Watching the Obama administration at work this week, a friend offered this judgment: Under Obama, Iran keeps its nuclear program and Americans lose their health insurance.
Historians and political scientists will have much to say, after its collapse, about contemporary liberalism’s propensity to be at once tough on American citizens and soft on Iranian mullahs. Today’s liberals are pleased to use the power of the state to nudge—not to say bully—their fellow Americans, while shunning the exercise of power abroad, preferring to accommodate—not to say appease—the nation’s enemies. It would seem to be a paradox.
Or perhaps not. Aren’t the bossy often insecure? Aren’t bullies often cowards? Those who throw their weight around when they aren’t resisted often shy away from confrontation with those who won’t yield. A fatal conceit at home can be the flip side of a fatal loss of nerve abroad.
This is a moment that reveals the bankruptcy of contemporary liberalism. It’s also a moment of truth for American conservatism, which, at its best, combines the sound judgment of an older conservatism and the fighting spirit of an older liberalism. It’s a moment of truth for an American conservatism that embodies “that honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government” (Federalist 39). This suggests the immediate task of American conservatives: resistance to the nanny state at home and the enemies of freedom abroad.
The spirit of resistance is there. The rise of the Tea Party shows that. But the energy of the Tea Party, as its activists know, isn’t enough. A strategy of successful resistance has to be embodied in and carried forward by a real political party. That’s the Republican party.
We’re now at a moment of truth for the Republican party. Can it act energetically and effectively in Congress to reverse Obamacare’s most obnoxious elements, delay the most dangerous, and place it on a path to ultimate extinction? Beginning with legislation in the House this week to allow Americans to keep their current health plans if they wish, congressional Republicans seem to be getting their act together in opposing Obamacare. The challenge will be to stay focused, not to dissipate their energies on fights of far less importance or squabbles among themselves, and to remember that Obamacare is the center of gravity of American politics.
At the center of gravity of world politics is the question of a nuclear Iran. Here the Republican task is more difficult, for Congress has less leverage over and less ability to shape foreign policy. It will be hard to prevent the administration from consummating a bad deal with Iran. But Congress can insist on moving ahead with sanctions. Congressional Republicans can make clear that they oppose bad deals that would do nothing to reverse, and little even to slow, Iran’s nuclear program. And Republicans can say that if the Obama administration is committed to doing nothing to stop that program, they will support our ally Israel if she chooses to act on her own, and on our, behalf.
Of course Republicans can’t just resist. They need a positive agenda in both domestic and foreign policy, and work on that needs to go on. But for the immediate future, the crucial service the GOP can perform for the country is to stop both Obamacare and the Iranian nuclear program. Eventually the GOP will have to govern. It has to prepare to govern. But resistance precedes governing.
Successful resistance requires courage and competence—and a certain amount of cooperation. Now is surely the time for the Tea Party and the establishment to put aside some of their differences for the sake of their party, and their country. In light of the threats we face at home and abroad, now is surely the time for Republicans to hearken to the words of that great friend of American liberty, Edmund Burke: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”