We need more Lamborns & Schaffers

The GOP picture in Colorado’s 5th congressional district is a picture of soulless politics and in microcosm of a national GOP headed for a November electoral disaster. Editor: So warns Dave Crater, Air Force veteran, CU law student, and founder of the Wilberforce Center for Colorado Statesmanship. Here's the article developing his logic for that somber verdict:

Loser GOP is Short on Doug Lamborns

    “ ‘Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth…’ Just what does that mean? Not simply that they introduced something onto this continent. If so, where was it before they brought it in? And how could it be called a new nation if merely transferred? No, ‘bring forth’ cannot mean anything like ‘introduce from abroad.’ Lincoln is talking about generation on the spot. The nation is rightly called new because it is brought forth maieutically, by midwifery; it is not only new, but newborn. The suggested image is, throughout, of a hieros gamos, a marriage of male heaven (‘our fathers’) and female earth (‘this continent’). And it is a miraculous conception, a virgin birth. The nation is conceived by a mental act, in the spirit of liberty, and dedicated (as Jesus was in the temple) to a proposition. The proposition to which it is dedicated forms the bridge back from Lincoln to Jefferson, from the Address to the Declaration…” -- Garry Wills, Inventing America (Doubleday, 1978)

This is unfashionable language. So earthy; so full of male, female, procreation, and midwifery; all a very messy and laborious and old-fashioned business.

It is not even fashionable among many who believe in the virgin birth of Jesus and the hieros gamos that produced it. A growing number of such, at least among educated elites, get nervous any time biblical language is used to describe the American founding or the continuing presence and spiritual power of American influence in the world. “Politicizing the gospel,” the accusation goes, or as the misguided authors of the recently published Evangelical Manifesto put it (www.anevangelicalmanifesto.com), the gospel should not be “confused with or reduced to political categories such as ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal.’”

Translation: we want Christian engagement with culture and politics, but we are tired of evangelicals being so widely identified as political conservatives. This compromises the gospel. We want civility. We want political choices to be more separate from theological choices so that more political liberals feel more comfortable being around us. We want a definition of “Evangelical,” which should be spelled with a capital “E” like every other religious option is, that is politically bigger-tent. We want to be more inclusive. We are tired of controversy.

Nice stuff, not unlike the “reach across the aisle” language and strategy on which GOP presidential candidate John McCain has built a lucrative national career. Who doesn’t want unity? Who doesn’t want the two sides of the aisle to come together once and for all? Who doesn’t want to be credited with having helped make the group hug happen? Why trouble ourselves with the laborious midwifery of an unfashionably conservative political heritage when an easier, more comfortable route is, at this hour as at every hour, so readily crafted and so ripe for the taking?

If Christ had followed this sure-winner public relations strategy, he might not have gotten himself crucified.

I’m not the only one with a better idea. GOP candidate for U.S. Senate and all-around Republican good guy Bob Schaffer captured it nicely on Saturday in the best applause line of a highlight-laden speech to the Colorado GOP state assembly: “Now, if we’re going to compete successfully against Democrats, we need to have a little bit of introspection and look at our own party as well. We could sustain a little bit of reform within the Republican Party, too. I’ve always believed that principles matter most, and I believe that it’s important even to take on leaders in our own party who have a tendency to drift from those principles that have defined our country.”

Ouch. The normal Schaffer grace, but a shot between the eyes to Republican leaders, all the way up to President Bush, whom Schaffer went on to tell the delegates he had publicly opposed on legislative disasters like No Child Left Behind and McCain-Feingold, which (my comment here, not Schaffer’s) is now hurting McCain’s campaign as badly as it is hurting free speech across the fruited plain. Note this is not any vague Scott McClellan sellout to the left; it is principled criticism from the right.

Schaffer’s simple truth was red meat for a leadership-starved Republican grassroots. Other ringers from Schaffer included a more-sincere-than-usual-from-Republicans-these-days appeal to the “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” of the Declaration – which went nicely with Mrs. Schaffer and the five Schaffer children, three of whom are training to become military officers, standing next to him – as well as a refreshing acknowledgement of the Almighty as the source of all good political things. It was a reference, given it is a piece of political theology almost always heard from conservatives and not liberals and which is the foundation of conservative political philosophy, that might have been a bit too flag-wavey to keep the signers of the Evangelical Manifesto smiling.

Watch Schaffer’s entire speech here.

But this is prologue. I imagine Schaffer would agree that good speeches are nice in their place and discomfitingly rare in today’s soul-starved GOP, but the energy and heart of the Grand Old Party and the larger American conservative movement are forged and proved on the ground, when and where nobody’s watching and applauding, and when the principles we claim to espouse are given flesh and blood by backbone in the trenches. The real question is not whether we can find someone with the combination of guts and talent to give the speech Schaffer gave. The question is whether and where we can find a few more with the spinal stiffness to argue and vote to implement these sentiments in public policy, to do so even when nobody’s applauding and flattering, and to offer no weak, self-doubting apologies or excuses in the process.

Tough stuff. Not nearly as nice as big-tent John McCain Evangelical Manifesto inclusiveness. But as one of the nation’s – indeed, the world’s – favorite evangelical preachers, one who didn’t sign the Evangelical Manifesto and probably wasn’t invited to, is fond of saying, “Hard preaching makes soft people.” Converse: soft preaching may make for good media, but it makes for exceedingly hard hearts. Both may win you an election and get you out of short-term controversy; both will, whether you are an individual or a political party, eventually cost you your soul and your long-term political influence.

Fortunately for restless Colorado conservatives everywhere who don’t just say they agree with Schaffer that principles matter most, but so believe in their heart of soft hearts, Schaffer is not alone in holding high and proud the banner of principled political conservatism. Amidst the back-stabbing, ambition-soaked, slander-drenched, platitude-heavy, hard-hearted Republican atmosphere in El Paso County is an honest and sincere man with real convictions who happens to be a U.S. Congressman.

    Name, Douglas L. Lamborn. Born 1954, Leavenworth, Kansas. Schaffer-like, has both a wife and five children. Bachelor’s in Journalism, National Merit Scholar, Juris Doctor, University of Kansas. Colorado House of Representatives, 1995. House Republican Whip, 1997. Colorado Senate, 1998. President Pro-tem, 1999. Impeccable conservative voting record at the state level. U.S. Congress, 2006. House Armed Services Committee, 2007.

According to Congressional Quarterly, through the August 2007 recess, Mr. Lamborn actually did what every Republican candidate for office tells party regulars he/she will do if elected: he voted against the Democratic agenda in the U.S. House more than any other Republican (“CQPolitics.com Candidate Watch,” Congressional Quarterly, Aug. 10, 2007). One of five members of Congress – that’s 5 out of 535 – to receive a 100% rating in 2008 from the Club for Growth, perhaps the nation’s leading free-market think tank and political advocacy group. “True Blue” rating from the Family Research Council for a 100% voting record on issues of social conservatism. That means a) men get to be completely and joyously satisfied with women as their only marital option, b) women not only get acknowledged as fully equal to this high calling but enjoy the same reciprocal satisfaction in their marital options, and c) cute babies get to be safe in the womb again.

In short, here’s a politico with soul and a soft heart. For his labors, he has two GOP primary challengers, both claiming to believe in all the same things Mr. Lamborn has now spent a decade and a half advancing in public policy via the messy and laborious midwifery always required so to advance. Their reasons for running? Lamborn spends too much money communicating by mail with his constituents. We therefore need to elect his opponents to “show real leadership” and “take our Colorado common sense values to Washington” and “reach across the aisle to get things done” and .

Other vague condemnations and abandonments of Lamborn, both explicit and surreptitious, have been common and ugly throughout the Fifth Congressional and Colorado GOP hierarchies. Lamborn’s resulting distrust of the local GOP structure led him to petition on to the August primary ballot instead of going through the normal caucus process.

Bob Schaffer experienced something of the same royal treatment in 2004, when he ran for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate against moderate beer magnate Pete Coors and was opposed by many of the courageous state Republican leaders who, with no alternative candidate and thus no reason this time to have the proverbial finger in the proverbial wind, are now supporting him.

Yet somehow, even according to Mr. Lamborn’s opponent, Lamborn leads his competitors by at least ten percentage points in current polling. Read more here. Perhaps the grassroots is not as unhappy with Lamborn-style, Schaffer-style principled political conservatism as media pundits and GOP leaders and self-serving challengers would have us believe.

The GOP picture in Colorado’s Fifth Congressional District is a picture of soulless politics and in microcosm of a national GOP headed for a November electoral disaster: persecute and marginalize family-man conservative heroes and celebrate cocktail-party mediocrities. Downplay decades of proven commitment and up-play glowing promises and smooth talk. Talk at campaign stops about what a great conservative and loyal Republican and fan of Ronald Reagan you are; talk on the phone about how useless Doug Lamborns are and how we’ll never be a winner party again until we are rid of them.

The nation was born maieutically, by midwifery, by men like Bob Schaffer and Doug Lamborn. Men like their critics may have won a few short-term victories in government, but their brief time passed and they ended their average lives as outsiders. The Grand Old Party was similarly born in the crucible of antebellum anti-slavery politics, where Abe Lincoln got scalded just as viscerally and irrationally and faithlessly as genuine Lincoln-style conservatives are getting scalded in today’s version of the party Lincoln founded.

Let us not dissemble: the GOP, both nationally and in Colorado, is far enough along its leftward path that only a stark electoral drubbing will awaken the collective party senses and once again create the political and cultural atmosphere where a new Reagan can rise to prominence and conservatives can re-take the party hierarchy, where a party and a nation once again remember the virgin birth – both the one in Bethlehem and the one in Philadelphia – and where both pledge anew, for the defense of a great set of eternal propositions about God, man, and government, not only their words during election season, but their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.