The “Salutary Defeat” Crowd By Betsy Newmark

by John Hawkins | October 18, 2006 8:33 am

There has been a lot of back and forth among conservative bloggers about whether the Republicans deserve to win this year and perhaps it would even be a salutary lesson for the Republicans to lose their majority. The thinking goes something like this: the GOP have lost their focus on conservative principles and become just a corrupt version of the Democrats, voting for big spending measures and ignoring issues such as illegal immigration until it got to be an election year. A couple of years under Speaker Pelosi should focus their minds some.

This has always seemed to me to be the delusion of purists. As Tony Blankley[1] points out today, there is no guarantee that a Republican defeat would be temporary. When the Democrats took control of the House in 1954, no one thought that they would have control for the next 40 years, but they did. And see if you like the prospect of these other consequences of a Democratic takeover of Congress.

Moreover, every Democrat who beats a Republican in three weeks will have two years to feather his or her nest, and use the powers of incumbency to defeat his 2008 Republican challenger.

Even more important, in a closely fought 2008 presidential election, every extra Democratic incumbent senator, congressman and governor makes it just a little more likely that the Democratic presidential candidate may win that district or state. All those freshly tuned new Democratic machines will help get out Democratic Party votes for the top of their 2008 ticket.

This current conservative petulance — if it actually occurs on Nov. 7 — will increase the chances of electing Hillary, or worse (if such a thing is possible) in 2008.

Yesterday, even James Taranto[2] seemed to be signing on to the idea of the salutary effects of a GOP defeat.

It now seems within the realm of possibility that Democrats will take one or both houses of Congress in three weeks, even though they are campaigning on not much more than not being Republicans. But the Republicans are campaigning on not much more than not being Democrats. To our mind the Republicans have the better of this argument, but there is something to be said for punishing the party in power if its performance has been subpar.

Glenn Reynolds[3] responded in agreement,

It’s hard for me to believe that the performance will improve if there’s no prospect of suffering at the polls.

I guess I just don’t expect all that much from our national leaders. I look for the least bad choice when I vote. I rarely am enthusiastic about my choices. So, I’m one of those voters persuaded by the Republican argument that it’s enough to vote for them because they’re not the Democrats. The GOP might be doing much of what I’d like, but at least they wouldn’t be turning the war on terror into a legal exercise. At least they would be supporting conservative nominees for the courts. At least they realize the value of lowering taxes. Why should I be hoping that a party that is on the opposite side of those three issues, extremely important to me, would get the majority and all the advantages that incumbency provides.

Plus, I don’t buy that a little stint in the wilderness would be all that salutary. I think that there are institutional reasons that lead congressmen to vote for pork. I suspect that the gushers of earmarks under the GOP are directly related to the success that the Republicans have had in pushing through certain legislation. If I can mix my culinary metaphors, the pork is the grease that gets those votes for issues such as tax cuts and CAFTA. You can’t be happy with the conservative votes that the House has made without realizing that there was some horsetrading going on behind the scenes. And, even if they came back after a couple of years under Nancy Pelosi, there will still be Republicans in blue districts who won’t support the strict provisions on immigration that some would like. And the media will still be there to portray any real cuts in government spending or regulatory government as draconian measures designed to throw the poor or the elderly out on the street forced to live off of dogfood and the bits of food thrown from the cars of the superwealthy as they pass by in their gas-guzzling SUVs as they travel from party to party celebrating their destruction of the environment. And those Republicans who won narrowly will be susceptible to that portrayal of conservative policies. So, it is not as if the Republicans would return refreshed from their time in the minority ready to battle as ideologically pure conservatives.

So, I’m left with this thought: do I really want to vote for politicians who don’t even pretend to believe in the issues that are important to me? Or do I want to stay home self-righteous in my conservative indignation? What will be the result – a possible long stretch under the Pelosi and Reid Democrats or a return in two years to a Republican majority that will disappoint me yet again? Given those rather depressing choices, why go and vote for the Republicans? I figure that life is made of choices and those choices are often between two poor alternatives. And,it might not be inspiring, but I figure that I always want the least bad alternative. And this year, the Republicans are the least bad choice. And that’s enough for me.

This content was used with the permission of Betsy’s Page[4].

  1. Tony Blankley:,_were_stupid&ns=TonyBlankley&dt=10/18/2006&page=full&comments=true
  2. James Taranto:
  3. Glenn Reynolds:
  4. Betsy’s Page:

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