I’m not in the habit of tooting our own [TEXAS MONTHLY] horn, so I hope readers will tolerate this exception, because it deals with a subject I have been writing about frequently: the debate among Republicans about why they lost the election. This is the main subject of Evan Smith’s interview of Dick Armey in January issue. The former U.S. House Majority Leader is as candid as only a man who is through with electoral politics can be.
Here are some of Armey’s observations:
* On why the Republicans lost the election: [The Republicans] had been losing this election for a long time, and it’s because they have gotten so far away from the standards of behavior and conduct that endeared them to the American people in the first place. When the Republicans were shining in the eyes of the voters, they were dealing with big issues. They were taking political chances in order to do the right thing, and their whole thought process was directed at “What can we do that’s good for America?” They were thinking about themselves.
My comment: Armey enlarges this observation in later responses: “If we’re not serving ideas, we’re missing the point of being here in the first place … . They have served themselves through a partisan orientation … [T]he governing position from which they define their behavior has been, What can I do in this job for myself, for my political future and my future in public office … What does it mean to my desire to be the next Speaker or the next majority leader or the next whatever? Note that Armey doesn’t say what many conservatives have been saying, which is that Republicans lost the election because they weren’t true to their conservative principles. He sees the defeat as the result of Republicans’ weren’t true to their principles because they were more interested in power for power’s sake–or, as John McCain put it recently, We came here to change Washington, but Washington changed us.
* On how Republicans abandoned their principles: [Their mission should be to stop the government from growing and interfering and becoming excessively involved in people’s lives. [T]hey’ve taken legislation to the floor that was designed to expand the government for the purpose of imposing standards of morality on the American people. The two most notable areas where they’ve done this–to their recent electoral harm–were on immigration and some items of fancy among evangelical leaders.
My comment: Bull’s eye! By pandering to their evangelical base, Republicans departed from the historical conservative commitment to individual freedom and alienated their libertairian constituency.
On the Republican stand on immigration: Who is the genius that said, “Now that we have identified that [the Hispanic community] is the fastest-growing demographic group in America, let’s do everything we can to make sure we offend them”? Who is the genius that came up with that idea?
My comment: This is another instance of pandering to a constituency that doesn’t respect Republican principles–in this case, the free market. You cannot cut off the flow of essential workers without at the same time establishing some sort of guest worker program that will assure that a labor pool exists. And, once you allow these workers to be here, it is inhumane to not provide the option of a path to citizenship.
On Dennis Hastert: He’s a real decent human being, a man with no secret, selfish agenda. [But] he didn’t take ownership of the responsibilities of the House. Long before it happened–for the good of the institution, for the good of the party, for the good of governance–there was a time when somebody needed to tell Tom DeLay, “Tom, it’s time for you to leave.”
My comment: You can make a very good case that the principal reason the Republicans lost control of Congress was not Bush and the war but DeLay and corruption. And Armey makes it.
On DeLay: I always said Tom DeLay was a perfect example of somebody raised in the Legislature in Austin: somebody who’s in business for himself, who has a very limited view of public policy, which I think he did, and a very self-centered view of public policy, which I think he did … In all the years I knew him, I don’t ever remember Tom DeLay having an idea. I remember Tom DeLay saying, “I can tell you where the most vocal and militant people in our base expect us to do.”
My comment: Sad to say, Armey’s description of the kind of politician who is raised in the Legislature in Austin fits Rick Perry and Tom Craddick like a glove.
On the religious right: They were people like [Christian activist] James Dobson, who were in business for themselves. They never understood that this isn’t about them. It’s about the service we perform for this nation, how we engage in public policy that’s consistent with the foundation principles of this nation. For example, I would argue that James Dobson is an example of somebody who never understood what [the founders] meant by separation of church and state.
My comment: The most important political debate in America today is not the one over Iraq, but the one over the future of the Republican party. If Republicans continue to pander to their base, if they continue to believe that money rather than ideas and principles determine success and failure in politics, if they continue to be in the pocket of the most demanding, most polarizing, most selfish elements in their coalition, they will lose America for a generation, and they will eventually lose Texas. Does it seem strange to anybody out there that the people who are making the most sense in America today are the politicians who have left government–Dick Armey, Lee Hamilton, James Baker–rather than the ones who are in it?