“Do not vote for the most conservative candidate. Vote for the most conservative candidate who is electable.” – William F. Buckley
William F. Buckley, the founder of National Review, was a die-hard conservative, but he was also a realist. Politicians should have fundamental principles, but they also need to get elected, which usually necessitates some compromises regarding those principles. As the late great Senator Everett Dirksen once said, “I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.”
Speaking of National Review, a man who currently writes for that magazine, the great economist and academic, Thomas Sowell, recently wrote an article discussing the yin-yang that is at the heart of “principles versus politics,” and his focus was the Tea Party. Noting that the Tea Party’s insistence on defunding Obamacare played a prominent role in causing the recent government shutdown, Sowell praises the Tea Party’s aims, but questions its methods.
With respect to its aims, he points out that in the history of “third-party” movements, the Tea Party is refreshingly unique because its aim is not the imposition of some New Age “Utopia,” but the restoration of the tried and true constitutional ideas given to us by our Founders — limited government, individual liberty, protection of private property, and so on.
But its insistence on defunding Obamacare or shutting down the government was, speaking of Utopia, never achievable. The Republican Party controls one half of one of the three branches of the Federal government, meaning that even if it could have gotten a bill passed defunding Obamacare — basically an impossibility — it never could have overridden the inevitable presidential veto.
Sowell quotes another famous conservative, Edmund Burke, who once wrote, “Preserving my principles unshaken, I reserve my activity for rationale endeavors.” What Burke meant, Sowell writes, is that there is a “key distinction between believing in a principle and weighing the likely consequences of taking a particular action to advance that principle.”
Sowell finds no fault with the Tea Party’s principle, that Obamacare, which, by law, forces Americans to buy a product whether they want to or not (or pay a fine) is a fundamental perversion of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Bill of Rights, America’s three foundational documents.
But its tactics were not “rational” because they didn’t “advance that principle.” On the contrary, since most blame for the shutdown went to the Tea Party’s nominal ally, the Republican Party, its tactics impeded that principle.
Meaning that, at the end of the day, the only rational way Republicans and their Tea Party friends can end, or radically change, Obamacare is to hold power, which means winning elections, which usually means some compromising of their fundamental principles.