Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Boehner v. Pence
I recognize that sentiment at NRO is running pretty strongly in favor of Mike Pence in the race to fill the House GOP's minority leader post. Conservative readers tend to prefer Pence's more assertive ideology to the go-along-get-along practices of Boehner. They also feel that Pence's idealism and seeming guilelessness are the medicine required by a party that lost its majority in large part because voters perceived it as tainted by cynicism and corruption. Good arguments both.
And yet I am not persuaded. In the American congressional system, a minority party can exercise considerable power - if it maintains its unity and acts by careful plan. The minority leader's role resembles that of the coach of a weaker team or the general of a retreating army: it requires enormous discipline and skill to choose one's moments, target the opponents' weaknesses, avoid battle at the wrong time, seize opportunity at the right time. A majority leader can rely on brute weight of numbers; a minority leader must be nimble, shrewd, and alert to unpleasant realities.
That's why I find Mike Pence's past support for the so-called Pence immigration compromise so troubling. It's not that I demand perfect ideological orthodoxy from would-be leaders - far from it. But looking back on that strange episode I worry about something else: Pence got suckered.
Do I believe that the Pence plan was Pence's own handiwork? I do not. Somebody else devised it - and then persuaded Pence to adopt it as his own. Which would have been fine, if it really had been a compromise. But it wasn't. The Pence plan put a complicated unworkable conservative-sounding wrapping on the Senate/Bush plan. If the Pence plan had been adopted, that wrapping would very quickly have been shredded and the concealed object inside - amnesty plus guestworkers - would almost at once have emerged.
It worries me that Pence could be used in this way, contrary to his own principles and his party's interests. In what other ways might he again be manipulated and deceived? I agree wholeheartedly with him that the defeated Republican party needs to rediscover its principles. It also, in my opinion, needs to position itself to discredit its opponents swiftly and return to power before the glue of incumbency seals their Democratic opponents into their newly won seats. That task will require considerably more guile, forethought, and (yes) cunning than Pence showed in the immigration debate.
I am very alive to Boehner's imperfections too. But I am wondering whether this wounded party does not need a skilled if cynical doctor rather more than it needs an ardent but naive faith-healer.
PS - Mickey Kaus suggests that Pence was not a victim of the con, but a perpetrator of it. I almost wish I could believe that. But I don't.
11/15 06:31 AM