We are where we are. As things look today, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Jon Huntsman will not be the GOP candidate for president. Neither will Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Allen West, or Sarah Palin.
Who is to be congratulated for the elimination of Cain, Perry, Bachmann, and Huntsman? The voters. That’s right. Sure, the candidates made some mistakes. The media did everything possible to prejudice voters against them, and that was a crying shame. But voters didn’t have to let the media or the contrived, somewhat artificial debate process make their decisions for them.
There is good news in all this. First, the voters really are making the decision. Second, the voters are starting to think for themselves. It would have been nice for that to happen earlier, but there’s no time like the present.
Third, with the voters thinking for themselves, candidates who are focused on liberty issues are still on the ballot, and the party dialogue on those issues continues. I know a lot of people don’t see it this way, but they’re wrong: the most important thing the GOP can possibly do in 2012 is decide what it is and what it wants. Self-identified “conservative” voters may be in a national majority according to the surveys, but it has been more than 20 years since we were all pulling together.
The bottom line is that the GOP is not agreed on what the problem is. We’re fighting that out right now – and it’s healthy, if annoying. One faction says the problem is Obama; the other faction says it’s the way we now govern ourselves, which – no matter who is in charge – cannot avoid oppressing the people with regulation, debt, and crony-enrichment schemes at the people’s expense. The latter faction is divided between those who see enough prospect for change with one of the candidates still in the race, and those who don’t. Those who see even Gingrich and Santorum as too reflexively “big government” in their thinking are a growing voice.
The good news is that we are having the debate in a way that matters. That is very good news. Never underestimate the power of ideas. They stick with people, even when it seems they haven’t, and they are the only thing that can motivate people to unite and make positive changes.
The mainstream media don’t depict it that way, of course. They labor to depict the GOP primary season as a turkey shoot run by Keystone Kops. But Americans have a choice as to whether they let the mainstream media distribute their opinions to them, like thematic gift baskets, and more and more Americans are choosing to just say no.
I wrote last year about Rick Perry as a candidate of the “old consensus” – my term for the modus vivendi adopted over the last 60 years by Democrats, who were increasingly taken over by progressive statists, and Republicans, who fought a rear-guard action to keep statism from getting too big and expensive. Under the old consensus, Republicans were largely focused on the monetary and economic expense of statism, and the tacit agreement was that the right would accept as much statism as we could “afford.” As long as we were growing economically – so this consensus went – we could afford a fairly heavy burden of statism. Perry, I thought (and still do think), was on the Reagan end of the consensus rather than the Rockefeller end.
But what I see happening in the Republican primaries is an awakening of conservative voters to the disasters invited by the old consensus. The loss of fiscal integrity and loss of liberty for America are products of the old consensus, and they have proceeded in lockstep: we are losing as much of the latter as we are of the former. I believe 2012 is the year in which a critical mass of GOP voters has awoken to the reality that the old consensus is a destructive path and is in any case unsustainable. Voting to continue down it on any basis is voting to remain on course for destruction.
I urge GOP voters not to be discouraged about this. Ideas outlast everything else. The idea of individual liberty and limited government cannot be killed. America has not had a fundamental dispute over basic ideas for a very long time; we have become conditioned to the foggy stasis of bumper-sticker slogans and complacent, rarely-visited idea-sets. It feels unsettled and strange to truly be debating the relationship of man and the state: to be breaking up those idea-sets and repudiating things supposedly bought into decades ago. But a movement of ideas is a force of remarkable power, and one that no state power arrangement has ever ultimately withstood. America’s burgeoning movement of ideas will not expire ignominiously.
The future of liberty on earth depends on what happens in America in the next decade. If there is any nation on earth that can navigate peacefully back from the brink of statist implosion and loss of liberty, it is the United States. In 2012, GOP voters can rejoice in having alternatives, imperfect as they are, to a big-government statist candidate. Voters can choose to affect the political process – and possibly the outcome in November – by casting their votes on principle.
Some words to live by as we go forward. The president doesn’t make us, we make him. The integrity and character of the people are paramount. The only sure way to lose a battle is to stop fighting. America has beaten the odds every time. We will beat them again.