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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

A delaying action

The interminable presidential campaign is not a topic I generally find interesting. Obviously, it is the center of the political world right now, but I find the nitty-gritty of politics very repetitive and very tiring. As far as I can see, this column will be my last on the election of 2008. Good riddance.

Yet, word on the political street is that John McCain is not fundraising very well. Republicans I know on political campaigns tell of a party disheartened and demoralized, working without passion and without money. While the Democratic party has been in civil war for months, the GOP generally remains unenthused about its electoral prospects and its presidential candidate. Like an injured athlete, the party seemingly has neither the focus nor the happiness to get back into competition.

Some claim this turn of events is not necessarily bad, that a solid electoral defeat will energize and organize the base and subsequently show the American people just how bad the Democrats are when in charge. Ronald Reagan’s triumph over Jimmy Carter in 1980 is the model for this theory. Supporting McCain then becomes only vaguely important, with many on the hard right grudgingly planning to vote for him but refusing to open their checkbooks, walk precincts or put up yard signs.

But this mindset is a shortsighted and selfish one. We must look at the big picture.

In military terminology, a delaying action is often fought by a smaller unit to slow the enemy’s advance and to buy time for a stronger perimeter to be set up in the rear. Soldiers can then engage in combat very tenaciously but not expect a great victory in the short term. This is the model the Republican party should adopt for the 2008 election.

Since the Reagan Revolution of 1980, the conservative and libertarian movements have more or less held the upper hand. The one Democratic executive, Bill Clinton, failed when he unabashedly embraced liberalism and succeeded when he became moderate. A Democratic Congress was defined mostly for its opposition to Reagan and Bush 41, and then in 1994 was dramatically ousted in favor of the Republicans.

Then came the Congressional elections of 2006. Now, a once slight-right country seems to have become a slight-left country. In part through some idiotic behavior from Republicans, the balance has tipped in favor of the Democrats, and the Reagan era is in danger of coming to a close altogether. Rather than blindly trusting that a good Republican candidate will emerge for 2012, it is possible that we stand at the beginning of a new era of liberal dominance.

If the Democrats gain control of both the White House and Capitol Hill, defense spending will be slashed. Iraq will likely fall apart again, and this time for good. Our enemies abroad will use the time to regain their strength, and al-Qaeda will get a much-needed breather. Taxes will be raised on the rich and the middle class, hurting economic recovery when it is desperately needed. Universal health care or something close to it will get through, along with expansions of many other government programs.

One lesson of American history is that once the federal government grows, it almost never shrinks back to its previous size. Even the great Reagan largely failed in that category.

In four or eight years, the movement can hopefully find a better standard bearer and go back on the offensive. With the oldest president in U.S. history, the vice president also may assume power in that period, and some hopes can be pinned on him as well. But for now, it is imperative that McCain get all the support we would give that hypothetical Second Coming of Reagan that never came.

This is not a naked appeal at maintaining power for the party at all costs, regardless of principle. Precisely the opposite, this is the best way to keep what we’ve gained so far in the movement, and to mitigate the damage that would come with the Democrats. We don’t have to be enthused about John McCain to enthusiastically support him.


Analyze the success of delaying actions in history with ROB OLSON at rwolson@ucdavis.edu.


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