Having been a conservative activist since my teenage days 50 years ago, am I elated at the greatest Republican comeback in my lifetime?
Not exactly. After the polls closed Tuesday evening I attended the Alabama Republican victory party at the Embassy Suites in Montgomery, but after a short time I left in disgust.
I am pleased that Republican gains will make it more difficult for President Obama to force his socialist pro-abortion agenda on America. But I sense in the Republican mood the same arrogance and shallowness that characterized the Republican victories of 1994, when a backlash against President Clinton produced a Republican a majority in both houses of Congress. Being historical morons, we forget that President Clinton handily won reelection in 1996, and today many (not me) regard him as a great President. Like the 1994 backlash, the Republican victories of 2010 represent a reaction against the socialist policies of this Administration. Creating a backlash is easy; translating it into a solid mandate for conservative principles will be a lengthy, painstaking, and sometimes boring but always indispensable task.
The Tea Party definitely has influenced American politics, but not necessarily for the better. They have involved new people with fresh ideas, but their ignorance is exceeded only by their arrogant refusal to learn from those old conservative warhorses who were fighting for constitutionalism and limited government long before most of the Tea Party people were born, and their penchant for snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory in Delaware and Nevada by rejecting Republican candidates who were likely to win in favor of Tea Party candidates who were destined to lose. Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev) and Chris Coons (D-Del) can thank the Tea Party for their victories.
Unfortunately, we think in labels, not in ideas and accomplishments. As a Republican I have admired conservative Democrats who have spent their lives reaching across party lines and trying to forge consensus. Two such men were Alabama Congressman Bobby Bright and Alabama State Senator Wendell Mitchell; I was sorry to see them go down to defeat.
My mood is somber because history is repeating itself. We have been handed power before, and we blew it through arrogance, ignorance, and selfish ambition. I see little reason to think this time will be different. I see little humility among the nation’s winners last night, and very little interest seeing past the numbers and hype and in studying and learning the constitutional principles of government that made this country what it is. The last election, I must confess, interested me less than medieval political philosophy which is the subject of my current writing, and my heart is still in South Korea where I was teaching last week, where Christian pioneers have founded Handong Global University, and where people still have a work ethic.
There are bright spots, though little noticed. One was the victory of my old friend and mentor Julian Garrett a farmer/lawyer and devout conservative Lutheran who was elected to represent the 73rd District in the Iowa Legislature. Having run for office unsuccessfully several times before, Julian’s victory demonstrates that God’s timing is all-important. Through decades of study and work, God has prepared Julian for this moment. His quiet, confident voice will be a blessing for the Iowa Legislature, as it has been over the years for me.
Another is the write-in victory of State Senator Harri Anne Smith of Alabama’s 29th District. Once rated Alabama’s most conservative senator, the GOP leadership denied her the right to run for the Republican nomination this year because she had endorsed conservative Democrat Bobby Bright for Congress. I’ve never been a fan of Sen. Smith, but since becoming the majority party the Republican leadership has started to operate as a closed club, a sure-fire formula for ultimate defeat. At any rate, Republicans now control the State of Alabama lock, stock, and barrel. That’s a great opportunity, but it can also be an occasion for disaster.
But the brightest spot of all is the victory speech of Mario Rubio, newly-elected Republican Senator from Florida: “… and we make a grave mistake if we believe that tonight these results are somehow an embrace of the Republican Party. What they are is a second chance — a second chance for Republicans to be what they said they were going to be, not so long ago.” In that spirit, let us go forward and serve.
(John Eidsmoe serves on the Lutherans For Life Board of Directiors.)