From the beginning, patriots have understood the need, at times, to sound the alarm:
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
Be assured: In today’s hour of darkness and peril and need, we at The Weekly Standard are ready to saddle up and sound the alarm. We’re ready to offer our voice in the darkness, our knock at the door. We’re ready to do so even if it means braving the barbs of fellow baby boomers.
We’re ready to sound the alarm about the world around us—about ISIS and Iran and Syria, about Putin and Xi Jinping. We’re ready to sound the alarm about the Obama administration. We’re ready to sound the alarm about the fact that Hillary Clinton now leads all the Republican presidential candidates in the polls. We’re alarmed for our nation; we’re alarmed for our Constitution; we’re alarmed for our liberty. We’re alarmed for the world.
In the words of the great conservative Edmund Burke, writing to William Windham on August 23, 1793: “We must continue to be vigorous alarmists.” What does it mean to be a vigorous alarmist? Among other things, it means standing on principle and refusing to bend to the passing breezes.
But there’s an awful lot of bending going on over on the Republican side of the aisle now. The polls seem to show the decision to remove Saddam in 2003 is now unpopular—so Republican presidential candidates capitulate to reporters’ demands they renounce the war. The media tell congressional Republicans they have to prove they can “govern”—so the GOP leadership yields all too often to a determined and tough-minded Democratic president.
Republican elites, desperate to place blame elsewhere, tell everyone the problem in 2012 was too many debates and too many candidates—so the Republican National Committee foolishly tries to limit both. Conservative elites, desperate to not have to rethink long-held dogmas, pressure candidates to adopt “pro-growth” tax agendas—so they talk Marco Rubio, perhaps the most promising GOP presidential candidate, into proposing a politically suicidal (and economically questionable) tax plan that would reduce Mitt Romney’s tax bill to close to zero.
Political consultants tell politicians that people are tired of hearing about Obamacare, or that it’s risky actually to explain what should be put in its place—so congressional Republicans, and even presidential candidates, show little urgency about advancing a serious and bold replacement for Obama-care. And everyone tells everyone else that it’s just too risky to defend traditional marriage and religious liberty—so no one speaks up.
Yes, we alarmists understand there are times for prudent silence or low-key reassurance or sensible risk-aversion. But at some point risk-aversion becomes risky. It’s not as if Republicans have won the most recent presidential elections, or demographic trends are sweeping everything in the GOP’s direction. It’s not as if Republicans won’t be up against a formidable machine, or the attraction of the first woman president.
So a touch of Paul Revere is in order. We admire many of the Republican presidential contenders. They’re mostly inclined to think along the right lines. But we’re not certain they share a sense of urgency. If the consultants have their way, it will be business as usual. But it’s not as if business as usual has often led to great electoral, or policy, or cultural, victories. In 2016 business as usual probably means losing as usual.
Without a sense of urgency, we’ll have the Romney campaign with a more attractive and able candidate. But of course at this point in 2011 GOP elites thought Romney was a more attractive and able candidate than he turned out to be.
Burke was right. We must continue to be vigorous alarmists. After all, alarmism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Complacency in the pursuit of victory is no virtue.