I’m not really looking for Joe; I’m looking for a conservative with whom there can be a debate.
I should have titled this column “Where have you gone William F. Buckley, Jr.?” Not as poetic as Paul Simon, but Buckley was the dictionary definition of conservative who died in 2008 at 82. He was a long time political commentator who founded “The National Review” magazine and hosted nearly 1,500 editions of “Firing Line” on television.
He was conservative in all matters. But, he was a valued and trusted friend, as well as a formidable political rival, to staunch liberals Allard Lowenstein, John Kenneth Galbraith, and George McGovern. They had wonderful, epic debates followed by a glass of port.
Buckley’s laissez faire capitalist philosophy against regulation of business would have meshed seamlessly with today’s Republicans. But, after an interview with Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan’s muse who sported a similar business philosophy, he summarily dismissed her saying, “unyielding dogmatism is intrinsically objectionable.”
The missing piece that I’m seeking is Buckley’s love of debate and even compromise. In the 1950s he was a fierce segregationalist, but by the late 1960s he spoke out against George Wallace, racism, and white supremacy. He apologized and publicly stated that he was wrong to oppose the 1964 and ’65 civil rights acts. He changed his thinking and became an admirer of Martin Luther King, Jr.
He thought George W. Bush to be conservative (small c) but not a Conservative (capital C). The distinction was in how President Bush governed with the dreaded unyielding dogmatism.
There are more examples of conservative Republicans who knew how to both campaign and to legislate. Everett Dirksen, a 36 year Representative and Senator from Illinois, thought Dwight Eisenhower way too moderate and fought his presidential nomination tooth and nail. When Ike won, Dirksen supported him. The more amazing fact is that this ultra conservative would help write the civil rights legislation so that it could pass the Senate and become law.
It was fun to watch these men joust both on paper and face-to-face on television. They were passionate and principled, yet always actively looking for an area of agreement and grounds to compromise. Where is the common ground today?
I’m not looking for someone for whom I can vote. I have plenty of candidates who fill that bill on the liberal side of the ledger. I am looking for some conservatives who want to debate and compromise. Most Republican legislators today publicly define compromise as Democrats coming around to their way of thinking–Buckley would have hated that stance.
Consensus-seeking Republicans are out there. However, they are either stymied by the abundance of unyielding dogmatics in the party or simply do not have the stomach for today’s politics being bought and paid for by unknown donors.
Colin Powell is definitely one of them. He describes himself as a “Conservative with a conscience.” Unfortunately, the last time he was in the news was four years ago when he endorsed the president for office.
Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is another. He is rowing upstream trying to convince his party that raising revenue along with cuts in spending are the only ways to achieve a balanced budget in the near future. Coburn is challenging the lunacy of no new taxes for any reason proposed by Grover Norquist–why are these people listening to Norquist? He has no status in the government–not elected to anything.
Another capital C conservative is Jeb Bush. Florida’s former governor is one of the few who realize that we cannot abolish the Department of Education. He has conservative creds a mile long, but is willing to try to save education by expanding the number of teachers in classrooms, giving autonomy to individual schools, and working through the federal government to effect improvements.
Speaker of the House John Boehner may be another. He ends up looking silly on television because he is trying to expound theories and ideas that I truly believe he is against.
It will not matter who wins the November election if a real conservative party does not emerge. The unyielding stance of most Republicans is good for campaigning, but lousy for governing. They must come to understand that we need a conservative party to match up with liberals.
Only together can Congress put into effect the second requirement of being an elected official–the part that calls for getting down to work and making compromises that lead to laws.
It would also be nice if they enjoyed it and shared a glass of port afterward.