser or better in the future; he will, in fact, continue to become worse and even more unprincipled and treacherous.  He will say something like, “We had our accountability moment in 2006,” and he will be right.  The only question is whether there will have actually been any accountability for the people with the most power.   

Update: Ramesh Ponnuru doesn’t agree with my response.  I’ll stand by the bulk of what I wrote, but I will have to acknowledge that the remark about his wife working for Roy Blunt was a pretty lazy way to make the argument, and it wasn’t even necessary to say what I was trying to say.  It is obviously possible to make arguments in favour or against things regardless of any personal interests one might have, and it is always hazardous to try to perceive any personal motivations in an argument, when they are really irrelevant to the quality of the argument.  Holding Republicans accountable for their failures, mistakes and betrayals will either seem worth the risk of a Pelosi-led House or it won’t.  Again, as I see it, it has to be worthwhile to enforce accountability on wayward representatives as a matter of exercising self-government.  Otherwise, what sort of government can we possibly ever expect except the kind that routinely ignores the very people who elected it?

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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