The Good, the Bad, and the Perfect.
This post first appeared at MatthewHurtt.com.
I discussed last week the maxim: All gains are incremental; some increments aren’t gains. This is just one of the more than 40 “Laws of the Public Policy Process” developed by Morton Blackwell, founder and President of the Leadership Institute. A movement conservative, Blackwell has trained over 100,000 conservative activists since he first got involved in politics in the ’60s.
Aside from the training the Leadership Institute provides, I believe there is some real wisdom in these “Laws.” So much so that I’m going to write about more of them in the days and weeks ahead. The first few are directed toward my libertarian friends, who – to their own detriment – sometimes reject the two-party system in their goals. Electoral success often eludes the most die-hard libertarian.
I want to say, there’s hope. But we must reject the “Sir Galahad Theory of Politics” – I will win because my heart is pure. Electoral success isn’t based on who’s right or who’s wrong. To make policy, you have to get elected.
And that brings me to Blackwell’s 13th Law:
13. Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.
Most immediately, the words of one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs comes to mind. “You can’t always get what you want.” In life and in politics, this is true. Undeniably so. You can’t get the perfect candidate. You can’t get the perfect policy. You can’t get the perfect circumstances. And even if you could, there are many others vying for a piece of the same success as you — and they don’t want the exact same things you do.
Even amongst Democrats or Republicans or tea partiers, there is no singular platform or goal. Sure, each national party has a “platform,” but even then the issues are prioritized by individual members. Realistically, politics doesn’t play out on a left-right axis; it’s multi-dimensional, with social issues and fiscal issues as the X- and Y-axis, respectively… with perhaps a Z-axis for level of intensity. And to an extent, elements of the ideological “left” and “right” loop around and the differences fade. Fascism is an example of where the left-right lines blur.
The point is, there are an infinite number of combinations to produce a candidate, a policy, or a set of circumstances.
If everyone who’s engaged is trying to get a piece of the pie, then there are countless hands shaping and changing these factors. I hate the “C” word – compromise – but it’s the norm in politics, not the exception.
This is most evident in today’s debate over the budget. (SPOILER: It’s an NPR link!) Last week’s debate over the continuing resolution showed that both sides were willing to give up some to keep the government open. It wasn’t perfect for Republicans, but any level of cuts should be a win in our playbook. Remember, the natural direction of government throughout history has been toward larger government.
Any shift in the opposite direction is a shift against history… and a win for conservatives. We have to pick and choose our battles. Which ones can we win? Which ones are worth fighting? Not every disagreement on policy should be a showdown where we can only accept 100% of what we want.
Republicans control one-half of the Legislative branch. There’s not a Republican in the White House, and Harry Reid is not the Republican leader of the Senate. That’s the reality.
There will be plenty of opportunities for Republicans to take the Senate next year. And – with a good candidate – we can retake the Presidency. If and when this happens, we will have more clout to advance a limited government agenda.
What I do not advocate is that we elect Republicans next year and then forget why we elected them. We can’t put them in charge and then not hold them accountable. But they have to be in charge for us to get any more than a few billion dollars in cuts in a continuing resolution.
And that will be good. It won’t be perfect. But what is perfect from one conservative to the next? Remember, we don’t all believe in exactly the same ideology. Sure, there are overarching themes and goals, but there are no two conservatives who agree on every single issue.
And that brings us to the naughty “C” word. Reagan paraphrased: Someone with whom I agree on 80% of the issues is my 80% friend, not my 20% enemy.
What’s better, Democrats pushing irresponsible and reckless economic and social policy? Or Republicans pushing less destructive policies? By “punishing” Republicans for spite, conservatives actually continue on the destructive path. It was William F. Buckley, Jr. who said, “The wisest choice [in an election] would be the one who would win… I’d be for the most right, viable candidate who could win.” I wrote about this at length for RedState.
I’m going to wind this down before it becomes too rambly, but I cannot stress enough that any rightward shift, any spending cut is a small victory for conservatives. The important battle will be over the budget. We must keep our powder dry and our political capital safe for what will be a very tough battle. We must be willing to pick our battles wisely.
Matthew Hurtt is often accused of being too conservative, too liberal, and too moderate. He describes himself as a “pragmatic conservative” and is rabidly right-wing on many issues.