I remember well the arguments over whether or not to give the franchise to 18 year olds back in 1971. I was to turn 18 in 1972 and at the time, many sober minded people actually believed that passage and ratification of the amendment would kill Richard Nixon’s chances for re-election. It didn’t, of course. To this day, 18-21 year olds are the least participatory age group in American democracy. But at the height of the Viet Nam war, the powerful slogan used by pro-26th amendment groups – “If they’re old enough to fight, they’re old enough to vote” – won the day and the amendment was ratified in almost record time.
Anti-amendment forces made the losing argument that 18 year olds were too intellectually unsophisticated to vote. The House Judiciary Committee Chairman at the time:
Representative Emmanuel Cellar, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, a staunch opponent of the proposal who had routinely killed the measure in committee. Representative Cellar thought that â€œYoung people are idealists. They tend to see things as black and white. That makes it easy to manipulate them.â€ Proponents of lowering the voting age feared that Representative Cellar would scuttle the legislation once again.
Cellar was wrong. Young people should not be denied the vote – especially when they aren’t the only age group who are idealists and “tend to see things in black and white.” Age has nothing to do with an inability to think and act like an adult. Just look at the self-destructive conservative wing of the Republican party today.
Rather than self destructive, perhaps we should refer to them as the Spoiled Brat wing of the Republican party. In a shocking exhibition of immaturity and intellectual shallowness, not to mention a cavalier attitude toward the safety and security of the United States, some conservatives have begun to throw the mother of all tantrums 6 months prior to the election because, quite simply, they are not getting their way. They are threatening to “punish” Republicans by, one supposes, staying at home on election day and allowing the Democrats a clear path to majority status.
If conservatives were to abandon the party and vote Democratic to effect that changeover, I could countenance their choice as one made with the full, honest realization that they were voting to promote a liberal agenda along with a worldview that many of us believe would threaten the safety and security of the United States. In a democracy, this is a legitimate way to “punish” your party of choice and “send a message” that they must change in order to win back your loyalty.
But the Spoiled Brat Conservatives are contemplating no such thing. Using the withholding of their vote as an unconscionable political ploy, they seek to affect a Democratic takeover literally by default. They are going to hand the country over to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi not because they agree with them but because they value their own, selfish, petty agenda over the good of the nation.
It is one thing to become frustrated with the personalities and even the politics of lawmakers who make compromises in order that the business of the nation be carried out with a modicum of orderliness and dispatch. It is quite another to demand that the politicians of one’s party commit political suicide just to satisfy the legislative cravings of a minority. The fact of the matter is, we aren’t called “the base” for nothing. In order to win an election, even in a relatively safe district, a politician needs the votes of not only of us bedrock conservatives but also moderate conservatives and independents.
An argument can be made that Republicans have pissed off any number of these voters, some of whom will almost certainly be voting Democratic in November. But to posit the notion that the alternative is better in the short or, as some have suggested, in the long term is ludicrous. Counting votes two years out is an exercise in sophistry and worse, a demonstration of monumental stupidity. If we don’t know which events may or may not transpire in the next six months that will affect this election, how in God’s name can you make the preposterous assumption that an outcome more than two years away can even be guessed at?
In truth, the anger shared by all of us over immigration, spending, the pork barrel, and even issues of competence regarding the President pale in comparison to the anger we would all feel if the Democrats enacted parts of their agenda.
Have problems with the President’s immigration plan? Let’s act like 2 year olds being denied their way and watch as the Democrats eviscerate the President’s admittedly inadequate and modest proposals for enforcement and embrace changes that will send you to the medicine cabinet for your high blood pressure medication.
Don’t think that taxes have been cut enough? Sit in your recliner eating nachos on election day, gloating at how you “showed” those Republicans, and then watch as the Democrats make Sweden look like a tax haven.
Too much spending for your delicate sensibilities? Try to imagine the various social engineering schemes and legislative sops Democrats have ready to drop into the hopper in January of 2007. Along with the tax increases (which we all know will be spent on the pet projects of liberals and not used to reduce the deficit), how do taking steps toward socialized medicine, “reform” of the prescription drug bill, and other liberal big government spending initiatives sound to you?
Oh, and let’s not forget Iraq and the War on Terror. But then, what’s the security and safety of the United States of America mean when stacked against the foot stomping, ill natured “lesson” you plan to teach the GOP?
Let me make it clear that I’m not trying to defend the indefensible here but rather make the point that elections are about choices. That’s all they are. They are not about “sending messages” or “punishing” someone. You can tell yourself that until you’re blue in the face but that won’t make it so. By staying at home, you are making a choice just as surely as if you pull the lever in the voting booth for the Democrats. There is absolutely nothing intellectually sophisticated about withholding your vote for “strategic” reasons. It is, in fact, simple minded to have faith that you can effect change by not participating in the process.
And what of the congressional districts lost if Republicans go down to defeat in November? It will be no simple matter to win them back, I assure you. The power of incumbency is such that even in districts that lean heavily Republican, a clever Democratic politician can twist and squirm his way to acceptance. And, of course, being fanatically devoted to constituent services in the district always goes a long way to cementing a politicians political prospects. It is chimerical to believe that the GOP can win back lost districts simply by putting up a “true” conservative to run against a Democrat. History teaches us an opposite lesson.
We are at war. The party you are hoping comes to power uses quotation marks when talking and writing about the conflict we are in, as if it only exists in the minds of George Bush and a few misguided Republicans. How serious do you believe the Democrats will be about national security? Are you willing to take the chance of finding out?
And for those conservatives who continuously point to Ronald Reagan’s Administration as a model of conservative governance, I would suggest you read a history of that period so that you can be disabused of such fairy tales. Reagan’s term in office was marked by compromise and practicality, so much so that the President’s hyper-conservative Interior Secretary James Watt famously wailed at one point “Let Reagan be Reagan” – as if the Gipper could be anything else. I distinctly recall Richard Viguerie, whose OpEd in the Washington Post yesterday must set some kind of standard for petulant huffiness, doing a little wailing himself back then about the men around the President preventing RR from acting like a “true” conservative.
This ain’t the 1980’s. Reagan’s success during that period came about as a result of his ability to pull conservative southern Democrats along with him on a few big ticket items like taxes, defense spending, and some reform measures. This kind of bi-partisanship is not vouchsafed his successor as the liberals have purged the apostates from the south and now stand united, almost in lockstep against President Bush. This has made the President’s ability to maneuver, to wheel and deal on legislation in order to affect an outcome that would satisfy “the base” problematic indeed. With so few Democrats willing to peel off and support the President on any number of issues, in order to get anything done at all, Bush has had to govern closer to the middle – as Bill Clinton found out following the election of 1994.
So go ahead and throw your tantrum by not voting on election day. But do so realizing the consequences to the country and not just your ego or your political sensibilities. Working to change the party is hard work and must be done at the grass roots level. How much street cred are “real” conservatives going to have with party loyalists – the people who largely make up the grass roots – if the Democrats win in November and the blame clearly falls on you?
I personally plan on voting, seeing the act of casting my ballot as the only mature, responsible way to express my choice in our representative democracy. In my humble opinion, not doing so would be tantamount to placing your own personal interests over the interests of the country. And in a time of war, I find that enormously troubling.
Bravo to Bruce Kessler for expressing many of the same sentiments I did above, although he seems a little too sanguine about the prospect of forming an “independent conservative force” that would work to put forward a conservative agenda and conservative candidates. I would say that such a force already exists in spades. You can’t shake a stick in Washington without hitting a conservative think tank or presure group. That said, Bruce makes several excellent points in his must read post.
And Ed Morrissey also thinks like me, that conservatives are guilty of “unrealistic expectations.” Ed, however, is more polite and accomodating than I am, he being much more gentlemanly about his criticism of the Pouting Thomas Republicans.