Bring Me the Bigger Tent

Warning: Long, rambling post ahead. Best ignored by folks uninterested in my own personal inner monologue.

I’m a Christian, but I haven’t sat in a church where I feel comfortable worshiping in years.

I’m a Republican and a conservative but I don’t feel particularly comfortable sitting in those pews, either. When it comes to the movement libertarians, I’m sure as hell not one of that crew even when I’m feeling sympathetic to their goals (which happens fairly often). And I think that progressives tend to live on the wrong side of reality (and they would likely say the same about me).

When the Tea Party started up, I found myself drawn to them. There was an underpinning of something libertarian in the movement (or, at least, that’s what I thought), and I liked the initial focus on economic issues over social issues. It’s become something very different; the movement seems to have become very focused on a narrow view of what conservatism should be and who qualifies to be labeled as a Republican.

I’m really tired of the term RINO and really tired of having folks on Twitter and Facebook and myriad blogs telling me who I can and can’t vote for if I want to stay in the graces of the keepers of proper conservative ideology. It irritated me when Andrew Sullivan started playing that game and it doesn’t feel much better coming from self-important commenters on NRO and Spectator blog entries.

Talking Ron Paul would be unproductive and Gary Johnson is a mixed bag (and a useless way to spend my vote).

So, back to the beginning, and to my point: I know where my vote is going this year (barring some revelation that suddenly makes President Obama spectacularly more attractive, politically, than he is to me right now), but I really wish that some folks would remember that their narrow view of our country and our political possibilities not only won’t win elections but it won’t win change. It’s the Ron Paul trap in the sense that folks who believe that only their path and only their candidate can save us are pretty much guaranteed to consign themselves to smaller roles in greater things.

Bismark (or the writer who first attributed it to him) was right: “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable, the next best.”

No, that doesn’t mean you have to leave your principles at the door, but it does mean that a wise man knows when to build coalitions, when to compromise, and when to refuse to bend. If you live in Boulder, CO, you shouldn’t expect to be hiring a stone-ribbed conservative to be your representative. So why not support a Scott Brown type figure? A man who may not be strictly conservative, but who will do a much better job of protecting your interests than the progressive left’s favored alternative.

What brought this up? I like Condi Rice. In fact, I find her fascinating and I hope that she continues to play a role American politics. I’m not blind to her faults and errors during the last administration, but I’m also not ready to minimize her strengths or dismiss her from our ranks. I don’t think that she is going to be Romney’s VP, though, and I don’t believe that she is the right person to give him the boost he needs to take the election– but he could do a hell of a lot worse than someone with her breadth of knowledge and experience.

So when I read this post on NRO, I started feeling cranky. Not so much because of John Fund’s analysis, which I think is reasonable, with the exception of the comparison to Sarah Palin and his concern for her ability to carry her message and handle the politics of a national campaign.

Seriously, can you imagine Rice being tripped up by a lightweight like Katie Couric asking about what’s on her reading list? Or being at a loss for smart analysis of any conceivable issue that she might face? That audio of her Park City speech should put those fears to rest. Her seriousness, her thoughtfulness, and her careful nature shine through at all times– even at those times where I find myself in disagreement with her. She is, in so many ways, the anti-Palin.

For as much as Sarah Palin was treated poorly by the press, she turned out to be a disappointment to me. I had revelled in the excitement she initially brought to McCain’s campaign and had high hopes that she would be a quick study on the national stage. Maybe many of her problems can be blamed on the staff’s mishandling of her, but in the end she simply wasn’t the person I thought she was. She wasn’t a Reagan in the making– a person rising from simple circumstances, with an undeniable charisma, to lift themselves up to bigger things.

She wasn’t a new Reagan because she simply didn’t have the vision or, seemingly, the willingness to put in the hours learning issues, defining messages, and preparing to bring leadership to the world. She seemed to shrink on the big stage, trusting on a mix of charisma and red meat to get her through.

As an agitator, that’s fine; as a national leader, it’s lacking. There should never, ever be any comparison between her and Dr. Rice.

But I digress. It was the comments that bugged me most. The comment suggesting that she is doing damage to the Romney campaign just by being rumored to be the VP choice, for instance. Or the comment that suggested that she was a “pathetic” option. Or the gentleman who suggested that she had issues with moral reasoning.

I am continually amazed at the arrogance of some folks who sit on the sidelines making their pronouncements about the imperfections of others. I am amazed at those same folks who consider their moral compasses so perfect and unfailing that they are willing to pass judgement with such finality.

The VP choice probably won’t fall in her lap, not least because she has very loudly said that she’s not interested. In pragmatic terms, the VP should help patch over the candidate’s biggest weaknesses (to help him build a winning coalition), and I’m not so sure that she is well-positioned to do that. She probably shouldn’t be the choice.

But why is it so angering to some folks that someone of her stature, accomplishment, and intellect might be considered? Personally, I’m happy as hell to see her on our side of the fight and I welcome her in our ranks.

I grew up believing in the big tent Republican dream.

Republicans  should be bound together for a desire to push back against governments’ creeping intrusion and excesses in citizens’ lives and businesses’ ability to operate with minimal interference and only the most necessary regulation. Republican’s should champion a wise conservatism that looks to maintain and conserve those important aspects of our American culture and political being that work well and have helped us to be a country of amazing wealth, creation, and success. But wise conservatism should also recognize that the things that are broken need to be changed, need to be fixed. Not the knee-jerk “hope and change” of the progressive left, but the well-considered change guided by necessity and adherence to bedrock principles.

Republicans should recall that our system was designed to let a culturally, religiously, ethnically, and geographically diverse nation as absolutely big as ours survive by protecting the localities from the whims of both our Federal government and from more populous states with wildly differing political priorities, but never at the expense of protected individual freedoms and rights. Which is why slavery could not stand and why women could not forever be denied the vote and why our electoral college is so vitally important as a safeguard to help protect smaller states’ important interests.

There is more, of course, but I trust you see my point: these aren’t sets of policy prescriptions (you must be pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and a big fan of the death penalty), these are sets of ideas to help guide us in wise decision-making. When the litmus test gets too specific, the tent starts shrinking to the point where the party will start ceding elections to the progressive left; we’ll be impotent and useless on the fringe while everything we had hoped to conserve crumbles around us.

I don’t want the Republican party to be guided by a checklist of policy positions. I want the Republican party to be guided by good principles, wisdom, thoughtfulness, and a deep respect for the dignity of the individual and a love for freedom.

Bring back the big tent. Bring back that sense that we can work together to build the shining city on the hill, because that’s the kind of hope I want to believe in, the kind of change I can give myself to support.