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Leon’s Firestorm

In yesterday’s front page blog, Leon Wolf seems to have started a mini-firestorm with his completely rational and well-argued point that if it comes down to Mitt Romney as the GOP nominee, then conservatives can take some comfort in that. His argument correctly observes that Romney is preferable to Barack Obama, but Leon also points out that if we take Romney simply at his word (a dangerous proposition, as I think he would agree), it shows that conservatism has pushed the GOP rightward. The basic contention is that the power of conservatism to shape the argument is evident because Romney knows that he has to pander to conservatives to win the nomination. Leon further argues that Romney, as the GOP establishment candidate, represents a more right-leaning vision for American than past post-Reagan establishment candidates.

At the time of this writing there have 430 comments generated by Leon’s post and a quick browse through them will show that he touched a very raw nerve for some and sparked a heated debate that at points went a bit over-the-top. So why the fuss? After all, he has said nothing particularly controversial. Most of us here a Red State, regardless of our preferred candidate, can (if a bit grudgingly) acknowledge that Mitt Romney would be a significant upgrade over President Obama. An honest read will show that Leon was most certainly not endorsing Romney. He was simply pointing out to those irresponsible posters who have indicated they would prefer not to vote if Romney is the choice, that their abstention is actually a vote for Obama. To not vote for Romney out of the foolish belief that there is no functional difference between the two is to fail to recognize what is actually happening here. For that, I applaud Leon, and his attempt to restore a bit of reason to the discussion. Look, I can’t stand Mitt Romney as a politician. I think he is too slick by half, and will say anything to get votes. His career is very much evidence of that. However, the natural antipathy I and so many other conservatives feel for Romney should not obscure the truth that equating Romney with Obama, the most radical leftist to ever occupy the White House, is a bit unhinged.

There is something more at work here, though, and this is where I would like to gently part ways with Leon, and perhaps shed a small amount of light on why his blog entry caused so much controversy. I take issue with Leon’s second contention that we should congratulate ourselves for moving the discussion rightward to the point that Romney has to speak conservative to have a shot at the nomination.As some pointed out in the comments to the article, the evidence of conservative success might appear in the rhetoric of GOP politicians, but it has yet to truly appear in the workings of our federal government. There has been little change in the years since Reagan in terms of a continual growth of regulations, laws, bureaucracy, and spending and the corresponding erosion of liberty. Talk is cheap, and it can sound as conservative as it likes, but the proof is in the pudding. The pudding that has been cooked up in D.C. for the past twenty-plus years has been getting more bloated, and more out-of-control. This more than anything, I think, explains why Leon’s sensible call for moderation in the anti-Romney rhetoric received such a mixed reception.

What those most frustrated with the possibility of Romney winning the nomination understand is that he represents no significant change, gradual or otherwise, to the general trajectory that the federal government has been on since Herbert Hoover’s disastrous attempts to deal with the Great Depression. Sure, the waves recede occasionally, but each time they roll back in they reach just a little bit higher up the beach. What is at stake in 2012, at the risk of sounding like an alarmist, is the long-term stability of our nation. The philosophical choice has never been more clear: we either reject the uncontrolled growth of the state and insist on meaningful, measurable change, or we affirm the unsustainable course of the policies of the past 80 years. It has never been more stark than it is today. No longer can we push the argument off to the side and act as if it doesn’t exist. This is what most conservatives instinctively understand. To elect a Mitt Romney, though he is no radical leftist on the order of Obama, is to vote for someone who has never shown an inclination to do much more than sustain the status quo. No, he won’t spend like Obama, and he might even accomplish some minor reform. Perhaps, in the best case, he might even halt for a time the expansion of the federal government. But neither will he countenance the type of systematic tearing down of the federal leviathan that the times require.

To elect Mitt Romney is to affirm the GOP way of doing things, which has all too often been the “go along to get along to get re-elected” path. They (Romney and his ilk) say many of the right things in order to get votes, but they do little once elected to effect systemic reform. What good they accomplish does little to arrest the headlong flight of the government into tyranny and financial ruin. That is why I believe any sort of “moderation” when it comes to Mitt Romney strikes so many the wrong way and feels like a “cave-in” to the Washington way.

I will vote for Mitt Romney if it comes to that. In spite of what I’ve written above, I will choose the path of slower decline that will buy us time to perhaps get it right before the whole country implodes. But I would much prefer we get it right now, and we ought to do whatever we can do to stop Mitt Romney. The stakes are too high, but if it is Mitt Romney, let us be practical and recognize that his election would give us at least four more years to try to really push the country rightward. With Obama at the helm, four more years might do more damage than can be undone, whoever we nominate in the future.

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