I’m sure you chuckled at this weekend development as much as I did: At its winter meeting, the Republican National Committee, , passed a resolution condemning the NSA’s data-mining policy. The language about “unwarranted” government surveillance being an “intrusion on basic human rights” passed by voice vote, with only a few dissenters.
This is being read in the media as evidence for the party’s continuing turn away from war-mongery, Ari Fleischer-style, “watch what you say and do” Big Brotherism and toward a Pauline (as in Rand) libertarianism. And I wouldn’t deny that there’s something to that. The libertarian streak is very in vogue on the right, and neocons can’t seem to get Americans agitated about anything.
But let’s not kid ourselves. The passage of this resolution is mostly about the guy in the White House. If you want to try to tell me this was an act of principle by the RNC, then put Mitt Romney in the White House for a moment. Do you think the RNC would have considered such a resolution? Please. Reince Priebus would have had a stroke. He’d have quashed it in minutes. But with Barack Obama in the White House, the rules are different. The RNC passed this resolution to kick a little extra sand in Obama’s face.
This isn’t new of course, this rancid hypocritical sand-kicking, but it keeps getting worse, more comically transparent and more brazen. You may have read last week, for example, after Mike Huckabee’s birth-control throw down, that back in 2005 when he was Arkansas governor, Huckabee approved legislation requiring health-insurance plans in the state to cover contraceptive pills and devices. In fact, according to The Arkansas Times, Huckabee’s exemption for religious employers and organizations was narrower than the exemption in Obamacare.
So how did this policy go from being something a Southern Baptist fundamentalist could endorse to something that’s fodder for the next front in the culture war? What’s changed? Well, let’s see. It’s not that government is forcing insurers to pay for contraception. That’s what Huckabee approved in 2005. It’s not that contraception is different. True, we’ve had controversies in the past year about the age at which girls could have legal access to emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs), but that has nothing to do with “Uncle Sugar” providing women with birth control, which was the crux of Huckabee’s lament. And besides that, it’s not as if ECPs [what does that stand for?] themselves are new—they’ve been legal for 15 years. It was George W. Bush’s FDA that changed ECPs from prescription-only to over-the-counter (for adult women), back in 2006.
If you want to try to tell me this was an act of principle by the RNC, then put Mitt Romney in the White House for a moment.
No, those things aren’t very different. What’s different is who’s in the White House. What’s an acknowledgement of modern reality when a Republican is president becomes, with Obama as president, another manifestation of how he’s taking America straight to hell. If you believe the president is the Manchurian Candidate, acts that were once benign or ignorable take on a new and more sinister coloration.
Do liberals do this too in reverse? Sure, to some extent. But on the topic of the NSA and data mining, you certainly can’t say that liberals and Democrats have been silent. Many have been fierce critics of the administration, far more so than conservatives and Republicans, in fact. To the extent that Obama is changing his policies in these realms, it’s because of pressure from the left, not the right.
But now the GOP wants a piece of this action. I’m sure that to some extent the sentiment among the RNC members—national committee-people from across the country, many of them local politicos, few or none of them members of the Beltway foreign-policy establishment—is genuine. Most people don’t like the idea that the government has a log of their phone calls. It’s not exactly hard to get a bunch of conservative activists to cast a voice-vote against the government and against anything Obama is doing.
But proof of libertarian dominance in the GOP? Don’t buy it. If the Republicans nominate Rand Paul, then sure, they’ll keep sallying forth down the libertarian alley. But if they nominate a more conventional Republican who has ties to the neoconservative establishment, the delegates stand up at the 2016 convention and cheer their heads off every time that nominee talks about the homeland. And should that person become president, and do the same things Obama has done and worse…well, I wouldn’t be looking for any censorious RNC resolutions if I were you.
In the meantime, the thing to keep looking for is Republicans having no memory of LB09—Life Before 2009. It makes no difference what position the party or any individual Republican took before January 20 of that year. All that matters from their way of seeing things is that on January 20 of that year, everything changed. That’s the governing emotional reality of the GOP opposition, and it will remain so until the day the black guy leaves the White House.