Now that Karl Rove & Co., have drunk their own kool-aid and come out of the shadows with their super PAC to muzzle the TEA Party, it’s time for true conservatives to have a good sized reality check on the last sixty years or so…and maybe turn our disappointment into an advantage.
Prior to Dwight D. Eisenhower being president, American conservatism, if there ever was such an influential animal after John Quincy Adams died, was largely dormant as a political movement. There were bits and pieces that would surface now and again, like Senator Joe McCarthy and his smoking out of communists, and a handful of national publications that had a conservative bent with fairly small circulations, but not much else. And certainly, as a lifestyle entity driving elections, there was no such thing as asking “Who is the conservative candidate?” For the most part, national political candidates were all the same, just progressive to different degrees. Conservatism existed, but, it was not a cohesive ideology by any means, not really traditional and therefore no sort of threat to the progressives of the day (until Barry Goldwater grew to be somewhat powerful).
Then, in 1953, Russell Kirk published The Conservative Mind inspiring William F. Buckley to found National Review. At the same time, Barry Goldwater ran for senate. The ball started to roll. The giant started to wake. [insert favorite euphemism for Rip Van Winklism here] Conservatism suddenly had names and faces. It wasn’t just an idea one read in the pages of little magazines few people read. It wasn’t just on paper anymore.
But, that could not have happened without this little thing called capital, or in the simplest word: money.
The dirty secret we forget about Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley is that they were college graduates, educated at Michigan State and Yale respectively, and had the connections to be able to raise their own funding among their friends and fellow alumni. Neither one just had the cash lying around. At that time, $300,000 was a lot of money to raise for a capital project. Buckley found like minded individuals SOMEWHERE to help him and get into print cohesive, concise and well thought out policy “based on principle, not popularity.”
Goldwater had been senator for two terms before he ran for president and was a mobilizing force for conservatism and limited government even though the movement did not produce any fruit for another sixteen years. He was not necessarily a social conservative, which became an issue later on, but what he did have, to the frustration of the Republican establishment of the day, was his own financial backing.
To the work-a-day conservative and the people producing the next generation not to mention actual products, “fundraising” is really not a very well known field. Right now, outside of the practitioners and major donors, it’s a concept where the motivated person with too much time on their hands and an overdeveloped sense of needing to help others (an American trait, actually) is recruited by a cause to help the people working within that cause to “fight” for or against whatever the movement or nemesis may be. Think of the number of walks for disease, half marathons, bike rides, etc., where a “team” is formed and all members of the team ask their friends and relatives to pledge X amount of dollars to help them reach their fundraising goal. The nonprofit’s fundraising software has a thermometer showing at team’s progress, etc. “Every little bit helps.”
Political parties fundraise with small amounts as well. $25 to help Newt Gingrich fight against this or that. $50 to help get so and so elected. To be honest, a lot of money can be raised this way, but it’s normally a fraction of what’s needed. The rest of the cash comes in large chunks from a much smaller pool of donors, usually solicited in person over a number of years before truly major gifts are discussed. In politics, these are SUPPOSED to be individuals, but the majority of major donors have their cash in foundations or businesses. That’s why the Super PACs have been organized. To get around that rule when it comes to donating to the political parties. That doesn’t mean that the donors don’t want something in return for their gift.
When I worked for one of the disease charities, we would get a “title sponsor” for a mutli-million dollar fundraising project, and said sponsor would spend $50,000 out of a marketing budget to get their logo on banners, the website, emails, t-shirts, give-a-ways – name it. For them, it was usually about name recognition, and the sponsor expected a return on the investment.
It’s no different in national politics. The big money people who are funding the Super PACs, if not the Republican Party, have a specific vision in mind for how their money is to be spent, mainly to benefit them and their causes. At this point, they are what we call political moderates. The people who financially backed Barry Goldwater and later Ronald Reagan, it seems, are no longer a factor. (My guess is that they have passed on and their heirs are spending what’s left differently.) Either the top of the food chain is devoid of conservatives or conservatives with deep pockets don’t like the conservatives they see and aren’t backing them.
That’s why the rank and file are not seeing the sort of conservatives desired for national office. Even all together we don’t have the kind of cash it takes a handful of wealthy people pooling theirs together to affect a presidential race. We just don’t.
But what we do have, that the Republican Party could use a stark reminder of this year, is the votes to keep them in power at a national level. All reports are that the original TEA Party protests scared the daylights out of the establishment. It’s time to scare them again. Karl Rove & Co., want to muzzle the TEA Party to be able to control the message at the national level. It could well be to keep the donors happy in order for them to continue to have a firm grip on legislation. That would not be shocking. But to keep the party in power, Rove, etc., need conservative votes. To be blunt, they need a reminder that conservative votes are not guaranteed.
As American conservatives are digging in their heels regarding voting for a candidate rather than against the greater of two evils, it would be worth reminding Karl Rove & Co., that the people have power when we choose to use it. Want to stay in power? Stay out of the way when the next Goldwater or Reagan arrives on the scene. At this point, Republicans have control of over thirty state legislatures and governor’s seats. There’s bound to be one sooner or later.