The Art of Conservatism

Since the 1960s, selling Conservatism has not been an easy job. In those days, Sodomy Laws were still on the books.  That means the police could enter a private home and arrest the residents for engaging (usually) in a consensual act in the privacy of their bedroom (or wherever).  These laws were said to be promulgated by religious Conservatives.


My parents were native New Yorkers, one born in Manhattan but raised in the Bronx, the other born and raised in Bronx County. They first moved to Yonkers.  My older brother was born in Mount Vernon, I was born in Yonkers.


When Westchester County became gentrified (a gentrification which my mother reported in the annals of Dodge Reports during and after World War II), my parents found they could no longer afford to live there, and after a brief flirtation with California living (where teenagers were already experimenting with drugs, circa 1959), they returned East to join the New York exodus to New Jersey.


Despite the Leftist definition of Conservatism, they were strongly opposed to the Sodomy Laws and were relieved when the laws were repealed. Strong Constitutionalists, they did not believe that what people did in their own homes (as long as the activity was consensual) was any of the government’s business.  Such arrests were Big Government intruding on people’s private lives.


My parents were ultra-private. My mother didn’t speak to her neighbors for years, as befitted a New York City-born woman.  The Golden Rule in The City was:  Mind Your Own Business.  You didn’t talk to anyone you didn’t already know from work or family, you didn’t even look at anyone, and you didn’t impede the sidewalk traffic; you had to go with the flow.


That didn’t mean they approved of homosexuality. Since they weren’t “church people,” however, they hadn’t depended on a preacher or a Bible study group to “help” them interpret the Bible.  They were rugged, urban individualists who read the Bible for themselves.  That Bible clearly stated that God did not approve of homosexuality. It just as clearly stated that God, not other equally-corrupt human beings, would deal with other sinners.


The Bible teaches us not to have anything to do with politics. Yet it also said that man must make some arrangements for the general keeping of order, dealing with people who steal, injure, and murder other human beings.   To that end, man must form some sort of government.  Since ancient times, man has literally “elected” kings.  For those generally illiterate times, it probably made sense.  The people selected the strongest warrior who could strategize and defend them in the event of an attack.


Some monarchs made some serious mistakes. Catherine the Great devoted funds to build more and more mosques in the Crimea (which the Communists later destroyed, inflaming the local Musselmen – historians considered the destruction ill-advised).  King Edward VIII married the woman he loved.  Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing for England, since he was said to be a Nazi sympathizer.  His abdication gave us the most admirable (as far as monarchs go). Queen Elizabeth II.  King George III taxed the American Colonies.


If you’re a Downtown Abbey fan, you know that Lady Cora Grantham, married to the Earl of Grantham, has been drawn into a pitched battle over the fate of the village hospital. Reformers, like Mrs. Crawley (the late Matthew’s mother), want the hospital to consolidate with the larger Yorkshire hospital.  The village hospital would come under the authority of the larger hospital.


In doing so, the village hospital would benefit from medical and technical advances, more money and better treatment. The indomitable Dowager Grantham, “Violet” or “Granny” as she is called (played by veteran actress and Oscar winner Maggie Smith), is greatly opposed to the merger.  She warns time and again that once the merger is complete, the village will lose all control over the treatment and care of its patients.


The younger reformers have the final word, as Lady Cora is convinced of the benefits. The local doctor is eventually cowed by mounting pressure from the youngsters.  Last night, “Granny” final surrendered to the populist view.  But with the warning that she’d seen this kind of thing happen before, every time a government “offered” to take over a service.  They never lived up to their promises, resulting in poorer service, more expenses for the village and customers, and a general lowering of standards.


“It was our job to see that this kind of thing did not happen. That’s why our people forced the king to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.”


She goes on to predict, “Your great-great-grandchildren will not thank you for this,” she cautions them, as she hobbles out of the scene. Violet goes out but not down with her flags flying.


The current lone voice in the wilderness crying out against an out-of-control government is Sen. Ted Cruz. He is the David against Donald Trump’s populist Goliath.  Trump has readily admitted (and before this past weekend) that he would make deals, that he would compromise.


He’s admitted, and re-confirmed, that he is pro-Choice, in favor of abortion. He’s in favor of taxing the “wealthy.”  But he’s caught the nation’s attention with his declaration against illegal immigration.  He’s vowed to build a border wall (which he is capable of doing).  He’s vowed to take a strong economic stand against China (compared to Cruz’ supposed support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership).  He’s vowed to stop Islamic Jihadists from entering the country.  He’s pro-Second Amendment.  And he’s promised to bring back jobs to America from overseas.


Yesterday, he gleefully boasted how some media organization claimed that his supporters are so loyal that they would support him even if he shot someone on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. Is that Trump’s idea of New York values?  He’s donated money to both parties, although thanks to Campaign Finance Reform, he can hardly help doing so.


Trump is a thorough, fighting-spirit New Yorker. He attacks, attacks, and attacks again.  He’s like the very wealthy competitor of a company for which I previously worked.  This competitor warned the company that if they attempted any type of attack ads, he would wipe the company out.  The company backed down and forbade competitive ads.  Meanwhile, the competitor thinks nothing of employing attack ads.


A true populist, Trump states the obvious. He knows what the people want to hear.  He’s also the loudest candidate at the microphone.  A true showman, he delivers his message with such bombast (and very little in the way of content) that he makes the other candidates (except Christie) seem like pipsqueaks.  He’s publicly stated, though, that “President” Trump will not be the same person as Candidate Trump.


Straight from the horse’s mouth. How much more of a warning do we need?


The Media, meanwhile, along with the Republican Establishment has painted Ted Cruz as a cranky little troublemaker causing dissension and unhappiness in the Senate. He’s a lone-wolf stalwart in the vein of Violet Crawley-Grantham.  No one wants to dance with the lady no one wants to dance with.  Or the senator.


Few people bother to read these days. Except “Conservative elitists” as one grouchy radio commentator put it, up in their ivory towers.  I haven’t read Ted Cruz’ campaign book, yet – but I plan to.  Like everyone else, I thought it would be just another nice, but dull, biography.


The other day, I was checking out the candidates’ titles. Yes, one dull bio after another, until I got to Ted Cruz’ book, A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Promise of America.  I’ve ordered it; the book will arrive in a few days.  Happily, this is the age of electronic books and I have access to the book’s introduction, “Mendacity.”  It tells Cruz’ story of the fight over the debt ceiling.


“Pandemonium ensued. There were angry glares, heated accusations.  Red-faced name-calling echoed off the walls and vaulted ceilings in a room just off the main corridor of the U.S. Capitol.  It was Tuesday, February 11, 2014.  Another lunch of the Senate Republicans.


“I’d been a regular part of these gatherings ever since I was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012. Most, if not all, of the then forty-five members of the Republican conference usually attended; these were, literally, free lunches after all, in some of the most beautiful rooms in the U.S. Capitol.


“On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we met in the Lyndon B. Johnson Room [Ed. Note: How appropriate], an expansive chamber adorned with ceiling frescoes by the Italian artist Constantino Brumidi, a large, gilded mirror, an opulent chandelier, and marble-paneled walls. On Wednesdays, we met in the Mike Mansfield Room, a wood-paneled rectangular conference room named for the late Senate Majority Leader from Montana.


“Typically, the party lunches were civil discussions – somewhat plodding, and occasionally instructive. On this day, however, civility was not on the menu.


“At this lunch, the duly-elected members of the U.S. Senate – many who’d served in the august body for decades – were yelling. Not simply raising their voices or speaking loudly, but angrily yelling at their colleagues in the room who had committed what I had quickly come to learn was the cardinal sin of Washington, D.C.:  telling the truth.


“The events of that week provided yet another example of just how bad things in our nation’s capital had become.


“The issue at hand was the federal debt ceiling.


“Periodically, it fell to the U.S. Congress to vote to raise the amount of debt the federal government can accumulate in order to continue its current spending levels.


“As a U.S. senator, Democrat Barack Obama voted repeatedly against President George W. Bush’s efforts to raise the debt ceiling, calling the need for such a vote a sign of “failed leadership.” In 2005, Obama had declared that ‘increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally.’


“He added at one point that ‘Washing is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership.  Americans deserve better.’


“This seemingly principled position changed dramatically when Obama won the presidency. This, sadly, is not surprising in Washington, D.C. – a place where principles are fungible, often lasting only until the next election.


“Not only did President Obama abandon Senator Obama’s position on the debt; he made the situation far worse. Never in the history of our country have we had a spender like Barack Obama.  When the president took office, our debt was just over $10 trillion, itself a sizeable figure.  Today, the debt is over $18 trillion.  Just think about that for a moment – it took forty-three presidents nearly 220 years to accumulate $10 trillion in debt.  In just six years, President Obama almost doubled that.


“Our total debt is now larger than our entire economy. Today, roughly 40 cents of every dollar that the federal government spends is borrowed money, which we will have to replay for years to come.


“In the early months of 2014, President Obama was urging Democrats and Republicans to pass yet another increase of the debt ceiling, so we could spend even more. The president was demanding from Congress what he called a “clean” bill.  In the backwards parlance of Washing, the definition of “clean” was adding trillions more in debt without including any reforms to arrest Washington’s out-of-control spending.  That didn’t seem very “clean” to me.


“President Obama needed Congress’ help carry out his spending plans. I saw this as an opportunity.  Historically, the vote on the debt ceiling has proven to be one of the few tools that the U.S. Congress has been able to use to achieve any modicum of success in reining in the size and power of the federal government.


“In the previous 55 times that Congress had raised the debt ceiling, it attached significant conditions to the legislation 28 times. In 1985, for example, Congress conditioned a debt-ceiling increase on the passage of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, one of the most constructive bipartisan efforts to rein in spending in modern times.  In 2010, Congress used its leverage to pass the so-called Budget Control Act – which both parties touted as a serious effort to reduce federal spending.  (In reality, the BCA didn’t actually “cut” spending; it simply controlled its growth.  And Congress has already abandoned some of those modest spending restraints.)


“For months leading up to this moment, Republican leaders had pledged to their constituents that when it came time to raise the federal debt limit, they would demand meaningful spending reforms from this president. Rest assured, we were told, the Republicans would insist on it!  Those of us who had fought so hard to stop Obamacare the previous year had been told, by these wizened D.C. insiders that we had picked the wrong fight; the real fight should be over the debt ceiling.


“Indeed, just days before our combative February lunch, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, appearing on Fox News Sunday, had pledged:  ‘I think for the president to ask for a clean debit ceiling, when we have a debt the size of our economy, is irresponsible.  So, we ought to discuss adding something to his request to raise the debt ceiling that does something about the debt or produces at least something positive for our country.’


“Give those public commitments, it would have been natural to expect that our lunch discussion that day would have focused on these positive “somethings” the voters were promised, to start us on a track back to fiscal sanity.


“That hadn’t happened. Just a week earlier, the GOP leadership in the House of Representatives had buckled.  They had joined with 193 Democrats to run over 1999 House Republicans and give President Obama the “clean” debt increase that he had demanded.  Sadly, Senate Republican leaders wanted us to do the exact same thing.


“This wasn’t a total shock to me. I had figured all along that our GOP leadership, like so many times before, would offer some half-hearted proposal to deal with spending and then, under pressure, eventually surrender to the Democrats.  Caving in to the president’s demands had been our modus operandi for far too long.  But I never thought that surrendering would be our starting position.


“But it was worse than that. Much worse.


“The U.S. Senate cherishes its myriad rules, traditions, and protocols. This sometimes produces great frustration to many of us trying to get something done, since many of these rules are vestiges of a bygone era.


“But this time, the rules played to our advantage. For decades, the ordinary procedure in the Senate has been that in order to move to procced to take up a debt-ceiling increase, 60 senators must vote in favor of the motion.  At the time, the Senate had 55 Democrats, which meant that five Republicans would have to support taking up the vote.  That gave our side significant bargaining power with the Democrats and the White House.


“Obviously, the Democrats didn’t want that. But neither did the Republican Senate leadership.


“In the Senate, any rule can be change by unanimous consent, which takes [requires], as the name implies, the affirmative consent of all one hundred senators. And so, as our lunch began, the members of the Republican leadership stood before us and asked every senator to join with the Democrats in granting unanimous consent to lower the 60-vote threshold to take up the debt ceiling to just 50 votes.


“None of us should oppose this, we were told, and for two reasons. First, if we lowered the threshold, then the “clean” debt ceiling would pass, and that was very much the outcome the leadership assumed each of us really desired.


“And second, if consented to lowering the threshold, Democrats would then have to the votes to raise the debt ceiling on their own. We could all vote, “No.”  This way, we could return home and tell the voters that we had opposed raising the debt ceiling, right after consenting to let it happen.


“This time I was stunned by chicanery, expressed openly, if not proudly, to the rest of us. Looking around the Lyndon Johnson Room, named for one of the biggest-spending presidents in American history, I had a new appreciation for why we were gathered here, beneath his smiling portrait.  Most senators seemed perfectly fine with the leadership’s proposal.  There were nods and murmurs of assent.


“It was too much. I raised my hand and said, “’There’s no universe in which I can consent to that.’”


Cruz goes on to write, “’If I were to affirmatively consent to making it easier for Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid to add trillions in debt – with no spending reforms whatsoever – I think it would be dishonest and unfaithful to the voters who elected me.’


“This was an obvious point. Every one of these senators had promised their constituents that they’d oppose tricks like this to add to our debt.   But as it happened, the only other senator who spoke up to agree with me was Mike Lee, the junior senator from Utah and a staunch fiscal conservative.  Lee, my closest friend in the Senate, was another troublemaker in the eyes of the Republican leaders.


“In the two years I’ve been in the Senate, nothing I have said or done has engendered more venom and animosity from my fellow Republicans than the simple objection I made that afternoon. Indeed, the issue coalesced the rage that career politicians already felt for upstarts like me.”


He goes on to write, “When I made my case to my colleagues, they looked at me like I was a fool. I heard more than one variation of ‘That’s what you say to folks back home.  You don’t actually do it.’  They were convinced that they had a brilliant maneuver to increase our debt without any [of their] fingerprints.  And here was a freshman senator with the temerity to screw it all up.


Don’t you understand what we are doing?  Senators thundered.  Why are you forcing us to tackle this? Why can’t you just go along?


“…it was surreal to see Republican senators – some of whom were conservative icons – turn purple over this issue.”


Sadly, average Americans, ever the pragmatists, stopped listening to the debt ceiling debate as soon as they heard that it was a lone voice against the many. Might makes right, you know.  We’re a democracy, where strength is in numbers – even if the numbers include $18 trillion dollars in debt.  No one cared if Cruz was right.  Most Americans can’t even balance their own checkbooks and are themselves deep in debt via mortgages and credit cards.  What do they know about things like the debt ceiling.


No one cared if he was right; they only cared that he was alone, out-numbered, and our social Society frowns upon loners (Ever tried going to a movie theater, an amusement park or a high school football game alone? The stares, the glares, the frowns from pairs.)  Establishment financial consultants went on the talk show circuit and assured Americans that the sky would fall if the debt ceiling wasn’t raised.  (I told my older brother, ‘Rubbish!’).


Obediently, America cowered under the auspices of men wearing green eyeshades. Pundits (except for Rush and Glenn Beck) waggled their heads at Cruz and America followed.  Meanwhile, who showed up for the show but Donald Trump.  Bold, boisterous, fearless, loud, and rich.  Very, very, very rich.  He’d be beholden to no one.  No one could buy him, even as he scoffed at the first debate that he’d bought and sold some of the very politicians standing on the stage night.


Trump was familiar, even though audiences mostly laughed at his wrestling-match antics. He had said everything the public wanted to hear during his campaign stops.  Every time the Pundit Class (including Conservatives) declared Trump dead, he rose even higher in the polls.  I wasn’t sure he’d make such a great president, but he was saying all the right things.


If they were right, and he was a bad pick, I thought the Pundit Class ought to keep their mouths shut. I believe I wrote just such advice in my blog – but I can’t remember.  The voters are angry, he reflected that anger and promised to assuage it, and anyone who attacked him, in their eyes, attacked them.  Shut up.  Shut up, shut up, shut up.


Rush Limbaugh interviewed Cruz for the August 2015 issue of The Limbaugh Letter:


Cruz: “One of the things I describe in A Time for Truth is the way [the] Republican leadership silences dissent.  They use two tools.  Number one, they cut off your money and two, the engage in public flogging.  They plant story after story in the press, beating the living daylights out of you.”


I passionately believe that, in the primaries, voters should elect the person in whom they have the most trust. If you believe in Rand Paul, if you’re a Libertarian, that’s who you should vote for.  If you’re really more of a Liberal Republican, then John Kacich is probably your guy.  If you’re a touchy-feely type of Republican, then Jeb Bush is the president for you.


But voters also have a responsibility to weigh all the pros and cons of all the candidates before deciding. They must be tolerant of opposing views without having a coronary (unless the candidate admits to being a Communist – then, have it).  Otherwise, you won’t know what you’re missing.


The candidates can argue the live-long day about the issues and how to handle. On one platform, however, a true President of the United States of America must be unimpeachably solid:  freedom.


If the candidate doesn’t believe in freedom – individual freedom – which only a limited government can guarantee, then they’re bloated with hot air. Courage won’t be found in someone pounding a podium, pointing fingers, spewing out slogans, and promising the moon, then telling you he intends to compromise with anyone with a greasy found.


Courage is the little guy standing alone against the rich and powerful (in his own party, no less), defying donors and pundits alike, risking it all for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  That’s what created America.  That’s what enabled men like Trump to become billionaires.  That’s what you should be voting for – freedom.


Think about the titles of the books the two men authored (Trump has published many books on success): Trump’s No. 1 Best-Seller, The Art of the Deal.   “Deal” is practically required reading in business schools across the country and probably around the world.  I’ve read it; it’s what Trump would call a “GREAT” book.  Well, maybe we don’t need the capital letters.  But it’s a good read about succeeding in business.  I found it inspiring, especially about a certain employee thinking beyond his cubicle walls rather pressing his nose to the grindstone.


When the other employees complained, Trump said, “The last time that guy daydreamed, he made me a million dollars. Leave him alone.”


Cruz’ A Time for Truth is less well-known.  Like National Review magazine, few beyond the “Conservative Elite” have probably read it.  You’ve seen the first part of the introduction.  This is not your typical political bio:  it’s a tell-all about the Washington about which we’ve been complaining since before the Tea Parties.


One book ends in “Deal”; the other, in “Truth.”


Which author would you trust to run America as President?

Published in: on January 25, 2016 at 2:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

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