1970 was supposed to be a good year for Republican candidates for the United States Senate, including here in Indiana where incumbent Vance Hartke was considered easily beatable.
After a divisive fight, Congressman Richard Roudebush was nominated and lost, as did Senate hopefuls elsewhere.
Vice President Spiro Agnew had campaigned in Fort Wayne. I was a student volunteer who helped at the packed rally at the Memorial Coliseum as well as in Hammond. Agnew’s rhetoric, written mostly by Pat Buchanan, stirred conservative hearts.
My personal favorite is still this: “A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.”
It only slightly topped “the nattering nabobs of negativism.”
“The reason I spoke out,” Agnew said, “was because, like the great silent majority, I had had enough. I had endured the didactic inadequacies of the garrulous in silence.” Spiro worked the crowds to fever pitch. I remember the roars when he said we needed to draw a line in the sand and force people to choose which side of the battle they were on.
The failures of 1970 led to a basic Republican rule: “Don’t draw a line in the sand unless you know you will win.” (Agnew, of course, led to a second rule as well: “Don’t stock your refrigerator with illegal groceries from campaign supporters.”) This year we seemed to remember the rule about groceries but not the line in the sand.
A Winston Churchill quote is a favorite of conservatives: “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” But when Mitt Romney converted Churchill’s principle into this – “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what” — you have walked yourself into a big trap without a lot of wiggle room.
Presumably he was saying that people who don’t pay income taxes are more likely to favor taxing those who do pay income taxes more than those who pay the taxes themselves. However, in the far too memorable words of Mike Huckabee that Romney reminds people of the “guy that laid them off,” he was not wise to be dividing people into economic classes. Simply put, if elections become class warfare, conservatives will not win.
Selling capitalism requires that most people have some understanding of capitalism. They don’t. Capitalism results in unequal distribution, but all are better off, even if the gaps are greater than if everyone is equally poor. America seems focused on distribution, not gains. That is not likely to change soon.
Drawing a line in the sand solely on libertarian economic philosophy and dramatically reducing government will not win the presidency. We also need the voters who “cling to their Bibles and guns” and/or want a strong America, not just low taxes.
“My way or the highway” by all Republican factions has resulted in this nightmare: a President Obama who faces no election constraints with an even more Democrat-dominated Senate.