G. Washington, S. Brown & Idealism

This is both interesting and sad:

Over at dotCommonweal, Robert Imbelli had a brief post on the buzz-producing “Yes” from Scott Brown on yesterday’s jobs bill. While many analysts have spent the last little while dissecting the vote itself, Imbelli noticed a much quieter (yet much more depressing) note in the story:

Three hours before the jobs-bill vote, the Senate chamber opened with its 117-year tradition of reading Washington’s Farewell Address on his birthday. The current lawmakers evidently didn’t think much of the tradition, for they assigned the reading to Roland Burris, the senator from Blagojevich. Total number of senators at their desks for the reading: zero.


Writes Joseph Susanka:

That’s truly demoralizing, and more troubling to me than whatever the nation’s youngest senator may or may not have meant by his “Yea.” The Farewell Address . . . certainly seems like the sort of thing that could be heard with good effect about now:

Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Our first and perhaps best president, identifying -from his close perspective- the corrupting nature of power, even when granted to those with the very best intentions in the world, by a people who respect and believe in the system that delivers it.

It is not enough to say you are all about “liberty” or that you are committed to “helping” others. Unless our leadership truly enters the political arena with the heart of a servant, with all the humility that implies, sooner or later the acquisition and maintenance of power will distort an office-holder’s perspective, and unravel a party’s ideals: the party that promotes equality forgets that equality of opportunity sets free, while equality of outcome necessarily sets the shackles. The party that speaks compellingly of individual liberty goes into mild hysterics when a moderate conservative votes “with” the opposition.

Yesterday, at the news of Scott Brown’s (and a few other Republican’s) decision to vote for the barely-there “jobs” bill, I tweeted:

Glad some GOPers r voting 4 weak “jobs” bill; wrecks “govt broken” narrative WH trying to build. Passing bipart bill sez otherwise

Within my 140 character limitation, I expressed satisfaction with Brown’s vote, believing it accomplished rather a lot at comparatively little cost, either politically or economically. Given the way this administration is spending money it doesn’t have, a $15 billion dollar bill for anything seems like chump-change, and in the meantime, passing a weak “bi-partisan” bill completely destroys a dishonest narrative that we have watched the White House, the Democrats and the press construct, these past weeks. One cannot simultaneously argue that a government is “broken” while bi-partisan jobs bills are being passed with relative alacrity -even if one is Barack Obama, or Nancy Pelosi- without one’s connivance going transparent.

Mine was an unpopular opinion in some forums. In one, a great deal was made of the fact that I am an Irish-Catholic former Democrat from New York, which apparently translates into “untrustworthy” Conservative/Republican in Name Only (CRINO), just like the non-Catholic, non-New Yorker Scott Brown.

Anyone with a lick of sense had to know that Brown would be called out for CRINO-ism within a month of being seated. As I wrote to some staunchly conservative friends a few weeks ago:

You’ll be calling Scott Brown a RINO in short order. Ideals are fine; we need them. But ideals are also what put McCain against Obama when “no” candidate on the right could pass the purity test.

When “issues” become utterly non-negotiable -to the point where good people are dismissed because they’re not “perfect” on “the issues”- then they have become more than issues; they’ve become our godlings, and we’ve become their idolators.

It’s something I worried about a little when Bush’ popularity was soaring. I worried about it again when his numbers were in the toilet because both the hateful left and the “purists” on the right were pummeling him; the idolatry of “perfection” was behind much of the hate. If we allow perfect to be the enemy of the good, we doom ourselves. Reagan understood this.

Rush Limbaugh said [January 21, 2010] that Brown is “essentially” a conservative. What he said was “except for on spending, he could be George W. Bush.”

Well, no. Bush was staunchly pro-life, and anti-gay marriage. Brown is pro-choice (draws the line at partial-birth abortion) and pro-gay marriage.

Hmmm…there we go – God or political mammon, once again.


The question is, can men like Bush and Brown
live in the “conservative/republican” tent, or must they be expelled as CRINO’s, with all commensurate tarring-and-feathering, and rendered utterly ineffective? Or is it time for the “purists” to realize that a perfect unwillingness to compromise strands us all?

The illegal immigration issue demonstrates this very well. From that same email:

I am weary of this narrative that no patriotic person with conservative values can be on the side of “amnesty” for illegals.

Good and reasonable people can disagree on this very complicated issue without being dismissed as “irredeemably wrong.” A blanket amnesty is a non-solution that will never fly. But the “ship them all back” mentality is never going to fly, either; nothing constructive will ever be done on the issue until good people from both sides can manage to move just a little bit toward the center. Just a tad.

I have this debate all the time, and I’m sick of it. I had a woman on twitter telling me that all the illegals have to “be shipped back” before anything can be done. When I asked her how we should do that (by train? at gunpoint? How, exactly?) She didn’t know or care. “They need to go back to Mexico” she wrote “then they can come in legally.”

Talk about idealistic pie-in-the-sky.

Another person chimed in that his grandfather came from Italy and he “did it the right way, legally, through Ellis Island.” Well, lah-de-freaking dah, so did my grandfather, but he was able to do that because Ellis Island was in place, as was a realistic and workable immigration policy and procedure, none of which we currently have. I will suggest that had the Ellis Island option not been open to them, my grandfather (and his) in trying to escape the poverty and crime of Sicily, would likely have entered America anyway, quite illegally.

Our immigration policy has been broken since the 1970′s; and almost nothing enraged me more than the right screaming to Bush (after an election-year provocation provided by the left): “fix this now, and fix it the way WE say to fix it, all other options are unacceptable and if you pursue them, you’re not a REAL American!” The throwing under the bus of “Jorge Arbushto” -who told you when you elected him that he was for some sort of workable grandfathering-in of illegals- was to me one of the most shameful acts of the far-right. In demanding the “ideal” of Bush and the GOP – in being unwilling to be realistic about the world as it is – they ended up accomplishing nothing.

In this case, “ideals” served the nation exactly how?

We need a new immigration policy and it needs to include a means for people who have lived here peaceably and productively -sometimes for decades- to be grandfathered in as contributing citizens, not criminals. By all means, let us raise a barrier, but also – by ALL means – let us create an “Ellis Island West” with stations along the border from California to Texas, where people who wish to immigrate may do so legally and with documentation. Let us set up “Little Ellis Islands” where those immigrants who ARE peaceful and productive can come with their families, without risk of deportation, to begin the process of citizenship. That is the American way: purposeful, orderly and humane.

There will have to be some criteria. They’ll need to have been here at least 5 years, be able to prove they’ve been working and that they’re willing to learn English. Let’s get them on the rolls and contributing to the tax-base. Those who do not fit the criteria go back. Those who try to evade the process, they get shipped back, too, and with stiff restrictions on their ever getting back in.

I have no problem with peaceful, hard-working folk who want to live here doing so, and while I wish they’d all come over legally, I can’t fault them for being too poor to be able to jump through the dysfunctional, sometimes decade-long hoops our current (and badly need of reform) immigration policies can demand.


The American who can manage to develop and put into action
a functional, sensible and sturdy immigration policy that is neither “blanket amnesty” nor “ship them all back” is the American who will win for his/her party the everlasting gratitude of the fastest-growing voting bloc in the nation.

There is no “perfect” conservative. And if someone tells me “Palin” I will suggest to you that she is rather quiet on immigration and that if she were pushed on it, she would expose herself as more lenient than most would expect, because if Palin has nothing else, she has common sense.

Scott Brown is a “conservative” by the standards of Massachusetts. We’ll see him called a CRINO very soon, by those very same purists who were willing to overlook a few things about him to defeat the Democrats in that state.

Which means, perhaps, that pragmatism and expediency still do have their place, even with the world of purists and ideals. But the bill always comes due, and if the pragmatism does not hold, then people with what Rush calls “essentially” conservative values balkanize themselves into incoherent “life” or “fiscal” or “social” factions, and the search for “purity” again narrows the choices down to extremists or mediocrities, neither of which will do.

Washington was not an extremist or a mediocrity, but as a general he had failed and succeeded enough to know that the world was imperfect and must be dealt with as it is. The world as it is may not trump ideals, but it does demand that both parties and their “absolute” ideals take a civil seat at the table, and refrain from banging their shoes.

There are some indications that -on the right, anyway- some ideals are evolving and coalescing in interesting ways:

[80% of CPAC attendees -nearly half of whom were college students- said that their "most important goal is to promote individual freedom by reducing the size and scope of government and its intrusions into the lives of its citizens."] While voter priorities change, political positions don’t. These people are still pro-life, but they’re not voting on the issue right now. What do you think? Is this a sign of a larger shift, or just part of the political ebb and flow?

Perhaps it is both. President Washington outlined that tumbling cycle of politics, parties and issues; there will always be ideals, and ideals will always be subject to recalculation due to the larger influences. If you are employed and feeling confident in your nation and your rights, you can prioritize your pro-life leanings; if you are unemployed, feeling doubtful about the future of your nation and your rights, then “securing” them becomes the priority, because without your rights, and your children’s full bellies, your activism is dead.

The Bush presidency showed us that a pro-life president with both houses still cannot change the abortion laws in this country. That will be a job for legislators and courts, always and ever. And even a pro-choice president can appoint excellent jurists, which is what matters. The Obama presidency demonstrates that a socialist agenda, with both houses, still cannot ethically do all they want.

I quoted this a while back:

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
–Lincoln’s Second Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862.

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About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://truthupfront.blogspot.com John S

    Maybe you’re just a FCINO. link

    LoL.

  • Myssi

    I guess I’m a CRINO too…but then, I’m also a descendant of Scots-Irish immigrants and the Cherokee Nation. I’m not exactly going to fit into anyone’s box; not even the Libertarians.

  • Manny L.

    This jobs bill was only $15 bllion? I had not realized it was so puny. That is less than chump change. In a $2 to 3 trillion annual budget, is a fraction of a percent. What is that supposed to do? Whether it’s Keynsian or supply side designed, that small will have no effect. That’s just political cover to say they did something.

    I’m a staunch conservative and I supported President Bush’s immigration legislation. Was it perfect? No. I disliked the road to citizenship part, but I fully acknowledge the amnesty part has to be there. We can’t ship 12 million people back, and keeping them illegal makes no sense. There has to be a guest worker catagory created, and if the illegals wanted to move out of that catagory they need to apply through the immigration system and get in the back of the line. Until their immigration status is approved, they remain guest workers. I think that’s a fair system.

    ["Whether it's Keynsian or supply side designed, that small will have no effect. That's just political cover to say they did something." - Exactly. This bill is "for show." The GOP voting for it are helping to demolish a different "show;" If the "gov't is broken" narrative were to take hold, the Dems would use it to raise untold havoc. Brown and the GOPers voting for this may not have been thinking of that, but it's the net-effect, and it's important. admin]

  • CJ

    I am SO with you on this. I was really disgusted yesterday reading on a major conservative website the many comments calling Scott Brown a traitor!

  • http://www.savkobabe.blogspot.com Gayle Miller

    Scott Brown did not run as a full on conservative – that would be suicidal in Massachusetts for goodness sakes. I wish some of these so-called conservative pundits would extract their heads from their nether orifices! These are the same dimwits who wanted to teach the GOP “a lesson” by not voting in 2006 and 2008 – that’s what gave us the current depressing and destructive cabal of useless leftwing idiots!

  • J

    Brown, in his campaign, acknowledged that this country has to STOP SPENDING. He ran on that platform. First off in DC he votes to spend 15 billion dollars more. Enough said, when it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck….it’s a duck. Brown is a democrat.

  • Manny L.

    “- Exactly. This bill is “for show.” The GOP voting for it are helping to demolish a different “show;” If the “gov’t is broken” narrative were to take hold, the Dems would use it to raise untold havoc. Brown and the GOPers voting for this may not have been thinking of that, but it’s the net-effect, and it’s important. admin”

    Agreed. For such petty stuff, if it gives some Republicans cover, what the heck. Driving RINOs out of office only strengthens Reid’s and Pelosi’s hold on their respective branch of Congress. Would a Democrat in that seat be better? I’m a conservative, but expecting purity is self defeating.

  • Elaine

    I just wish that if someone in Congress doesn’t like a bill then don’t vote for it. If Scott Brown thinks this jobs bill will help jobs then vote for it. I just don’t like it when a vote of yes is given to look to be bi-partisian when the bill is not going to do any good or 15 billion is not that much so lets look like we get along with dems. This all adds up. I’ll give Scott Brown the benefit of the doubt if he thinks this jobs bill will help. I just hope he sticks to not voting for the dems healthcare bill. A lot of times just a bit uneasy about all of this.

  • Doc

    Scott Brown broke campaign promises with this vote. Just because mini-stimulous is given a different title doesn’t mean it’s going to create jobs. Brown just damaged the Republian brand in the eyes of the Tea Party movement. He just strengthened Glenn Beck’s point that both parties are the same. There is a great deal of cynicism in the country about Washington politicians right now. Brown just fed that cynicism. Brown could have established his independance on a different vote and at a later time. Brown’s vote will do nothing to disrupt the White House and corporate media’s dishonest narrative about the Republicans being the Party of No and causing the government to be broken. Do you really think Brown’s vote is going to be some sort of truth serum for these people? The Dems need to be crushed in November. Pelosi needs to be out of that Speaker seat. And we need the wavering Tea Partiers to do it. Brown just pushed more of them into the third party camp.

  • http://bcscentral.info Gerry

    To be blunt – you couldn’t be more wrong on the illegal immigration issue. Let’s take those the advocates of amne – er … compre … never mind … always bring up: people who have been living and working in the U.S. for a number of years. OK, so what do they need? If they have been able to support themselves in this country without the passage of a particular bill, what do they have to do with the issue? Of course, the answer is that “regularizing” such folks makes them eligible for all the benefits that legal, permanent, U.S residents can get. If you believe that some people, by virtue of being located near the U.S., and successfully entering the country illegally, should not only be put ahead of people who want to immigrate legally, but be eligible to live off the taxpayers, you are free to argue the point. I say it is not only poor public policy, but immoral.

  • Doc

    One more point on your illegal alien strawman. No one argues for “sending 12 million back”. Cutting off the welfare freebies and illegal jobs will cause them to head back on their own. Law-breakers should not be rewarded when those who tried to follow the process are punished by the bureaucracy.

    [It's not a straw man. I had the very conversation I related on Twitter, with, yes, people saying "they all need to be shipped back." You're welcome to look through my thousands of tweets to find it, if you need to see it with your own eyes! :-) -admin]

  • http://www.protocatholic.blogspot.com Gretchen

    Is it really the so-called conservative purists who have caused the problem? What about the many Republicans who have consistently been voting for liberal positions? To be a Republican apparently means something different once one gets inside the beltway, and American voters are on to it like stink on a skunk.

    The Tea Party is too big to ignore. There is a reason many people don’t call themselves Republicans anymore. What does that even mean nowadays?

    It seems to be somewhat of a strawman argument to keep blaming the conservatives in the party–especially since many of them have been finding a more palatable home in the Tea Party movement. Once, the names Republican and conservative were synonymous. Now, they mean something quite different–and that makes for some whopping elephant dung in a party that desperately needs to clean its nest.

    The idea that it is more important for something to get done, rather than the right thing to get done, has, frankly, done in the party. Kvetching about it and trying to lay blame on everything but the truth won’t help. Gotta take the medicine, people. Nasty taste, but it speeds healing.

    The Republicans have a chance here–realign themselves with conservative values via the Tea Party, or sink further into obsolesence. Americans do not need a Democrat and a Democrat-lite party, George Washington’s farewell address notwithstanding. There were two parties in his day and things weren’t so bad. Jefferson and Madison versus Washington and Hamilton. It was a delicate tension that has served us well. To allow the Republicans to become a subspecies of Democrats is a grave error. The people are attempting to correct it, hence the Tea Party movement.

    And about Scott Brown. The guy is from MA for crying out loud.

  • Doc

    Anchoress, thank you for your reply. I didn’t intend for “nobody” to eliminate everyone with an opinion from the equasion, but rather meant, “nobody in a position to influence policy”. In that context, it is used as a strawman on a regular basis.

  • Frank McLaughlin

    Anchoress,

    I’m puzzled by your identifying Scott Brown as pro-gay marriage. He was supported strongly by the Massachusetts Coalition on Marriage and the Family, the group that spearheaded the failed effort to amend the state constitution to define marriage as a heterosexual institution. And, Brown, when he ran for the state senate, was opposed strongly by Mass Equality, the group that was the principal opponent of the pro-heterosexual marriage amendment effort. The Coalition for Marriage and the Family Group is well informed and savvy and wouldn’t have backed a pro-gay marriage candidate. That said, after the election I read a statement attributed to Brown in which he is alleged to have said that same sex marriage is settled law in Massachusetts. This surprised me since the Coalition for Marriage still hopes to mount a campaign to reverse Goodridge by amendment if it can get a large enough number of pro heterosexual marriage senators and representatives elected to the legislature (50 out of 200) to make it possible to get the question on the ballot. Brown knows this position of the Coalition.

    On the abortion question Brown was backed strongly by Mass Citizens fro Life. In its paper MCFL listed Brown on the correct side of seven pro-life initiatives. Coakley was on the wrong side on all of the initiatives. I admit that Brown looked weak philosophically and poorly informed on the abortion question in his televised debate with Coakley. But voters have to go with the choices they have and he presented a rare opportunity for this Massachusetts voter to cast a ballot for a candidate for the U.S, House or Senate who has at least some sympathy for pro-life and pro-natural marriage positions.

    [The impression I got, from reading Brown during that election, was that he was pro-choice but not pro-partial birth abortion, and pro-gay marriage. If I am mistaken, I'm happy to be corrected. -admin]

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  • J

    My sister-in-law, a confirmed liberal democrat all her life (we live in MA)was disgusted with the dems and wanted me to tell her a little about Brown. I told her that in my book, he is a democrat. Pro-choice, gay marriage-settled law, and had voted for a prop 2 and a half over-ride for the schools in his town. Wants healthcare reform, was a little squishy on what he objected to in obama’s plan. He did state that we are in financial trouble and should STOP SPENDING MONEY. And now we see him in action, spending money.

  • Frank McLaughlin

    J and admin,

    As my earlier post indicates I supported and voted for Brown because of the support he received from MCFL and the Coalition for Marriage and the Family. I came to realize in the course of the election and since then, that his positions on life and marriage issues are weaker than I wish they were. Nevertheless, I hope if an issue such as adding homosexual orientation to the Civil Rights Act is proposed,, or an effort is made to pass FOCA, or to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, or to enlist his support for a Health Care Act without a strong ban on abortion funding that he will be a vote in opposition, which I know Coakley would not have been.

    Brown views on taxes and spending were not important in his getting my vote (I wasn’t impressed with what he had to say about economics). I do worry about the negative effects of certain features of our state and federal tax systems on incentives to work and produce, and I’m also concerned that tax funds be spent wisely and efficiently and I hope his promise to look at each piece of legislation carefully will on balance pay attention to these two factors. And, I’m quite concerned about the long run implications of our enormous annual budget deficits, and our growing accumulated debt for the health of our country in the long run. But I have to admit that i don’t regard the burden of my personal level of tax payments excessive, and thus this issue does not loom large in my voting decisions (my state income taxes in 2008 were about four percent of adjusted gross income, and federal income tax was about fourteen percent, and payroll and property taxes accounted for another six percent). I’m still working. I live modestly (the benefit of being inoculated from excessive spending by being born in 1929). I have been blessed with good health, but I am concerned about those who have not been as fortunate as I have been, and who must depend on government tax supported programs to get by.

  • Trump

    “Or is it time for the “purists” to realize that a perfect unwillingness to compromise strands us all?”

    Yeah, who needs all those pesky and inconvenient principles? ;)

    Snark aside Anchoress (and it really just was snark) it seems to me that an overwillingness to compromise leads you to just as bad a place (see the last GOP congress we had)

    At any rate, I’m personally willing to accept Brown’s vote as long as he holds the line on Obamacare. That’s the tradeoff – the guy is still a Republican in MA and will have to fight for his seat afterall. As long as he doesn’t become an Arlen Specter or Susan Colline or Olympia Snowe, I think we can all love with it.

    But I am not a great fan of the “settle for half a loaf instead of none” theory. Today you settle for half a loaf. That’s your baseline. You’ll never get more than that going forward, and in fact chances are the loaf progressively shrinks. At some point, you get to the point where your loaf is meaningless and you can’t settle anymore.

  • http://www.monksonline.org Steve P in Sparta, Wis.

    Brown has remembered something that Obama forgot (if indeed he ever recognized it): Namely, that his election was a protest vote more than the endorsement of an ideological change in direction. Both Obama and Brown need to keep the voters who put them in office happy if they’re to keep their jobs. So for Massachusetts voters, Brown supports the jobs bill. Obama, OTOH, keeps flogging unpopular policies.


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