The Magazine

Gotta Play to Win

Conservatives shouldn't sit this one out.

Oct 30, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 07 • By CRAIG SHIRLEY
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IN THE MOVIE A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks was given two of the best lines in the history of baseball flicks. The first, as we all know, was, "There's no crying in baseball!" The second came when one of his players quit the game, telling Hanks it was "too hard." Hanks's brilliant response: "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. Hard is what makes it great."

With the midterm elections almost upon us, conservatives need to take that to heart. They won't win by quitting. The Washington Post declared last week that Demo crats are "prettier" than Republicans--"Democrats seem to be fielding an uncommonly high number of uncommonly good-looking candidates" (glad we've got that settled!)--so let's focus on the important differences between the parties.

Yes, some Republicans have abused their charge; some have engaged in corrupt behavior; some have violated conservative principles; some don't even know why they are Republicans. And yes, many in the "base" are angry with . . . take your pick: growth of government, spending, corruption, steel tariffs, illegal immigration, McCain-Feingold, Mark Foley, the war in Iraq.

I suspect that most of those people in the GOP who are most upset are not Security Moms or the religious right but the "angry white males" credited with delivering Congress to the GOP in 1994. These middle class dads became increasingly repelled by Bill and Hillary and the seedy liberals who came to dominate the Democratic party. Now, some are frustrated with the GOP.

But consider this, my fellow angry white middle-aged males: Ever since economic libertarians and social conservatives came together to form a majority party, the Republicans have thrived on vigorous internal debates. It is not a weakness of the GOP that some of its members are at daggers drawn over foreign policy and national defense, economic policies, and the federal role in education. Whether or not the GOP majority survives the November elections, these debates will take place.

And in this, populist conservatives should take great comfort. Republicans are not so confident about themselves as to believe they have all the correct answers all the time. Conservatives are so suspicious of man's nature that they naturally shun claims of absolute certitude in politics.

If liberalism still has an organizing philosophy, it is a white hot, unreasoned, and, yes, frightening hatred of all things conservative and all things Bush. Within the Democratic party today, the reigning idea is an outright craving of power. Democrats do not allow debate within their party. If you are pro-life, as in the case of the late Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, you are ostracized. If you support some part of the president's foreign policy, as in the case of Joe Lieberman, you are defeated in a primary and then shunned.

If Republicans have disappointed the American people, it's because they have standards and rules that they sometimes fall short of. Liberals are unencumbered by such standards except those of political correctness, and who can figure those out anyway? (In the latest version, Marquette decreed last week that grad students shall not display quotations from humorist Dave Barry on their doors.)

Republicans have established high standards for themselves, and this is a good thing, as we've seen in the Mark Foley case. Some GOP commentators are wailing that 20 years ago, the recently deceased congressman Gerry Studds, a Democrat, did not suffer for his homosexual relationship with a 17-year-old congressional page. And it's true: No one ever calls a Democrat a hypocrite on moral issues. But that's hardly a selling point for a party. Republicans should not be upset if Americans have come to expect not very much in the way of ethics and morality from Demo crats.

What the garden-variety angry white male needs to remember is that Democratic anger has a different source than his own. Democrats aren't angry at the moral failings of Republicans. Democrats are furious because they can't understand why they, the party of government, have been denied control of Washington by the American people.

Quin Hillyer, on the American Spectator website, poses the question well: "Who do you want, going forward, to handle taxes, national security and judges, the conservatives or the liberals?" A Democratic Congress would not sit still. As Larry Kudlow has warned, the Bush tax cuts will not be safe just because of the veto pen. "President Bush," he points out, might be "confronted with a [Hobson's] choice of vetoing a so-called $500 billion deficit reduction package that would overturn and rollback" his tax cuts.

As Ronald Reagan might ask, whose world would you prefer to live in four years from now, the liberals' or the conservatives'? For my money, I'll take the messy and mistake-prone but good-hearted Republicans over the brooding, power-hungry, and uncommonly good-looking Democrats. So should all conservatives.

Organizing a political movement around the principle of freedom combined with moral rigor has never been easy. But the fact that conservatism is hard is what makes it great.

Craig Shirley is the president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs and the author of a history of the 1976 campaign, Reagan's Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started it All. He is now writing a book about the 1980 campaign, Rendezvous with Destiny.