Mailvox: short-term reasoning

BLS writes: I stand by my final analysis: this election is between Bad and Worse. If you don’t pick Bad, then by default, you’ve allowed Worse to win. It might make for great chest-thumping about messages sent, but it’s poor electoral strategy.

I think I finally figured out a way to explain this to everyone. BLS is right, that refusing to select Bad is poor electoral strategy – in the short term. But what this “pragmatic” approach misses is that this is not, in the long term, strategy at all, it is tactics. Tactics are neither good nor bad from a strategic point of view, they are entirely irrelevant. This explains why, to a certain extent, the two sides have been talking past each other. In my view, the “principled” approach is the correct one, as it actually encompasses a longer-term, strategic view.

For example, if the president wins re-election with the support of the libertarian and conservative rights, he has no incentive but instead is encouraged to move further left. If he loses to Kerry, the Republican party will be forced to turn to its base and allow more influence to the grass roots in order to inspire them. This is why both Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, the two most right-wing Republican presidential candidates, were produced when the party was out of power. Once in power, the liberal wing had the resources to flex its muscle again and squeeze out the grass-roots. George Bush was presented to the party as someone who was in Reagan’s tradition, not his father’s, although once he won the nomination he immediately began to campaign to the left and govern even further leftward.

There is no way that the “pragmatic” approach will ever move the Republican party to the right. In fact, calling the approach pragmatic is a misnomer as Kerry will likely be hamstrung by a Republican Congress that will not allow him to move as far to the left as it will allow George Bush to go. This is a basic paradox of politics. Only Nixon can go to China, only a Republican governor can raise taxes in California and only a Republican administration will be able to successfully attack American gun rights.

I am, of course, skeptical that it makes any significant difference in the long term. The die is already cast. The economic winds are blowing and the American people are far more likely to call for more of the poison than sickened them than they are to call for the antidote. And yet, we persist, as eventually those who survive the sickness of strong government will need those to show them the way out. We are the intellectual Spartans and we do not expect to hold the pass forever. The smart money, actually, pretty much all the money, is on the side of big government. But we can be encouraged with the certain knowledge that paper money always erodes into nothing in time.

In any case, if any of our pragmatic Republicans here can present a scenario which shows how supporting the left-wing of the Republican party will help move the country and the party to the right, comment on it or email me and I’ll post it here.