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Self-Indulgence and Duty

Peter Lawler describes the scene at the ISI Honors Program:

One political fact: Couldn’t find anyone who’s enthusiastic about Romney. But fact no. 2: In 2008, there’s was a lot of self-indulgence about sitting the race out to punish the Republicans for their corruption and incompetence and even significant Obamaconism, but this year the general attitude among conservatives of various stripes is all about resolutely doing your somewhat distasteful duty.

Lawler’s choice of words to describe the two attitudes is interesting. It is self-indulgence to refuse to support a party that is genuinely guilty of corruption and incompetence, but it is doing one’s duty to lend grudging support to that party four years later despite the fact that this party has not meaningfully changed in the meantime? This doesn’t make sense. What better time is there for withholding political support from a party than in the wake of its many failures? A person might be demonstrating partisan loyalty by backing a party under those circumstances, but he wouldn’t be performing a “duty.” If anything, he might even be shirking his civic duty by endorsing political leadership that he knows to be unfit for the sake of the advantage of his “side.” Citizens certainly have duties and obligations, but reliably supporting a party no matter how it performs in office isn’t one of them.

The August issue‘s editorial touches on a related subject. It’s important to remember that it was the multiple failures and mistakes of the Bush era made the Democratic majorities in Congress and Obama’s election possible:

There would have been no Obamacare in the first place had Republicans not ceded Congress to Nancy Pelosi in 2006 before forfeiting the 2008 presidential election to Obama. Both defeats were entirely of the GOP’s own making, results of investing all the party’s political capital in utopian enterprises and short-term electioneering scams during the Bush years. Medicare Part D, the largest expansion of the welfare state since the days of Lyndon Johnson, was passed by a Republican Congress under Bush with a view to capturing seniors’ votes—perpetuating GOP power at enormous cost to the country’s fiscal health, to say nothing of the party’s principles.

Many of the failures of the Bush came about partly because most conservatives fell in line, deferred to party leaders, and did their “duty” to their party by continuing to support it even when it was leading them and the country towards disaster. It doesn’t bode well for the future if conservatives are ready to fall back into that same pattern.

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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