Conservative #FAIL

February 6, 2009

by — Posted in Blog, Politics

We’re now two weeks into the Barack Obama administration, and we’re beginning to see the decisions he is making as president, what kind of leader he is (and is most likely going to be for the next four years), etc. I just feel compelled to share a word of caution for my conservative* friends who seem to see doom around every corner, disaster at every turn, and death in every decision. My message is simply this: You are only going to slip further into impotence and irrelevance if you insist on taking the Rush Limbaugh “I hope Obama fails” approach to your political discourse and action.

Most of my conservative friends still seem to be aligned fairly tightly with the Republican Party. OK fine. But here are some things you’ll need to wrestle with:

  • The Republican Party is in decline. Who’s going to turn things around? Sarah Palin? Bobby Jindal? Michael Steele? There doesn’t seem to be any consensus or any real direction. Good luck with that.
  • The Republican Party is (like much of evangelicalism) viewed pretty negatively. The parallels here to UnChristian are actually kind of interesting.
  • The Republican Party seem to have no real solutions. As I mentioned in my earlier blog post on abortion, the Republican Party seems hopelessly stuck in the same gear, singing the same monotone song, on these important issues**.

**A quick update on the abortion issue: I’ve finally joined the chorus of those who oppose FOCA (Freedom of Choice Act), because I have yet to read anything that has convinced me anything good would actually come from it. But to my conservative friends who are getting worked up over FOCA, I urge you to listen to the comments by GOP strategist Rich Galen who explains in this NPR interview that FOCA has little or no hope of ever getting passed by Congress and will, in the short run anyway, do little more than help raise money for pro-life causes. Please consider this as you consider your approach/response to that particular piece of legislation, especially since this is coming from a reliable Republican source.

We Can’t Afford to #FAIL
An excellent example of this last point is the economic stimulus bill currently under consideration in Congress. Not a single Republican in the House of Representatives was able to bring themselves to vote in favor, despite President Obama’s efforts to achieve bipartisan support and (worse) the urging of economists to not delay in the face of the current crisis.

You might like to think of that as “principled” politics, but it’s also politically expedient and pretty much just more of the same old politics that got us where we are today—an ugly rut we desperately need to get out of.

No doubt these House Republicans are now secretly wishing the stimulus bill will #FAIL so they can wash their hands of it and say, “See? We voted against it! We were right!” But what they don’t seem to understand (or care much about) is that if this stimulus bill #FAILS to revive the economy, then they’ve all #FAILed. And being right is no real substitute for participating and making a helpful contribution.

Bob Dylan said it well once, “Your old road is rapidly aging. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand for the times they are a-changin’.”

Here’s What I Think Is Un-helpful
I find conservative commentary like Stan Guthrie’s snarky “Barack Obama, CEO” particularly unhelpful. I respect Stan a lot—we’re both passionate about global missions—but I disagree strongly with him about U.S. politics. Go figure. Just listen to the tone of Stan’s appraisal of Obama as president thus far (two weeks into his presidency):

President Obama, blessed with virtually no executive experience of his own, nevertheless apparently can divine how much compensation other executives, whose companies receive bailout money, should receive (no more than $500,000). That’s really rich—and I’m not talking about the salaries.

Then our commander in chief, facing Republicans who disagree that a pork-laden spending bill laced with goodies for Democratic Party favorites [as if Republicans aren’t getting pork out of this deal? really?] is the only possible response to the recession, is reduced to sputtering, “But I won the election!” Reminds me of the childish Trelaine character in Star Trek, who, when called inside by his parents, whines, “But I was winnin’!” …

Yes, Mr. Obama, you won the election, but now it is time to start governing. Winning an election doesn’t give you a blank check. It gives you the opportunity to lead. Do you know how to do that?

[emphasis added]

Yeah, I think Stan basically just called President Obama a boy, who he is qualified to lecture about politics. I don’t think I need to compare President Obama’s resume to Stan’s to show how ridiculous this kind of rant is. I’m sharing it simply as an example and a warning to conservatives: This kind of thinking will get you nowhere during this new administration, nor will it give the Republican Party a leg to stand on in future elections.

Obama isn’t the one whining and crying here, it’s conservatives—who lost the election and now want to take their ball and go home. I really hope that’s not the case, because we really do need a strong, intelligent, conservative voice in our political discourse. But (sorry, Stan and my conservative friends) it doesn’t sound to me like this strong conservative voice has emerged yet. And, in the meantime, this whole “I hope Obama fails” tone and tack is the worst kind of #FAIL I can imagine. It’s frankly un-Christian and unhelpful, and I’m saying all this, really, to challenge y’all to improve your game. I guess I’ll just have to leave it at that.

*I personally dislike and disavow categories such as “conservative” and “liberal” or even “progressive.” I don’t apply these terms to myself, but I still use them on occasion (as I do here) when talking about self-described conservatives and/or liberals. Most conservatives I know aren’t afraid to call themselves that and self-identify pretty readily as such, so that’s why I’m using it.

UPDATE: OK, one more addition—here are a few articles/perspectives I wish my conservative friends would read/consider (in addition to their steady diet of Fox News, Focus on the Family Action, etc.):

UPDATE 2: This is good timing—Frank Schaeffer’s latest article at the Huffington Post picks up on the theme I’ve been developing here (with perhaps a bit too much vitriol, but Frank was pretty invested in Republicanism, much more so than I, so his emotion is understandable, if unnecessary). It’s called “Step Out of the Way Republicans!”

UPDATE 2/8/2009: Check out “Rush Limbaugh has his grip on the GOP microphone” in today’s L.A. Times. This is exactly what I’m talking about: “Limbaugh may eventually recede. … Until then, the microphone is his.”

9 thoughts on “Conservative #FAIL

  1. There are many points that I as a conservative not only disagree with but think you did a strong disservice with your rhetoric (not said in an angry tone, just calling it what I belive it to be)
    Some points are correct, but even thought I think Rush Limbaugh is a blowhard. At least take his fail comment in context. The reason he hopes Obama fails is because his policies are very socialistic and if he succeeds, Socialism in America succeeds. I do not want that to succeed.
    Big contention with the stimulus bill and think you are WAY off. Bi-partison reaching across the asile takes more than just sitting in a room and telling the other side to support it, which is essentially what Obama did. He did not budge on anything. Not only did every Republican Rep rightly vote against this horrendous plan but so did some Democrats. You can not have that much frivolous spending that was snuck in by Democrats trying to get their pet projects passed in an emergency bill. Billions alloted would do nothing for job creation. Those who added the pork are doing Americans a disservice and you are doing your readers a disservice by ignoring that. You want bipartisan support take out the crap that will not immediately help Americans and the economy.
    My worry with the Lilly Ledbetter act is that, as written, it will only look at gender and not take into account experience or education. A minor thing.
    George Bush did more for Aids in Africa than any other sitting President and did so under the Mexico City Policy. I think if Obama wanted to he could have as well. Plus why should OUR tax money be used to fund abortions in foreign countries.
    Please understand, I write all this with the utmost respect but I firmly believe you are wrong on many accounts and have over generalized the Conservative movement.

  2. as one that considers himself a Radically Independent Moderate that has worked within both Democratic and Republican camps, takes history, political pragmatism and the sociology of politics into account (consider myself as much political scientist and anything else), yet does have Democratic leanings on many issues, I would like to point out some considerations that may differ from yours.

    1. Regarding this statement “The Republican Party is in decline. Who’s going to turn things around? Sarah Palin? Bobby Jindal? Michael Steele? There doesn’t seem to be any consensus or any real direction. Good luck with that. ”

    Actually any political party can rebound very quickly, with new energy, the right candidates, the failings of the other, the right ground game and historical events. There is no way to look into the future to predict the next 4 years. This said, there is no way we can assume the Republican decline will last more than 2-4 years. If I were to tell your dad that Nixon would have the White House in 1968 after Goldwater’s defeat he would say, “no, the Republican party is in decline. they have no ideas.” If I were to tell you in 1976 there would be a radical shift in the political landscape and Republicans that had just screwed up the White House royally and had a disgraceful president leave office (deja vu) would become power brokers for the next 20 years with the election of 69 yr old Reagan, you would say say “it could never happen.” And, if you were to look at 2000-2004 you would assume republicans would be in power for a long time. They had the plan, but ineptitude and historical event,s plus a game changer changed all realities. Remember that Obama was not on the national scene before the convention of 04 and Dean was considered a hasbeen joke.

    So, Jindal, Steele or another one we do not know of, coupled with a crippling recession, poor leadership in the Congress (e.g. Pelosi and Reid), plus some really bad stuff (terrorism) could change everything in a short amount of time… especially if the Republicans can figure things out quickly. I do not think this will happen, but the Democratic party was in disarray with very few good ideas during the Bush years until Dean took control of the party and Obama became the candidate of change.

    2. You say “The Republican Party is (like much of evangelicalism) viewed pretty negatively. The parallels here to UnChristian are actually kind of interesting. ”

    True. But things can change quickly. I can give you 10 historic happenings, but will simply remind you that Democrats were viewed in similar light during the “war on terror” and for a number of years. the worst thing you could be in 2002 was a Democrat. If Obama and Congress handle things well, this may not happen for a number of years. However, I would be greatly concenred with Congress. The ineptitude and lack of leadership in the Democratic caucus lead me to believe Obama will continue to have to work very hard in spite of their leadership. I have NO confidence in Pelosi and Reid. They can make Democrat a bad term and if Republicans use conservative instead, it is more marketable (Liberal is still a scary term to many- not me).

    3. You said, “The Republican Party seem to have no real solutions. As I mentioned in my earlier blog post on abortion, the Republican Party seems hopelessly stuck in the same gear, singing the same monotone song, on these important issues**.”

    Again, I would say this matters not. Sadly, the political realities tell me that what a party actually has to say that is fresh bears little unless it is said by someone fresh and the ground game is wonderful. Plus, the Democratic leadership has not impressed me with big ideas. This stimulus package, which I have spent hours reading, is not what it should be (very disappointing, but I am no a Keynesian). This is not an auspicious (no fault of Obama in my eyes).

    The leadership of the party, apart from Obama, still seem to have no knew ideas. I am waiting… and not impressed. Of course, I expect parties to have very few fresh ideas. the fresh ideas come from outside the leadership and are co-opted after they see whether the market will make these ideas popular.

    Think of this… McCain had a very solid chance to beat Obama. Obama is the best thing the Dems have had in decades and he could have been beaten by an old codger. The thing that won it for Obama is 1) the best ground game (looked like Rove’s), 2) an economic crisis which showed the differences when he handled it well, 3) a terrible campaign by his opponent (see Palin, etc.) and 4) unpopular president and clamoring for change.

    I would say #4 was not important had any of the top 3 went off message. Had Mcain picked Romney and handled the economic meltdown better, I am not 100% positive my candidate of choise (Obama) would be president.

    Now, I do think that Democrats, if they play this well, are in the catbird seat for a little while. I believe all political movements are cyclicial in nature and we are in the middle of a downturn for the Republicans. They started this present experiment 40+ years ago. It started with ideas and a became a movement. It then got power and become a bureaucracy and moved in Bush years towards a racket. In fact, all the fresh Republican leaders eventually became old and stale. There are some very sharp new breed Republicans out there, but the power brokers are yet to listen. If they listen and it catches fire, look out.

    America needed new blood. Obama and his team offered it. However, new blood becomes old very quickly, if it is not careful. My concern is that Obama has picked too many older Democratic leaders that can become old and stale very quickly. If this happens, some of these young Republicans with new ideas may eventually gain control of their party, just as the MoveON crowd did with Dean (I can give you names, but will not at this time).

    That said… the Republicans are not dead. They could be if they choose wrong. But, there are millions of Ron Paulites and Libertarians, Crunchy Cons, etc. that could be the salvation of the party in the next few years (as little as 4… as much as 10).

    By the way, if I were a principled Republican, I would not have voted for the stimulus package in its present form. It would have nothing to do with expedience or partisanship. It would have to do with philosophy.

    Even as one with strong Democratic leanings, I would have a hard time with this package. I think Democrats need to give a bit more to warrant any Republican movement on the stimulus. The problem is the leadership of the House. They could have had movement. Obama helped them. But, they are as stubborn and partisan as the Republicans (I feel differently about the Senate- I believe in the idea of a deliberative body much more than what the house represents and causes to happen).

    Well, those are some thoughts from a non Republican that hopes they either 1) get their house in order and become helpful and a good minority party or 2) loses elections until that happens.



  3. Are these conservative vs. liberal, republican vs. democrat discussions really that productive? (not to mention that people like Rush are more entertainment icons than they are thoughtful, articulate political theorists.)

    I thought emergent was supposed to be about a Christian imagination outside of these rigid, culturally constructed categories.

  4. Steve,

    Trust me, I have respect for Obama the man, but his presidency is not off to a rip-roaring start, now, is it? All these tax problems, a boondoggle of a bill, and an alarming failure to lead during an economic crisis. Barack Obama seems to be responding quite immaturely (“But I won!”). He’d better bring his A-game if he wants to do something for the country rather than simply win politically. He already has the votes for that. And as far as simply giving him what he wants because he is the president, last time I checked, there are three branches of government, and I can’t remember Democrats giving Bush that kind of treatment. And besides, Mr. Obama was so vague during the campaign about what he might actually do that it’s hard for him to claim a mandate now, particularly about this stinker of a bill.

    Best wishes,


  5. Scott, perhaps my asterisked note at the very end was not a strong enough statement about my general aversion to these polarizing, dichotomizing terms. Or maybe you’re right and I should just be avoiding using these terms altogether. But, like I tried to say, my conservative friends don’t seem to have any problems calling themselves conservatives, so that’s what I’ll call them here, if it helps get their attention to read and to think about some of this stuff.

    Overall, I’m much more interested in re-thinking the whole thing altogether, as you said, “outside these rigid, culturally constructed categories.” But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the present reality and act as if it doesn’t exist. Yes, let’s re-imagine and create a new cultural category, a legitimate “third way” for politics and faith, etc. I’m sorry if my commentary here is unhelpful to that end. I guess I set myself up perfectly for that comeback, now didn’t I? I’ll call myself out on that point, which is, I guess, what you already did. Thanks for the thoughtful engagement and pushback. I appreciate it.

  6. Rick, whew! You really had a few things to say, huh? I like it. Thanks for taking the time. I agree with you that the Republicans are down but not out. And I’m not saying this to celebrate the party’s decline. I really do believe a strong, intelligent conservative voice is needed, and this is really more of a lament that that’s not what I’m hearing/seeing from the Republicans in Congress (or outside of Congress) right now. And, I still want to challenge my friends who are committed to Republican ideology to re-think that commitment.

    So you’re right that the Republican Party could bounce back quickly, and honestly I hope they will. Like I said, we need a strong conservative viewpoint in our political discourse. The RNC just aint bringin’ it right now, as far as I can see.

    I share your concern for some of Obama’s decisions thus far, and I’m certainly not saying the stimulus bill is perfect. I’m just (again) lamenting that not a single Republican saw enough good in it to support it — when there is broad agreement that something needs to be done. I’m all for whittling it down and spending less. Cut the pork. That stuff is good, and that’s what the Republicans in the Senate are helping to do right now, which is great.

  7. Steve, you said:

    “You might like to think of that as “principled” politics, but it’s also politically expedient and pretty much just more of the same old politics that got us where we are today—an ugly rut we desperately need to get out of.”

    I wonder, although I have no way of knowing, if this universal collusion is meant to make Obama look bad. He came to change the way things are done in Washington, but if the other party works against that he ends up potentially looking silly.

    What is sad to me are the time and consequences of that if it is true. The economic crisis is the worst time to play political games. Bad leadership from my perspective because it makes the Republicans look petty. And the because the Republicans have no real say in Congress, they look even more silly for not participating.

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