Probably the surest way to understand the depth of dissatisfaction among many conservatives with the Republican Party is to be a conservative columnist who often defends Republicans.
You wouldn't believe the passion in the e-mail I get from fellow conservatives who have long since abandoned the Republican vehicle, believing it no longer serves the causes in which they believe.
Maybe if Republican mainstreamers could understand the reasons for conservative angst, they could alter their approach and prevent further defection from the party.
A recent story in the Washington Post nicely illustrates the absence of commitment of too many congressional Republicans to ideas and policies. The headline read, "GOP Won't Try to Halt Last Rules By Clinton." When I saw it, my heart sank, again. Unhappily, the substance of the article provided little comfort.
The gist of the story was that congressional Republicans have retreated from their goal of overturning dozens of federal regulations that President Clinton unilaterally executed during his final months in office. This is odd, given the enthusiasm they exhibited last spring, when they boldly promised to countermand a list of 45 last-minute Clinton rules covering a broad spectrum of public policy, including labor, abortion, medical privacy and the environment.
One Republican leader at the time said, "This whole move toward midnight regulations is something on which Congress should send a clear message to future presidents. The kind of things you haven't been able to do during your term, you shouldn't try to do as you're closing the door."
The 1996 Congressional Review Act gives Congress 60 legislative days from when the Clinton rules were published in the Federal Register to undo some of the regulations. Republicans used the statute in March to reverse a Clinton-imposed workplace safety rule, but they let the clock run out on the lion's share of these oppressive regulations. Why? What happened to this "clear message" they were intent on sending to future presidents?
Republican congressional leaders explained that they decided not to undo the bulk of the Clinton regulations when it became clear that Democrats would regain control of the Senate. Without Senate support, they reasoned that it would be fruitless to pursue their effort further. In other words, pragmatism trumped idealism.
If we look back at many of the GOP surrenders over the past decade, we'll find that most of them were due to the Republicans' fear of being perceived as uncompassionate ogres, especially concerning the charge that they put business interests ahead of the environment. For example, 19 Republicans just joined the Democrats in voting to block the Bush administration from imposing a moratorium on the stricter arsenic standards for drinking water.
Congressional Democrats are famous for placing form over substance. While they have been accusing President Bush and Republicans of trying to poison our drinking water, the truth is that the Bush administration merely wants to suspend imposition of the rule until scientific studies and cost-benefit analyses of the rule have been completed. There's no harm in waiting. The Clinton rule will not fully go into effect until 2006.
Democrats are always going to have the edge on Republicans in the appearances department. Their take on the issues has a superficial appeal and lends itself to merciless demagoguery – e.g., Republicans are racists who want to starve your children. Intangible causes like the preservation of liberty just don't seem to have popular appeal in a nation the bulk of whose citizens have never had to lift a finger to defend it and apparently believe it's an irrevocable gift from God.
Personally, I'm sick of appearances, and I'm weary of pragmatism. Whatever happened to idealism and the superior power of ideas?
The best antidote for voter apathy is not the Motor Voter law, nor carving out a special holiday for the patriotically-challenged to go to the polls. The way for Republicans, at least, to get the vote out is to give conservatives a reason to vote.
Republicans must quit losing their nerve, even when defeat looks certain. By sticking to their principles instead of cowering in the face of opposition, at least they'll preserve issues for future elections. If they don't, they'll give conservatives no reason to stick with them.
If Republicans honor their commitment to freedom and the Constitution, grassroots conservatives will walk miles in the snow to support them on Election Day.