Bud Norman Wichita Pachyderm Club presentation on October 4, 2013 “Ruminations on the State of the Republican Party” I’d
like to begin to by telling you how very honored I am by the invitation to address this august assemblage of anarchists and terrorists. Before explaining why it is such a privilege to be speaking to a gathering of more or less mainstream Republicans, however, I feel obliged to give thanks to Bob Weeks for that flattering introduction. Bob, your comments about my writing are more than kind, they are accurate. You wouldn’t know it from looking at us in our current middle-aged and semi-respectable state, but Bob and I first met and became friends while hanging around the original punk rock scene that sprang up in Wichita back in that era I laughingly call the “late ‘70s.” I also appreciate that he’s also done much to answer the questions that I’m sure are foremost on your mind, which are “Who the hell is guy and why should we care what he has to say?” I plead guilty to the charge that I spent more than 25 years working for the Wichita Eagle, and was even the last person ever hired to work for the late and unlamented Wichita Beacon, and to compound my sins I have also contributed to publications such as Time, the late and unlamented Newsweek, and The New York Times, in addition to a brief stint as a “death writer” for the Kansas City Star. Although I’m reticent about it at the Church of Christ where I attend weekly services I’m also the author of “The Things That Are Caesar’s,” a satire of the religious right in my beloved Kansas, as well as a yet-unpublished novel about a rockabilly-guitarist-turned-juniorhigh-math-teacher named John Mack Bridge. I am also the author of the daily rants posted Monday through Friday at the Central Standard Times dot com web site, and continue to work as a freelance journalist, writer, and copy editor. Despite my career in journalism and literature I am a rock-ribbed Republican and an uncompassionate sort of conservative, which of course has not made my working life any easier, so I have decided to speak today about the prospects for our party and the principles I assume we generally share. Those of you who are familiar with my writing come forewarned that I mostly deal in doom and gloom, and I’m afraid that I’m especially doomy and gloomy about the state of our nation and our party’s chances of setting it right. There’s no using pretending that we don’t face daunting challenges. You don’t need to have spent that past 35 years working in the news business to know that most of the traditional news media are consistently hostile to the Republican party, and although their influence has been much diminished in recent years by declining readership and viewership and a widespread public distrust they remain a formidable opinion-making force. A far greater challenge comes from the entertainment media, which are even more monolithically liberal and maintain an even greater power to affect the thinking of that vast majority of the country that pays little serious attention to politics but nonetheless insists on exercising its right to vote. The temperamentally apolitical portion of the country, which Rush Limbaugh has aptly described as “low-information voters,” will always glean from the snippets of radio news and the jokes on the late night comedy shows a general impression that Republicans are nasty folks of a prudish disposition who want to spoil everyone’s good time.
Worse yet, most of these troublesome people have also been predisposed to believe this nonsense by their years of schooling. Way back in the ‘60s -- and you can feel free to boo and hiss that cataclysmic decade -- young people began to follow the advice of the Italian socialist Antonio Gramsci to commence a “long march through the institutions” and gradually take control of the educational, cultural, and governmental establishments. Partly because the more conservative types were naturally inclined to enter business and the professions, the project has proved far more successful than Gramsci would have ever dared to dream, to the point where the entire school system, from kindergarten through the graduate schools, is now largely devoted to promulgating a liberal worldview. Throw in the insidious effects of youth soccer leagues where everyone gets a trophy just for showing up, boyhoods full of bicycle helmets and chaperoned playdates, a hook-up culture that has almost entirely supplanted the old rituals of courtship and procreation, and various other aspects of our touchy-feely age, and the cumulative effect is a culture that imperceptibly and quite effectively inculcates almost all of the assumptions of liberalism. I will occasionally have conversations with today’s young people -- I don’t recommend that you try this yourself, by the way, as it is a most vexing experience best left to professionals such as myself -- and I am constantly struck by their unthinking and by now almost instinctive acceptance of all sorts of culturally sanctioned stupidity. It is now widely assumed that the federal government’s most important duty is to take money from people have earned it and give it to those who have not, especially when the money is heading toward the people who entertain this notion. Socialism is no longer the slur that conservatives intend it to be, and capitalism is widely regarded as a system of “every man for himself,” as the President of the United States is fond of putting it. It has now become pointless to appeal to the wisdom of Founding Fathers, as all the younger generation seems to know about them is that they were unforgivably rich and owned slaves. Traditional morality is now widely regarded as an unhealthy sexual repression, a point frequently reiterated by popular entertainment, and the social stigmas that once enforced such crucial civilizational rules as the prohibition against out-of-wedlock births are considered archaic fuddy-duddiness. America’s military might is viewed with suspicion by the past several generations that never learned from Howard Zinn and his “People’s History of the United States” about the role it played in freeing millions of people from the totalitarian ideologies of fascism and communism, much less the role it will have to play in resisting the totalitarian ideology of Islamism, and the soothing allure of so-called “soft power” remains despite its obvious failure over the past five years. The great Ronald Reagan -- and damn, I miss voting for that man -- famously likened conservatism to a “three-legged stool” supported by a coalition of free-market capitalists, the advocates of traditional moral and social values, and national defense hawks. Each of these important strains of conservatism are under relentless attack by the forces I have previously described, but they are all too often a war with one another. Some of the conflicts within the conservative coalition derive from the very nature of its factions, of course. Capitalism’s creative destruction is often destructive of traditional values, and the traditionalists are often accepting of a certain level of governmental coercion that are anathema to the libertarian free-marketeers. Many people who consider themselves libertarian are also heirs to a longstanding Republican strain of isolationism, which went into hibernation during the Cold War but has lately begun to
awaken as the inevitable weariness with the war on Islamist terrorism, and the so-called “neo-cons” are so-called because many of them are reformed liberals who retain a suspect willingness to accept a massive governmental presence in everyday life. These conflicts can be reconciled, I believe, but they are often exacerbated by the very different temperaments that are drawn to the various ideas. To give you an idea of how the libertarians differ from the more traditional sorts of Republicans, when I was a baby-faced lad of 16 I had a summer job collecting the signatures required to get the Libertarian Party on the ballot. At one point that summer I traveled with two other workers to Kansas City, where we descended on a concert by Paul McCartney and Wings at the old Kemper Arena with the idea of approaching all the people waiting in line, figuring they would be in a easy-going mood and willing to sign almost anything, and agreed to meet later a pre-determined spot. By the time we met up I was proud to say that I had collected 50 signatures, another fellow said he’d added 60, and the third guy bragged that he had topped us both because he’d gotten 10 signatures, three scalped tickets, and a bag of marijuana. I happily accepted the ticket to the show, but at that tender age declined the offer of a hit of pot. I think I might have been sitting close enough to get what the kids call a “contact high,” however, as I still distinctly remember being most impressed by Linda’s singing. At any rate, two summers later I was working as an intern for Sen. Bob Dole, who was the time considered the very epitome of mainstream Republicanism, and I was struck by what a very different experience it was. Among my fellow interns that summer were future Kansas governors Sam Brownback and Mark Parkinson, and neither offered the same sort of freewheeling companionship. Well, Mark, maybe, which might explain his Republican apostasy, but certainly not Sam. Sam’s a good guy, just not a party animal. In addition to these ongoing internecine with battles within conservatism, another and even more worrisome fissure has lately become apparent. This pits the grassroots activists of the party, widely derided as “tea baggers” and extremists, versus the professional politicians and the more intellectual think-tanks and ensconced conservative media, who are routinely cursed as squishy “RINOs” and accommodationists or, most damning of all, the “establishment.” For those of us old enough to recall a time when it was long-haired hippies in tie-dyed t-shirts who railed the “establishment,” it is a telling measure of how times have changed that this now a term of opprobrium among the lawnmowing, credit-card-carrying, baby-having base of the Republican party. In the allimportant fights over Obamacare and the disastrous levels of government that are piling, the intra-party sniping between these two groups has lately become especially vituperative. The most intemperate sort of language has been employed by both sides, and the underlying anger threatens to rend the party at a time when unity is of the utmost importance. If you’ve tuned in lately to the Mark Levin radio program you’ve probably heard him railing against the likes of Charles Krauthammer and George Will and even Grover Norquist as being traitors to the conservative cause, and with the same shrieking vehemence that he unleashes on the liberals. Levin is a most intelligent man, and has done much to advance the conservative cause, but the mass excommunications that he seems to be insisting on will not be helpful. If Grover Norquist isn’t a true conservative, as Levin is screaming, one wonders how many true conservatives there are in this country. A few thousand, maybe, but certainly not enough to win any elections
The red-hot passions being generated by this debate are especially unnecessary and unfortunate because it it is all about tactics and style rather than the ends we hope to achieve. There is virtually no disagreement with the Republican party, or the broader conservative movement that Obamacare must be done away with, or that the government’s finances need to restored to something remotely resembling solvency and fiscal sanity, but given the last election results and the prevailing political climate there is bound to be a vigorous debate over how the Republicans should weild the modicum of political power that they still possess. I share the kamikaze zeal of the most rabid tea partier, as well as the same nervousness about the potential political fallout of the government shutdown as the squishiest establishmentarian, and I do not claim to possess the Solomonic wisdom required to reconcile the two, but I do hope that the arguments can at least be made in a mutually-respectful fashion, and that whichever sides winds up losing does not feel compelled to leave the party. The Democrats have their own problems, of course. Modern liberalism is not so much a coherent philosophy as a loose confederation of special interest groups, and their interests are often at odds. Still, they seem to maintain a frighteningly unified front on behalf of anything deemed in the party’s best interests. The unions go along with immigration reforms that would severely devalue their members’ labor, the gay rights lobby is supportive of tax policies that would punish their often well-heeled constitutents, the black community is resigned to the gay rights legislation that its clery constantly rails against, always safe in the knowledge that they won’t be accused of homophobia, and every Democrat seems to accept an environmental agenda no matter how much it threatens their personal economic self-interests. Similar conflicts abound within the Democratic party, but somehow they never seem to result in the same sort of namecalling that is now a routine feature of the Republican party. I suspect this is because all manner of Republicans share a stubbornly individualistic and free-thinking streak, and the stubborn defiance of social pressure that is needed to embrace such an unfashionable cause, while the Democrats tend toward to a more collectivist mindset and instinctive desire to go along with the crowd. This difference clearly favors the Republicans when it comes to devising the most sensible poicies, but works to the benefit of the Democrats when it comes to getting their policies enacted into law. Overcoming this permanent handicap, rather than the very temporary squabbles over tactics, is the greatest challenging facing our party today. Despite my admittedly pessismistic instincts, I believe it is still within the realm of possibility, if not probability, that the Republican party might succeed. The main advantage that conservatism still enjoys, of course, is that liberalism simply does not work. That ongoing train wreck that is Obamacare is a timely and illustrative example of what happens when the oh-so-bright denizens of Washington, D.C., think they’re bright enough to micromanage one-sixth of America’s multi-trilliondollar economy, and should serve as a warning against their ambitions to micromanage the other five-sixths. Should the current controversial efforts to de-fund Obamacare fail the law is nonetheless doomed to failure, and will surely sink into oblivion under its own top-heaviness, although it remains to be seen if it will be replaced by a more free-market system or if the greediness of the awful insurance will be blamed and we wind up with an even worse single-payer system along Canadians or a fully-socialized system such as the one that has made Great Britain so much poorer and less healthy. Similarly, America will
eventually stop piling up debt and printing money at such a frantic pace, even if that day comes only when people stop loaning to us and the little green pieces of paper become worthless except as wallpaper, and the only question about the aftermath is whether America will return to its founding principles or embrace the strong-man totalitarianism that so often follows such economic catastrophes. In order to achieve the more favorable outcomes the Republican must set aside its internal differences, and present to the public the very best that each of its factions has to offer the country. The libertarian faction will provide the most popular ideas, I believe, not just because their red-in-the-tooth-and-claw brand of capitalism is the best means to revive a moribund economy but also because their broader notions of personal freedom are daily gaining a greater resonance in an age of unfettered snoopiness by the NSA and politically-motivated harrassment by the IRS and the countless regulations daily issued by an alphabet soup’s worth of acronyms. While the Republicans will never be able to outbid the Democrats for votes with promises of free stuff, at least not without giving up on the very essence of what the Republican party has long stood for, they can offer the people a very tempting menu of things they won’t do to them. The party’s longstanding and well-known opposition to abortion, along with its hesitancy to embrace such radical reconfigurations of long-established instutions such as gay marriage, have given it a reputation for party-pooping Comstockianism, but for pure self-righteous I-know-bestbosiness our party cannot begin to compare with the Democrats. I always note to the young people of my acquaintance that the Republican party might oppose abortion and gay marriage, but only one of those things is likely to personally affect you, and they don’t care what kind of gun you use to shoot the bastard that has broken into your home, or what kind of car you drive, or how much salt you can shake on your French fries, or how big a glass of soda you purchase from the local Quik Trip, or what kind of genderbased pronouns you use, or any of another million or so examples I could cite of modern liberalism’s totalitarian urges. As an example of just how very different Republicans and Democrats are when it comes to telling people how to live the most mundane and formerly private aspects of their lives, a while back I happened upon an opinion piece in The New York Times that was not only defending New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to regulate the size of the the city’s soda glasses, it went on to advocate a far broader range of regulations to ensure the good health of Americans. Just when I found myself thinking “My God, woman, you’re defending the most coercive sort of partenalism, and opposing personal autonomy,” I got to the end and read in the “about the other” blurb that she was a professor of philosophy at Bowdoin College and the author of a new book titled “Against Personal Autonomy: Defending Coercive Paternalism.” The bossiness of modern liberalism is now officially unabashed, and I have to believe -- lest I succumb entirely to hopelessness -- that a certain contrarian cussedness remains entrenched enough in the American character to revolt against such nanny-state nonsense. Which is not to say that the Republicans should jettison their longtime commitment to traditional social values. Doing so would not only be bad politics, as it would alienate a crucial component of our potential electoral majority, it would also be bad policy. At the risk of sounding blue-nosed and hidebound I am quite sure that a society of people raised by baby mammas and baby daddies will not be as successful as one comprised of people raised by husband and wives, and I cannot help but noticing that
the sexual revolution has not been without its unpleasant consequences. Making these arguments risks the ridicule of the late night comics and the latest pop sensations and all the cool kids, and is therefore not likely to win the favor the ever-libidinous youngsters that we must convert, but sometimes enduring principles must prevail over passing political fads. The continuing economic crisis and the looming cataclysm of the government’s debt have lately shifted the Republican party’s emphasis away from the social issues, it has been to the party’s political benefit to such an extent that in the past election many of the media tried desperately to drag that party back into its “religious right” mode. The media even succeeded in convincing many of those troublesome single females -- and they’re not just troublesome to me, although I don’t want to get into that, but to the party as whole -- that the Republicans are intent on banning contraceptives. This is a complete fiction, of course, and I kept trying to explain to young single women how very eager I am to live in a world where their contraception is none of my business, and that the Republican party as a whole shares the same sensible preference and it is the Democrats who are making it a matter of public by insisting that the public pay for it, but it seems to have worked all too well. My advice to the party, should it deign to give a damn, is to continue the emphasis on economic issues but without apology for its social values traditionalists. When forced to address the social issues, the party should de-emphasize any proposed prohibitions and instead talk about undoing the government mandates in welfare and discrimination laws and educational policy and free-speech restrictions that undermine traditional values. This would not only help to protect the family as the basic unit of society, which has been the bedrock of every functioning family since mankind first crawled out of the caves, but also help with the message that the Democracts are far bossier than we are. The neo-isolationist faction of the party that has lately been most prominently associated with Sen. Rand Paul and his father, the former Rep. Ron Paul, would have considerable appeal to a war-weary public but I believe it should be ultimately rejected as bad policy. Although I can readily appreciate the public’s desire to retreat within our borders, and its reluctance to continue to policing a troublesome and ungrateful world, my reading of history tells me that when there is no Pax Hellenica, or Pax Romana, or Pax Britannica, or Pax America, there is no pax. This is going to be a hard sell, especially to a public so badly educated that it hasn’t the slightest idea what Pax Romana was, but it shouldn’t be an insurmountable problem. The Democrats have their own isolationists, with the only difference being that they want to retreat from the world because they think that America is so irredeemably wicked while the Republican isolationists believe that pure and righteous America can only be tainted by the contact, and they also have their own internationalists, the difference from the conservative variety being that they’re big believers in such debating clubs as the United Nations and think that America should only act abroad when it is not in our national self-interest. After eight years of Obama’s hybrid brand of inernationals, which combines the worst elements of both his party’s foreign policy schools, and is based on alienating friends and appeasing sworn enemies, any Republican should fare well in the next presidential debate devoted to foreign policy. The truly hard part, then, will be bringing these various factions of the party together. It hasn’t been done since Ronald Reagan managed the trick, and I’m afraid that I can’t identify in the party today with Reagan’s remarkable skills. Should anyone be
willing to attempt to replicate his great accomplishment, I expect that he will succeed only by emphasizing what all conservatives have in common. The great English novelist Evelyn Waugh provided my favorite definition of conservatism when he wrote of Rudyard Kipling, another great English novelist, that “He was a conservative in the sense that believed civilization to be something laboriously achieved which was only precariously defended. He wanted to see the defences fully manned and he hated the liberals because he thought them gullible and feeble, believing in the easy perfectibility of man and ready to abandon the work of centuries for sentimental qualms.” The libertarians, the traditionalists, and the neo-cons -- even the tea-baggers and the establishment RINOs -- all generally fit this definition. Each of us share a commitment to the time-honored freedom and liberty, Judeo-Christian morality, and a vigorous defense of our national security, no matter how these ideals might sometimes clash. The part about hating the liberals is especially true, I think, and should be our rallying cry of unity. Let us put aside our differences, and get those bastards good. I thank you for your polite consideration of my views, and would be happy to entertain any questions you might have.