2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of one of my favorite novels, Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”. I first read it over a decade ago. It was then, and remains, one of the most influential pieces of literature in my personal and professional development. It’s the story of a small group of men and one woman who become influential members of society owing to their contributions in key areas such as business, finance and the like. Over time, they find they are the most successful and prosperous when they base their success on meeting the needs others have in their area of expertise. This personal value is turned against them when the people abandon their own responsibility for their well being and begin to make demands on this small group, not based on the need for their expertise, but on their personal need for security and success. Initially, the group tries to meet those needs despite the personal cost to them. Ultimately, however, they are convinced by one of their number, John Galt, that such behavior will surely destroy the people and it will destroy the group if they permit it. He argues the best course of action is to withdraw from an ungrateful and selfish society and take their talents elsewhere, leaving society to fend for itself. When they do, society crumbles. Hence the name of the book – “Atlas Shrugged”. When the one holding the world on his shoulders shrugs, what happens to the world he holds?
I’ve come to the conclusion that Conservatives and the Republican Party find themselves at a similar crossroad. For 50 years or more, Conservatives have held down their end of the Party and the bargain. They have voted faithfully for the Republican candidate, regardless of who he was, because they had a philosophy of society and governance that focused on the development of the individual based on creating a framework in which individual effort and responsibility were rewarded despite the risks involved. For years the match was a good one as the Republican Party also worked towards those goals. Liberals and Democrats chose a different path which focused on creating a framework in which individual effort and responsibility were discouraged precisely because of the risks involved. One group appealed to people’s dreams, the other to people’s fears. Republicans and Conservatives hit their zenith in the 80s and early 90s when their appeals to dreams found good soil in which to root and people found the courage to believe they could actually survive the risk of failure and come out on the other side a success.
Liberals, weary of being in the minority, redoubled their efforts at assuring the populace that risk was dangerous and that their only security lay in the safety of kindly, governmental largesse. Despite being a siren song, the appeal worked. People looked at the choice between the hard work associated with the realization of their wildest dreams and the ease of simply settling for something close to their need’s threshold and began to opt for the easy way out. As the numbers of people choosing personal pork grew, some in the Republican Party grew envious and also gave up on the idea of hard work. Weary of pointing to the pot of gold at the end of the Conservative rainbow and encouraging people to stay the course toward a success far superior to the paltry handouts the government provided, some GOP leaders opted to switch instead of fight.
Doing so, they also lacked the integrity to leave the Republican Party when they abandoned the principles and values the Republican Party stood for. There was even a new term coined for these men and women, RINO, Republicans In Name Only. At first there were only a few and they still had the all important “R” after their name so they were tolerated and nothing was done to root out the concept. Emboldened, others followed suit and soon the GOP was pulled farther and farther to the Left as these Republicans drifted from their moorings. Those who remained true to the ideals got a name, too. Conservatives. It was pronounced with a sneer and a barely restrained urge to wash up after speaking it. Conservatives stood, not at the extreme end of the Party, but at the place where the party itself had established its success in the 80s and 90s and called to their GOP brethren to come back. They begged them to return so that what once had been would be again. The GOP was having none of it. The upshot of the GOP efforts was that in 2006, after disowning, shunning and scorning Conservatives and their pleas for years, Republicans found themselves once again in the minority party.
Now it is 2008 and the GOP seems to have learned nothing from their recent beating. We appear to be poised on the brink of nominating John McCain as our Presidential candidate and the head of our Party. Despite very real and legitimate Conservative concerns with McCain on the issues of immigration, campaign finance and judicial nominees, Party power brokers rallied behind him and plucked him out of the bottom of the pack just before Iowa and he is now claiming to have the nomination all but wrapped up. With Super Tuesday and Feb 9th less than a week away and looking at the polls and primaries, McCain may just be right. It is at this point that things get interesting.
Interesting because now the GOP will go to work on Conservatives. The GOP is, for all practical purposes, out of Conservative candidates to run for President. They have not supported or nurtured such men and women for years so it should come as no surprise. The goal is no longer the triumph of principle and substance over smoke and mirrors. It is merely triumph at all costs and then hold on the winner’s seat by any means necessary. Electability is the new buzzword and principles be damned! Conservatives rightly find this attitude repulsive. They are distancing themselves from McCain by the thousands with many declaring they cannot and will not vote for him. The GOP’s response is fascinating. They argue that Conservatives must vote for McCain or else it is a vote for Mrs. Clinton or Obama. Instead of working hard to give Conservatives someone to vote for, they’re relying on the Democrats to give Conservatives someone to vote against. In short, they are appealing to Conservative’s fears instead of their dreams. This is precisely the wrong approach.
It may not happen in 2008, but it might. If it doesn’t, it’s coming, mark my words. If the GOP continues to take Conservatives for granted, there will be a price to pay. At some point, Conservatives will realize that our own values and principles are being used against us and we’ll shrug. We’ll stay home, we’ll join or start a third party, we’ll begin to vote for the candidate that best represents us even if it’s a Libertarian or a Democrat or any of a number of other options. But it is certain that we will stop being the servile lapdog for the Republican Party. For some of us, that time is this year. For others of us, we’ll be swayed by appeals to the specter of a Clinton or Obama Presidency and the importance of Supreme Court nominees or a half dozen other excellent arguments and we’ll delay that impetus to shrug. It remains to be seen if the GOP will get the message, however. Many an abusive husband has reassured his battered wife that he was sorry and that things would change and that he’s different now. There’s no need to call the cops or her dad. We all know how often that turns out to be true.
Still, some Conservatives will hold off, wanting to believe. So it is now up up to the GOP to put up or shut up. They can either demonstrate Conservatives are welcome in the party and will be heard or they can decide the GOP can get along just fine without them. I, for one, look forward to finding out which it will be. Because I’m torn. I’m trying to decide – shrug or don’t shrug. Some of my friends have already decided and they’re gone! Others are encouraging me to keep the faith because the stakes are high. I haven’t decided yet. But the weight on my shoulders is getting uncomfortable and I’ve developed an itch between my shoulder blades. I can choose to keep at it despite the discomfort. Or I can relieve the pressure and scratch the itch – if I just shrug.
Wondering if it’s worth it to re-shoulder a burden once you’ve set it down …
Blue Collar Muse