|Cool Hand Conservatives?|
By Quin Hillyer
Wednesday, January 23 2013
This is a Seinfeld column. It is a political column about nothing.
It is a column about nothing because there is a need for some breathing space.
Last year, for many months, everybody who cares about public affairs was caught up in what seemed like a near-crisis atmosphere, talking and worrying and writing about the most consequential presidential election since at least 1980. Then when the unfortunate results became apparent, the time for reflection, and for wound-licking, was severely foreshortened by the “crisis” of the so-called “Fiscal Cliff.” Then came the bitter recriminations about how the cliff was averted. Then came the immediate worries about how to handle the looming debt ceiling, and then the aggressiveness/abrasiveness of Mr. Obama at his press conference, and then his mendaciously misdirectional Inaugural Address and then finally the apparent agreement to defer the debt ceiling for about three months.
Oh, and somewhere in all that, gun control talk got out of control.
Crisis and bitterness and harshness upon crisis and bitterness and harshness. Fulmination opportunity upon fulmination opportunity. Less-than-fully-satisfactory result upon less-than-fully-satisfactory result.
Conservatives, especially, feel as if we’ve suffered gut punch after gut punch after gut punch.
And now, finally… blessedly… a breather. Or at least a mini-breather.
The “GOP needs a new strategy” pieces have all been written. The congressional leadership fights are all over. Even the gutting of the Senate filibuster seems to be fizzling down to small-ball reforms.
And now we face four more years of a radically leftist president, a man with authoritarian tendencies, a man with disdain for the Constitution and rule of law as Americans have traditionally understood them – and a man bent not on unifying the county and finding common ground, but upon dividing and conquering his Republican or conservative “enemies.” It is a decidedly depressing prospect. Worse, it at least borders on a prospect that is frightening.
If extraordinarily highly centralized, highly bureaucratized, highly debt-laden government at home is joined abroad with weakness and inconstancy, along with confusion about the nature both of allies and adversaries, then the nation itself, or at least the nation as we know and love it, could be in peril. To say so isn’t alarmism; it is a logical extension of conservative principles conjoined with Ronald Reagan’s warning that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
All of which might naturally engender a sense of urgency, a sense that conservatives must hurry up and, well, uh, do something. When there is peril: Act! Where there is danger: Fight it! If there is a political adversary: Attack it! Bludgeon it! Defeat it!
As noted, such reactions are natural ones. Such impulses are understandable, and the motivations behind them are admirable. Heroes act. Heroes are bold. Heroes rush to the rescue.
On the other hand, not every moment calls for do-or-die heroism. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Sometimes the best thing to do is, well, nothing. As the Paul Newman character said, “sometimes nothing is a real cool hand.” And we may now be in one of those very interludes where nothing is the wisest course.
Well, because there’s a difference between “peril” and “imminent peril.” And there are times when even mortal dangers aren’t immediate ones. In military terms (this is not a moral comparison to today’s domestic political adversaries), there was good reason to wait until the summer of 1944 for the Allies to land in Normandy, rather than in 1943.
In the face of electoral defeats, and of a long series of political losses (or “draws”) in crisis-atmosphere fights where brinksmanship reigned, conservatives should eagerly welcome a breather. The Republican brand has been badly bloodied, and the conservative brand (a different thing) has also taken at least a few serious hits. Image may not be everything; but in politics, image is indeed important. Right now the image of the political right – partisan and philosophical alike – is damaged. Worse, the more noise we make, the more damaged we become.
On the other hand, the more arrogant Obama gets, and the more imperious, the more he risks overplaying his own hand. He may again be wearing out his welcome. He keeps throwing punches at conservatives – real haymakers, or so he thinks – but it’s not clear if many of his punches are landing. As Muhammad Ali showed against George Foreman, sometimes a little rope-a-dope works in letting the other guy punch himself out.
All of which is why now might be a time for calm, for re-assessment, for quiet planning. If Congress does nothing with regard to the sequester, for instance, the sequester will occur, and taxpayers can bank those savings. If Congress does nothing on gun control, then nothing happens. And so on.
This is a column about nothing, which can be something awfully good.
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