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 of intentions.
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.