MODERATION AND OTHER DISHONESTY | 1999-05-29
My boss on Capitol Hill was John Ashbrook, who was proud to be labeled an extremist. Once he was in a committee meeting with Melvin Laird, who was then a Republican congressman. Laird was, as usual, conceding things to Democrats. John said to the microphone, in a stage whisper, "What a prostitute!"
Please note that Mr. Laird would someday lead the department which conservatives worship, the Department of Defense. Goldwater and all the others voted to confirm him to the holy post of Secretary of Defense. Those conservatives would always insist that he was a "true patriot." This "true patriot" spent his entire career giving things away to liberals.
For some reason, conservatives are always being betrayed.
Odd, isn't it?
After Hubert Humphrey died, someone in Congress proposed setting up a Humphrey Scholarship. To make it bipartisan, someone else proposed it be a Humphrey-Dirksen Memorial Fellowship. On the House floor, John Ashbrook said, "The people are not fooled. We are politicians who want to spend the public's money to honor other politicians....Everett Dirksen HAS a memorial. It is called the national debt!"
Everett Dirksen was not only a respectable conservative icon, he had also been the father of the Senate Republican Leader, Howard Baker. But he had sold out too many times, and John Ashbrook had to tell the truth about him even after he was dead.
John and his people -- including me -- were not popular with respectable conservatives. We were not nice. We were not "reasonable." But by being unreasonable extremists, we were able to accomplish minor miracles.
There are 435 congressmen. The only way that mass of people can move business through is by unanimous consent. Everything in the House requires unanimous consent. Most of the time, unanimous consent is easy to get. Everybody hates somebody who holds things up by refusing unanimous consent. It isn't nice.
But when it comes to the national welfare, a good extremist is not nice.
In 1977, the situation was desperate. Carter had taken over the White House in the 1976 election, and the Democrats had control of both Houses of Congress. A flood of liberal legislation was on the way, and every bill had extra spending and other liberal amendments tacked on.
So John and his handful of extremist buddies would deny unanimous consent until they got rid of the liberal add-ons. A lot of the stuff that had been sneaked in during the flood of business got knocked out. Republican staff hated us. They gave us endless lectures about how, if we would just be "reasonable," no one would notice the bad stuff that went through. If Ashbrook's fanatics would be reasonable, they moaned, we could all go home. Ashbrook refused.
We were wildly unpopular, scorned, insulted, and very, very happy.
This is extremism in action.
Such men as John Ashbrook do not get elected to leadership positions. Such men do not get cabinet seats.
We all know that. The conservative leadership gets along by going along with moderates, and moderates get along by going along with liberals.
Then we are all upset and mystified when we get sold out.
When conservatives do the same thing at the National Republican Convention, the whole country gets sold out.
Richard Nixon was to his party EXACTLY what William Jefferson Clinton is to his party: the Great Trimmer. He was the middle-of-the-road Republican between Rockefeller on the left and the Goldwater-Reagan group on the right. But in 1968 and 1972, all the leading respectable conservatives said, "Nixon is conservative ENOUGH."
So conservatives said they could spare a few principles to win the election, and they nominated Nixon. That is exactly the same reason liberals nominated Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Why did Nixon and Clinton both turn out to be crooks? It is because they both went in as professional moderates. Political moderation is the practice of someone who openly puts his political goals above principles.
Nixon and Clinton were both elected to be crooked.
Someone goes in on a crooked platform. He tells you he puts pragmatism over principle. When he gets into office, he has no principles. And Americans are shocked.
The only incredible sentence above is the last one.