Whenever I ask myself, “What were the Republicans thinking?” I find the answer in the immortal collection of essays by Irving Kristol, Neo-Conservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea. In that book, Kristol lays out his grand plan for how the Republicans can truly achieve immense power in the United States, but that to do so will mean abandoning principles of fiscal conservatism and balanced budgets and embracing the “conservative welfare state.” Kristol further instructs that in matters of economics and foreign policy, the people aren’t to be listened to (as democratically elected politicians sometimes mistakenly believe), rather they are to be led because they are ignorant of these matters and they know it. In addition, Kristol and his associates guided the New Right to create a budget crisis by implementing socialist policies to compete with those of the left and to use this crisis to force the public to choose between traditional socialism and market-based social engineering. Well, the people have chosen: If you’re going to have a welfare state, let the left run it–after all, you can’t beat a guy at his own game.
The pundits on all sides will talk about this election as being a choice between right and left, speculating, “Was Romney too far to the right?” Or, “Was Romney not ‘right’ enough?” But “the right” as it is now defined comes with all sorts of baggage that is both inconsistent with the founders’ principles (to which the right pays much lip service) and irrelevant to national politics (or at least should be). The right has become the right side of the left: a quasi-market-based philosophy promising more efficiently to achieve the-all-things-to-all-people government at the core of liberal philosophy. But what makes the Republican Party “too right” to the pundits is that it couples this “conservative welfare state” with federal attempts to control people’s behavior at home and the shape of the world outside its borders. Regardless of the labels, from top to bottom, the right now merely offers a different flavor of statism from the left’s, not an alternative to statism itself. What’s worse is that while not providing an alternative to statism, the New Right purposely displaces those who would.
Ron Paul offered Republicans a principled alternative. He offered them the chance to put their money where their mouths were: Do you want a constitutional government, individual liberty, private property, strong defense and economic freedom, or do you want power through compromise at home and force abroad? Perhaps it was the same establishment Republicans who threw water on the fires burning in the Tea Party who also extinguished Ron Paul’s conflagration; perhaps Republican primary voters were already too indoctrinated with the rhetoric of the New Right; probably both.
The greater tragedy, though, is not another four years of Obama, it’s that the American Experiment collapsed under the weight of the Iron Law of Oligarchy and the pursuit of power for power’s sake. With Ron Paul running against him, Obama might still have won–or he might not have–but either way, we would have been presented with the choice between principle and demagoguery. Even if Ron Paul had lost, American principles would have survived, while in the struggle for power we just witnessed, the loser is left with nothing.
With Ron Paul as a national candidate, we would have been able to look back from the inevitable calamity with clarity and say, “We made a mistake. Ron Paul had the answer and we refused to see it,” and in so doing, recognize the truth in his message of liberty once and for all. With Romney, what lasting hope did he really give us? I saw hope in him, but I generated it myself as a function of my Obamaphobia, not because Romney offered a return to economic and political reality. And who denied us this principled choice? Not the American electorate overall, but the Republican Party. The entrenched Republican establishment banked on “Not Obama” being enough on which to sidle into the White House without having to make any crazy promises about economic freedom or personal liberty, without kowtowing to Libertarians or Tea Partiers or traditional conservatives. The Republican Party was determined to use Obama’s self-destruction to take power on its own terms. Only it miscalculated: If you’re pedaling socialism, you can’t beat a socialist.
America has truly embraced big government, not because socialism won in a competition with free markets and individual liberty, but because the “opposition” refused to give us that choice.
What now, neo-con? Will you accept your long-awaited judgment of the people and return to sound economic and political principles as rational, good-faith actors would do? Or will you continue to employ the strategy and tactics of the left and mask the causes and results of your failures? Just as the left explains away the failures of socialism and Keynesianism in Europe and Japan saying, “they just didn’t go far enough,” will you look at your losses and call for more–much more–of the same?