In the states, Republicans are governing successfully. At the think tanks, conservatives are arguing intelligently. Around the country, activists are organizing energetically. All well and good. And important. But not enough.
Because in Washington we have a president and an administration, aided and abetted by a Democratic Senate, whose efforts over the next four years, if unchecked, could overwhelm the good deeds of Republican governors, the astute arguments of conservative policy experts, and the hard work of grassroots activists.
That’s why resistance in Washington today has to be central to the agenda for a conservative future tomorrow. If Republicans in Congress lack the nerve to stand up to President Obama, or the moxie to do so effectively, all other admirable efforts could end up being for naught. The federal nanny state could be so expanded, its tentacles could become so much more deeply embedded in the fabric of American life, that it would prove almost impossible for the next administration, however well-intentioned, to extricate us from it. The fiscal and monetary crisis could become so overwhelming that the soundest policies would be too little, too late. The American military could be so weakened, and our credibility abroad so damaged, that the most determined administration taking over four years from now would find it almost impossible to restore peace and advance freedom in a world that has spun out of control.
It may be that resistance is less edifying than reform. It’s perhaps true that resistance is less intellectually stimulating than devising remedies. It could well be the case that resistance is less inspiring than reviving a party or rebuilding a movement. And there may well be occasions where emergencies and the national interest will call us to work with the president. But the chief duty for Republicans over the next four years will be resistance.
Now all this talk of resistance may sound a bit negative, even mean. But as Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote, “There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.” This is a moment, as we face Obama, to emphasize the superiority of conservatism’s facts even at the expense of the accusation of meanness. There will be time, in 2016, to leave the meanness behind. But fact-based resistance is needed now.
So resist we must, and resist we shall. Obamacare can be delayed with a view to its ultimate repeal and replacement. The expansion of the administrative state can be checked with a view to its fundamental reform and retrenchment. The gutting of the military can be blocked with a view to its future strengthening. The worst cabinet nominees can be blocked with a view to having more responsible custodians for the time being, with exemplary leaders possible down the road.
It’s not a new insight that at times resistance is a necessary prelude to revival and reform. Our British cousins have centuries of experience in the trials and tribulations of self-government. What does their great and inspiring anthem say?
The famous first stanza of “God Save the Queen” is positive and uplifting:
God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.
This is followed by a stanza less often sung but in its own way instructive and energizing:
O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On thee our hopes we fix:
God save us all.
The British have known for centuries that it’s not enough to hope for happy and glorious days in the future. It’s also necessary, with God’s help, to act in the present to scatter our enemies and make them fall. It’s necessary to confound their politics and frustrate their knavish tricks.
So as we prepare for a brighter future of conservative resurgence and Republican ascendancy, we fight Obamacare and the nanny state. We resist the confirmation of Chuck Hagel and the decimation of our military. We accept John Kennedy’s admonition that “here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.” But contemplating four more years of Obama and the limits to the success of even the most steadfast and skillful resistance, we’re also inclined to pray along with the Brits, sotto voce: God save us all.