What if it's Perry?

Written by Noah Kristula-Green on Tuesday September 6, 2011

On Election Night 2012, I expect that Republican Presidential nominee Rick Perry will turn into President-Elect Rick Perry. My inbox will fill up with emails from both enemies and frenemies declaring: "FrumForum Lost! Your cause is doomed and you have failed!"

Why do I expect this? First, my reasons behind the electoral prediction. Although I think Mitt Romney would be a better president I think Perry actually has his finger on the pulse of the conservative primary voter. This is clear when he threatens to treat Ben Bernanke "pretty ugly". Romney also hasn’t written a campaign book which claims that the weak economy can be blamed on FDR, Woodrow Wilson, & Wickard v. Filburn so he is fundamentally out of touch with the current conservative assessment of what ails America.

As for the general election, I believe that if unemployment stays high and the economy fails to improve, that voters who would normally vote for Obama will be less inclined to do so. I think a weaker economy will energize Republican voters and that they build a large enthusiasm lead over Democrats. Yes, Democrats will claim they are running against a crazy theocrat but that didn't really work in 2004.

I would like to be wrong and instead watch the returns show President Romney getting elected. Once November 2012 rolls around I will reevaluate all of these predictions, but this is my current operating assumption. I prefer to assume the worst-case scenario.

So now the more important question: does FrumForum have a purpose in a post or pre-President Perry world?

My answer, based on working in and writing about this world since 2010 is clear and unambiguous: Now More Than Ever.

The Conservative Movement is highly disciplined. This is why it has been incredibly successful. After the routing it received in 2008, the movement decided on what its core principles of opposition were going to be and stuck to them. They have managed to take this discipline to their elected offices where they push for the changes they want, and have kept constant pressure on the White House.

Every time a "moderate", "centrist", "modern", or "reality-based" Republican looked at the state of the GOP and went "this isn't the party for me", the movement got stronger. This self-selection process has not only made the GOP an ideologically homogenous party, it has turned it into a Vanguard Party the likes of which Lenin could only dream: when in the course of history has there been grassroots organizing by members of the middle class in favor of preserving low taxes on higher income earners?

You can argue that this is all "wrong" but this ignores the key fact: it works. The Bush Tax Cuts have been extended. They even got away with using the debt ceiling as a hostage in order to extract spending cuts. As an added benefit, the chaos from that debt ceiling debate seems to have weakened the economy making it more likely that Obama will lose in 2012.

So why mess with a good thing?

Because governing well and producing results matters too.

I graduated from college in 2009. I remember the Lehman shock and how my already tenuous employment prospects were given a work over I could not have predicted. An already stressful graduation was made even worse by the possibility that the country was going to enter a lost decade.

I have been luckier than others in this economy--but I still want to see the economy recover and restore the prosperity and growth that I remember vividly from my childhood in the 1990's.

I have been disappointed that conservatives, at both the grassroots level and the policy wonk level, seem to have completely misdiagnosed the problem. In their universe, the fact that aggregate demand has collapsed never enters into their analysis. In their universe, the Federal Reserve needs to go on a gold standard and induce a painful deflation. In their universe, the ultimate solution to the weak economy is to protect Medicare for all the people currently on it and give me a raw deal. It's like treating a heart attack by saying "Go on this diet plan and you will add 20 years to your life expectancy" instead of taking an aspirin.

I have been particularly disgusted by how conservatives seemed to have convinced themselves that the real cause of the weak economy is the insolvency of the entailments down the road in the 2030's. Matthew Continetti recently wrote a very long essay at The Weekly Standard which looks across the entire stretch of American history and has nothing of substance to say about what caused the most recent financial crisis beyond:

By the time 2011 rolled around it was clear that America was experiencing fiscal, institutional, and spiritual crisis. No one could doubt any longer that the federal budget was unsustainable. Both Republicans and Democrats saw the projections from the Congressional Budget Office: Left alone, entitlement spending would drive the national debt to multiples of GDP under which no economy can function.

His diagnosis has nothing to say about the actual causes of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. To start with, there is no acknowledgement of the fact that derivatives and rating agencies caused the financial crisis, not just the Community Reinvestment Act.

So what role does FrumForum and its affiliate voices have? To be the voice of reason that says: "I understand that's how your emotions make you feel, but here is what the numbers actually say."

The truth is painful to hear. Plato's Republic recounts the terrible fate of what happens to those who have broken off their chains in The Cave and come back to tell everyone that they are just staring at shadows on the wall:

And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

One of the more eye-opening experiences I had while at FrumForum was getting into a disagreement with another conservative journalist over some reporting I had done. We had both covered the same politician at a question-and-answer session, but my coverage of the event was much more critical and less hagiographical. The conservative journalist disputed my version of events--even though the journalists's own version of the transcript backed up my reporting.

The conservative movement needs more intellectual honesty and more self-criticism so that the policies implemented by conservatives are actually good for the country. Presidential Nominee Perry needs a strong and committed group of voices who say to him: We don't want to re-elect Obama, but if you want your Presidency to actually achieve results and genuinely make this country better, here is what facts and reality tell us to do.

Yes, we will receive flack for "attacking our own side." Yes, we will be the annoying truth-tellers who have the audacity to remind the world that Paul Ryan's own budget is unconstitutional according to the Balanced Budget Amendment. Yes, we will not shirk from an opportunity to point out when the Wall Street Journal's lede editorial is throwing inconvenient history down the memory hole.

And yes, we will stand up for Republicans who are more environmentally-minded, less religiously zealous, and don't think tax cuts are the answer to every problem under the sun. The insights and true knowledge that they bring to the table will not be denied.

Some think this sort of coverage is not popular or in demand. I check our analytics and get a daily stream of Google Alerts and letters to the editor that leads me to disagree. Some think that we are sabotaging and undermining the conservative movement. I argue that providing it with true knowledge only makes it stronger. Some think we are a fifth column. I argue that if we are, George Soros has yet to find the time to underwrite our operations and that this is because our skepticism of fiscal stimulus, our adoration of Michelle Rhee, and eagerness to see the NLRB be defeated in its efforts to stop Boeing make it clear we do not stand with the modern American left.

The Conservative Movement does not have a shortage of cheerleaders and "good cops". It has a deficit of buzz-kills who won't twist every news event into a conservative victory and journalists who won't parrot the memos that come from Fox News. Good conservative journalists do exist on other sites and work at publications in addition to FrumForum and they need to be supported. It's not an easy job, and it doesn't always win you friends, but it is a noble one.

Whether the nominee is Perry, Romney, Bachmann, or even Ron Paul, there needs to be a website reminding everyone that it is a collapse of aggregate demand that has weakened the economy, not Medicare's future insolvency. Because if we don't, no one else will.