One thing political parties and partisans seem never to learn: the purer you are, the more you lose.
The divisions of Red and Green parties in ancient Rome, where heads literally rolled, have manifested themselves in the blog beheadings by the two greatest proponents of purity in American politics today: the “progressive” left of the Democratic Party and the “purifier” forces in the Republican Party. So far, the great achievements of these two forces has been two-fold: the Progressives have been able to help President Obama’s approval ratings tank; and, the Republican purists have been able to facilitate the Republican loss of the 23rd House District of New York and help push Sen. Arlen Specter over to the Democratic Party.
But, MoveOn.org and the Club for Growth have so much more work to do. After all, the theological nature of these two groups demands that they drive out apostasy even if it means that they defeat the very policies they purport to support.
One of the best current examples is Charlie Crist in Florida. By all accounts, Crist should have as close to a lock on the next Senate seat from Florida as one can have. But, fueled by support from the most conservative social and anti-tax elements in the Florida GOP, former Florida State House Speaker Marco Rubio has decided to challenge Crist in the Republican primary. The first palpable result of this internecine war has been the resignation of Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer last week. While the resignation emerged from a variety of factors, a major one was the fact that Greer supports Crist.
Adding injury to insult, Crist’s home county Republican Party Executive Committee took a straw poll to see where the GOP activists stood on the race — and Rubio won, 106-54. Media reports are that Crist is now running a new web video that tries to paint Rubio as a “late-comer” to the true conservative faith. A chance exists that the two will scar each other up enough that the Democrats will gain the seat. Then, both the Club for Growth and the Tea Party activists can claim victory—after all they then would have helped elect someone who will vote against the interests of both groups.
The old cliché is that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. Expecting a Democratic Senator to pursue the interests of the Club for Growth is a form of insanity.
The facile observation that this is the result of “Tea Party” anger misses a larger historical theme that has roiled the Republican Party for decades — the battle between the Libertarian members (Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan) and what was once called the “Moral Majority” (think Jerry Falwell). In regional terms, one could say Southwest and West Coast against the Old South and Border states. Libertarians by and large say, “Do what you want, but don’t scare my horses doing it.” The social conservatives say, “If you don’t do what I want, then I will have my horses stomp you.”
If we were to scratch most of the Tea Party protesters, we would probably find just as many libertarians as social conservatives, if not more. Indeed, the battle within the GOP won’t be among so-called moderates, social conservatives, and populists. The real battle will be between the pro-Ayn Rand Club for Growth (which supports the right of any banker in New York City to make any amount of money he or she can) and the populist Tea Party gang (which wants to hang every banker in New York City). The present marriage of convenience between these two forces cannot last. Can one imagine a true Tea Party member supporting the right of Goldman Sachs’ employees to make as much money as they can, regardless of the consequences to society? Or the Club for Growth insisting that their members absolutely condemn abortion in any circumstance?
So, Charlie Crist in Florida,and many other conservative, but not theologically pure, Republicans will find themselves caught between these forces in the next 9 months. Where this leaves the folks who are trying to balance a constructively smaller government with a practical maximum of individual freedom remains unclear.
It does leave immense openings for any number of Republicans—from Mitch Daniels in Indiana, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Mitt Romney, to Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin—to forge some form of coalition among the groups based both on fiscal prudence and on personal freedom.
Or, as once was written in this land, the freedom of Americans to pursue life, liberty and happiness.