We Must Stop Meeting Like This
This is my 50th column on these pages. The first one ("The
campaign that wasn't") appeared the morning after the 1996
elections, proposing the reasons for the Republican side losing
them. Actually, the scenario became evident the evening Senator
Robert Dole, then Republican candidate for president, delivered
his acceptance speech at the nominating convention in August: There
was to be no difference between the two parties.
With regard to the 1998 elections, the scenario was outlined on
March 6, 1997. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich informed attendees
of the Conservative Political Action Conference to expect no major
policy statements or meaningful action until the year 2000. Subsequent
discussions with senior staffers confirmed much the same approach
on the Senate side.
The strategy thus reflected decisions by professionals. But just
in case the outcome was not quite as intended, the view from a different
vantage point might be of interest. According to this, the seeds
of defeat for Elections 1996 and 1998 had been planted before the
end of 1995.
Following the brilliantly planned and executed campaign of 1994,
the opportunity presented itself for a serious, sober, mature conversation
with the American people. The electorate had signaled a clear desire
to sort out basic questions and appointed the Republican Party to
chair the proceedings. At last, a national debate could have been
conducted about the questions raised in the 1960's. At issue were
our core beliefs, and whether the European socialist model was preferable
to the American constitutional one. A call might have been issued
to the 60's generation to repudiate the 60's disastrous agenda.
Instead, the mandate of 1994 was mistakenly taken as the end of
a debate that had not even begun. Taking the position that no explanations
were necessary, a dismissive assault was launched against those
who had spent decades installing their carefully devised power structure.
Was the assumption that they would lie down and roll over?
Those who had spent decades installing a carefully devised power
structure still controlled our education system, as well as the
news and entertainment media. Moreover, they could draw on centuries
of socialist thought, experience and demagoguery. From sending "Big
Bird" and other Hollywood stars to Capitol Hill to the brilliant
handling of the government shut-down, they did whatever was necessary
to retain control of the national conversation.
Senator Dole's answer in 1996 was to match them caring-for-caring,
compassion-for-compassion, parading a succession of convention speakers
who would have qualified every bit as well for the other convention.
He was careful to describe the incumbent as his "opponent,
not [his] enemy." Noble for sure, but realistic?
In 1998, hopes were pinned on the statistically probable "six-year
itch," on the president demoralizing Democrats, on the Dow
Jones finally heading South. In every scenario, the other side was
supposed to lose. Never was the Republican side to win. Back in
July, the Republican National Committee took a deep breath and,
for the first time, acknowledged in Rising Tide the Democratic Party's
adoption of the European socialist model. But a decision was apparently
made not to make use of this ammunition in the campaign.
Now, in the post-election turbulence, the talk is about likely
presidential candidates, whether "social conservatives"
should yield the floor to "economic conservatives," and
how to articulate a "winning" Republican agenda. Here
is an altogether different approach.
Agenda is something socialists have. Everything they say or do
is agenda-driven. The issues they embrace and articulate, all serve
the Agenda - a world under socialist rule. America has fought two
world wars and the cold war to resist the Agenda. Now, millions
of Americans have adopted that same agenda - many with the best
That, however, does not make the Agenda American. What is American
is a set of principles articulated as aspirations, laws, and commentaries,
enshrined in the founding documents. These eternal principles may
be applied to the challenges of a given day, every day. Principles
are just the opposite of an agenda. Principles facilitate answers
to questions, help to address ills that have arisen in the affairs
of man. An agenda sets political goals, and forces every facet in
the life of a nation onto the arena of politics.
Since socialists are masters at articulating agendas of caring
and compassion, responding with an agenda of more caring and more
compassion is a waste of time. "Lower taxes" and "smaller
government" have come to sound like empty phrases. Hoping that
a knight in shining armor will rise from the ground is wishful thinking.
And looking for a "third way" through setting social and
economic conservatives upon one another might well yield the unintended
result of a third term, the 22nd Amendment notwithstanding.
For American principles to carry the day in 2000, the road begins
with a great educational campaign about political labels. As the
conflicting vote for the various ballot initiatives demonstrated
once again, there is much confusion in the air. The people are hungry
for clarity. The two sides to our national debate need to be presented
not as competing agendas, but as principles versus agenda, and articulated
in plain English. Resources must be committed now to lay the groundwork
while there is time. A repetition of being caught utterly naked,
as was the case in the last budget battle, might prove fatal.
Once a solid platform upon which to mount a real campaign has been
built, let the candidate most comfortable with a clear message run,
and win. And let these pages change from laments to a celebration
of America - its commission as the beacon for the world renewed
for another century.