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IF IT'S RESPECTABLE, IT'S STEALABLE | 1998-11-14

Poor Gingrich. All his revolutionary ideas either 1) were abandoned, or 2) became Clinton programs. Get used to it. As long as conservatism is respectable, that is going to happen to every conservative leader.

Respectable conservatives are always upset because liberals, they say, steal their ideas. But the only initiatives respectable conservatives will pursue are those which do not offend liberals. If they work, and they do not offend liberals, then liberals adopt them. This seems a rather obvious conclusion.

If a conservative initiative is one liberals cannot adopt, they scare respectable conservatives away from it by declaring it unrespectable.

One of the most obvious things the new congress could have done in 1995 was to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA had financed obscenity, and, in any case, what on earth are bureaucrats doing financing what the government decides is art? If the government is allowed to define what "art" is, what can it not define for us?

The NEA is tiny, but the symbolism is important. So conservatives wanted it done away with, pronto. Note that, after two full terms with a Republican majority in congress, I refer to the NEA in the present tense.

Once the Democrats pulled out their big guns on the talk shows, Republicans backed down on the NEA. Cutting funding for the arts would make respectables look unsophisticated.

I once held a joint press conference in Washington for Boston antibusing marchers and Kanawha County anti-textbook protesters. We brought together two grass roots protests against the Washington education establishment, and several congressmen addressed us. Republicans said busing didn't end because Peter Rodino, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, would not let antibusing bills reach the House floor.

Rodino has been out a long, long time, and the buses still roll.

And when proposals came up to do away with racial quotas in hiring, liberals threatened to call Republicans naziswhowanttokillsixmillionjews, "racists," and "divisive." So Republicans backed down.

So when the English-only initiatives got popular support and were put on the ballot in California, respectable conservatives were threatened with being called "divisive," "racist," and naziswhowanttokillsixmillionjews.

So Republicans backed down on the English only initiatives.

So when proposals reached the California ballot to cut illegal aliens off the public dole, liberals threatened to call conservatives "divisive," "racist," and naziswhowanttokillsixmillionjews.

So conservative respectables backed down on cutting illegal aliens off from US-taxpayer-financed benefits.

All three of these initiatives passed overwhelmingly by popular vote in California. So Republicans just lost the governorship in California. Democrats control both Houses of the legislature in California. When reapportionment takes place in California, where about an eighth of the entire US House will be elected in the next decade, Democrats will control it.

As for federally financed dirty textbooks, if the Republicans don't have the guts to challenge the bureaucrats defining "art," how could they possibly question their definition of education?

Before we condemn conservative respectables as lacking raw guts, let's look at what they had the courage to propose.

In 1992, Ross Perot won 19% of the national vote, the largest third-party vote in this century. Perot's big demand was a balanced budget.

In 1994, Republicans had the courage to formulate a novel objective: a balanced budget.

Republicans got a lot of votes demanding a balanced budget, so Clinton went along with it.

No problem.

Dole screamed bloody murder in 1996, saying Clinton had "stolen" the balanced budget. The point is, if the only thing Dole had guts enough to propose were things respectable liberals could adopt, why shouldn't Democrats adopt them?

Conservative respectability is, by definition, unable to do anything that the left cannot scare them away from or adopt itself.