George Orwell once explained that his ability to write about politics – and what was obviously the source of his willingness to so sternly critique fellow socialists – came from his “power of facing unpleasant facts.”
His revulsion to political tribalism and his refusal to rationalize abuses of power led Orwell to expose the horrors of Soviet communism in Animal Farm and 1984. The books were so effective that modern conservatives mistake Orwell for one of our own. So did his contemporaries. “In the view of many on the official Left,” explained the noted communist academic Raymond Williams, “he committed the ultimate sin of ‘giving ammunition to the enemy.’”
While the situation for conservatives in Alabama isn’t nearly as grave, it’s time for us to face some unpleasant facts of our own, even if it gives ammunition to the enemy.
Unpleasant Fact No. 1: Some of our state’s Republican voters apparently don’t understand or don’t value conservatism as an overarching political philosophy or even as a candidate’s governing principle.
This was unmistakable after Donald Trump garnered more than 370,000 votes in our state’s Republican Presidential Primary in March – or 43.4 percent of all votes.
Whatever their reasons for choosing Trump, it wasn’t because of their common belief in limited government, free markets, and individual rights – the cornerstones of conservatism – and it certainly wasn’t because they valued the same cultural and religious traditions. Few conservatives think that Planned Parenthood does “wonderful things,” as Trump said, nor do they share his belief that government can snatch your family’s land away to give it to someone else because they’ll pay higher property taxes.
Trump’s supporters say they’re sending the establishment a message, but by sending them a lifelong liberal? One doesn’t need to be William F. Buckley to realize Trump isn’t a conservative. Just listen to what the man has said, and still says.
So either 370,000 Republicans in Alabama don’t know or understand why conservative principles are so important, they don’t really care, or worse, conservative ideas were never the reason they were Republicans in the first place. If the latter is true, one is left to hesitantly wonder if some of them simply dislike the people on the other side rather than their ideas.
Unpleasant Fact No. 2: Our governor – who is often seen as the de facto leader of the state’s Republican Party – has left an indelible and toxic stain on our movement.
Governor Robert Bentley is a walking caricature of a hypocritical holier-than-thou politician, and his behavior after being exposed has exhausted any forgiveness, or even pity, we may have given the man. What’s more, our opposition only needs to mention Bentley’s name whenever they want to persuade voters that Republicans are just a bunch of two-faced sanctimonious liars.
The chairman of the Alabama Republican Party recently tried to get ahead of this worry by reminding voters that Bentley doesn’t represent the entire party. Fair enough, but he’s certainly its most visible member … and he just won’t go away.
Unpleasant Fact No. 3: Our state’s Republican lawmakers seem reluctant to do anything about the first two facts.
The chairman also mentioned many of the remarkable achievements of the Republican majority in the past few years – and there certainly have been – but our leaders have nearly squandered an opportunity to not only enact conservative reforms, but also teach conservative principles. The leadership’s preferred use of the phrase “pro-business” rather than “pro-free market” is just one indicator that they’re more interested in short-term gains than building a principled party.
Their half-hearted approach to impeaching Bentley is another troubling sign. Rather than acting swiftly to remove and replace something toxic to our party’s brand – as Tylenol famously did during its poison scare in the 1980s – our lawmakers seem to have adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
But this is the antithesis of leadership, and when one party doesn’t lead, another party eventually will.
Meanwhile, we’d be wise to remember the admonishment from John Adams about how “facts are stubborn things.” We’ve done a poor job of teaching conservatism. We’ve done an even poorer job of electing true conservatives. And we’re in danger of losing it all unless we make some serious course corrections … and soon.