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Taking the long term view on a policy agenda

By Scott Tibbs, May 29, 2015

After reading this editorial warning against perfection being the enemy of the good, I am convinced that we conservatives could learn a lot from Leftists in terms of political strategy and taking the long view of how to implement an agenda. Far too often, conservatives take an "all or nothing" approach that is self-defeating.

Let me use a sports analogy. You are on first down with ten yards to go, on your own twenty yard line, on the first play of the game. Is it better to throw four "hail Mary" passes for an immediate touchdown, or would it be better to try a mix of running and passing to gain a few yards at a time and advance down the field? Virtually no one would advise going for broke in that situation. But we conservatives do that legislatively all the time.

Look at the anti-smoking movement as an example of a strategy we could emulate but often do not. In 1970, it would have been unthinkable that there would be bans on smoking in "public places" in cities all across this nation, and anyone who suggested that a local government anywhere would even consider banning smoking in your private vehicle would have been dismissed as a lunatic. But they chipped away at smoking a little bit at a time, taking a long-term view. Had the anti-smoking movement attempted to implement what we have today in one single step in 1970, it would have never happened. Because they take the long view, smoking is much more restricted than it otherwise would have been.

By and large, the anti-abortion movement has followed this pattern. The goal is ultimately abolition of abortion, to grant all unborn babies full protection under the law. There are a few purists here and there, but the anti-abortion movement as a whole understands that this is a generational battle where we can save a few lives at a time on the way to saving all of them. But when it comes to fiscal discipline and limited government, conservatives often have no patience for a long-term political strategy to accomplish the goal of a smaller, less intrusive government.

The reality is that in Washington from 2011 to 2014, we only had one house of Congress, so any productive legislation to shrink the budget deficit (much less shrinking government as a whole) must go through a Senate controlled by Democrats and a President who is also a Democrat. Even with controlling both houses, Republicans still have to deal with filibusters and the threat that Barack Obama will veto anything that goes farther than he is willing to go. But conservative activists (especially the Tea Party) do not want to recognize the realities of Washington and complain that any compromise is "selling out" to Obama and the Democrats.

Now, could Republicans be more confrontational, and more aggressive in pursuing the agenda? Absolutely. I have often thought they should be more assertive, especially in stopping what Obama is doing through executive orders and so forth. Republicans could definitely get more accomplished if they would blink a lot less often. But the political realities of Washington are what they are, and we need to be realistic in what the Republicans in Congress are able to accomplish with the power they have.