Monday, November 25, 2013

Reflections on Being an Army Veteran in the 21st Century


“What life to lead and where to go
After the War, after the War?
We'd often talked this way before.
But I still see the brazier glow
That April night, still feel the smoke
And stifling pungency of burning coke.
I'd thought: ‘A cottage in the hills,
North Wales, a cottage full of books,
Pictures and brass and cosy nooks
And comfortable broad window-sills,
Flowers in the garden, walls all white.
I'd live there peacefully and dream and write.’ ...”
- Robert Graves, 1916

“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are today not far from a disaster.”
- T.E. Lawrence, 1920

(Note: This meandering and rather lengthy essay is written primarily to my fellow alumni from Patrick Henry College.  It was produced by request for the November 2013 Issue of the Patrick Henry College Alumni Newsletter.  The editor who honored me with the request said that the word count did not matter.  His primary mistake was that he rather carelessly told this to a very undisciplined writer.  This is the first time I’ve ever written or said anything officially to my fellow graduates and alumni.  It is also only the second time that I’ve written anything that discussed being in Iraq.)

It still sounds strange for me to say this.  I am a veteran of the Iraq war.  I was deployed for one year, from 2006 to 2007, to active duty as a member of the U.S. Army Reserves.  When I arrived in Iraq, the new government had just taken office and the insurgency was on the upswing.  I was there right before the troop surge of 2007 and I was there at the time that Saddam Hussein was executed.

I was proud to serve in the 298th Transportation Company, United States Army Reserves, with a number of brave and selfless men and women who I watched risk their lives daily and selflessly.  When our gun truck platoon was told that it would be spending a year guarding and driving gasoline tankers up and down the country across the roads of Iraq, I watched my friends shrug it off with a sangfroid worthy of their American ancestry.  It reminded me of a story I once heard William F. Buckley tell about a general, trying on one rare occasion, as officers sometimes awkwardly do, to make conversation with the enlisted men during a spit-‘n-polish inspection.  “Why do you like to do such an insane thing like jumping out of an airplane?” he asked a nearby paratrooper.  “Oh, I don’t like to, sir.  I hate it every single jump. It scares the hell out of me,” the paratrooper replied.  “Then why on earth do you do it?”  The answer goes a long way to explaining how many veterans feel about each other.  “I do it,” the paratrooper replied, “because I just like to be around the sort of people who like to jump out of airplanes.”

It is now a running joke that, whenever asked by some new acquaintance who has discovered for the first time that I was in the war, I’ll answer by boasting I was given the distinct privilege of being shot at inside the city of Nineveh.  But that isn’t quite true.  The hostile city I experienced, which possessed a seemingly infinite number of enemy roadblocks making it a pain in the rear to drive through, was Mosul.  Mosul is actually built upon the ancient ruins of Nineveh along the Tigris river.  Jonah notwithstanding, if there is anything the people of that city have yet to “repent” of, it is their enthusiasm for making it extremely uncomfortable for any westerners who should dare to venture inside their walls.

Our platoons took turns going out on missions.  Some missions lasted for a couple hours.  Some missions lasted for sixteen hours or more.  It became so commonplace for IEDs to explode in or on the side of the road every single mission, that their blowing holes in the road just became humdrum routine.  Eight times out of ten, they missed us.  Once out ten, they would manage merely to send shrapnel through the tires of our vehicles.  So I saw a little action over there.  Yet my company and I were blessed.  We all made it.  I made some other friends outside my own company.  A few of them went out on missions and never came back.

It was the sort of thing we talked about - the possibility of not making it back.  But it was too easy to reassure ourselves because of who we were and where we were from.  We’d continually compare the action that we’d seen to the action that our fathers, uncles and grandfathers had seen.  (I have one uncle who made it back from Vietnam and one great-uncle who didn’t.  I am also very proud of the fact that both of my grandfathers served with distinction in the Pacific theater of WWII.)  The “combat” we were experiencing in Iraq was nothing compared to what the men in past generations had seen and suffered through in other wars.  How on earth could we complain about what we were seeing once we compared ourselves to them?

I will never forget attending Patrick Henry College on September 11, 2001. The whole school shut down that day.  All our classes were very solemn and full of continual prayer for weeks afterward.  It was seared into our minds that we were now living in a new world, different from anything our country had ever experienced before.  Grief was first above all else.  But the next feeling was one of profound frustration.  I had already resolved, as a matter of family tradition, to serve in the Army.  But there is a strong sense in which, no matter how you are working in academics or politics, you can often feel like you aren’t doing anything that really matters. After graduating in the first graduating class, I walked off the platform in May of 2002 straight into boot camp.  My degree at Patrick Henry helped secure my acceptance to George Mason University School of Law.  I was never going to pursue a military career, but I was obligated, like so many of my historical heroes, to still participate in my generation’s war.

Neither will I forget the international relations and foreign policy classes I attended at PHC.  It was at our school that I first thoroughly studied and learned how empires have risen and fallen over the course of history.  It was at our school that I realized that there are lessons, even in the Peloponnesian War of the 400s BC, that still contain matters of great importance for us now.  Because I attended our school, I knew when I trod the desert sands of Iraq that others who believed in the principles of Western Civilization had trod them before me.  I experienced some unpleasantness there.  But so did Xenophon and his fellow Greek hoplites, outnumbered by tens of thousands of Persians, after they held back their enemy in the Battle of Cunaxa and then, leaderless, had to fight their way over a thousand miles back to the Black Sea.

It makes being in a foreign land and fighting what seems like a confused war far more meaningful if you pay attention to military history.  It turns out, I was fighting in merely one of a long series of conflicts between the East and the West.  I was in the same troubled country that had once been conquered by Alexander the Great.  The consequent Greco-Persian wars covered five decades.  It was a land that was later part of the Parthian Empire, conquered by Rome, established as a province by Trajan, evacuated as a province by Hadrian, and conquered again by the Roman general, Lucius Verus.  The Roman-Persian wars lasted for over seven centuries, as Roman legions did something very similar to what American troops were doing for the last decade.  The Crusaders of the Medieval Ages fought in what are now the cities of Iraq.  The Ottoman Empire was in conflict with the West for over six centuries. The British had to fight the Ottoman Central Powers there during World War I, and then they tried to keep order, often bungling it for which T.E. Lawrence so eloquently took them to task.

Western armies have entered the Middle East, defeated the enemy and then sat around superfluously until they eventually retreated over and over again.  It is useless to criticize American involvement in the Middle East without studying this history.  Asking why we were in Iraq is a question that cannot be satisfactorily answered without asking why East and West have been in conflict since antiquity.

My understanding of why I was there changed permanently when I made friends with an Iraqi.  For purposes of this essay, I’ll call him Zaid instead of his real name.  Zaid worked on a U.S. Army base, providing information regarding local cities to us despite death threats that had been made against him and his family.  He told me about how excited he still was about voting in the last Iraqi parliamentary election.  Al-Qaeda had threatened to attack the polling booths and then demonstrated that they were not bluffing, killing and bombing would-be voters standing in line across the country.  Knowing that this was happening, Zaid and his wife stood in line waiting to vote for over four hours.  When I asked him why, he gave me an answer that I will never forget: “We have never NEVER had real elections before.  We want to be different now and voting has changed us forever.”  In other words, for thousands of years, the people there have never before possessed self-government.  Now, at least, they have a beginning.

But this isn’t to say that we should expect them to be just like us.  “We ought not to be surprised,” wrote Russell Kirk, “that men and nations resist desperately - often unreasoningly - any attempt to assimilate their character to that of some other body social.  This resistance is the first law of their being, extending below the level of consciousness.  There is one sure way to make a deadly enemy; and that is to propose to anyone, ‘Submit yourself to me, and I will improve your condition by relieving you from the burden of your peculiar identity and reconstituting your substance in my image.”  The East has a great richness of culture, art, religion and wisdom.  Much of this historical richness has been destroyed by radical Islam, but we have to understand how influences from the West have been destroying it too.

Archie Roosevelt, in his 1988 book, For Lust of Knowing: Memoirs of an Intelligence Officer, wrote that in “Baghdad and Tehran the charms of the old Islamic cities were losing the battle to the banalities of secondhand Western modernity.”  Roosevelt worked for years in the Middle East, and he described how in many cities there, “hordes of automobiles, squeezed together by rush-hour jams and traffic lights” had crowded out the very existence of local communities.  Families were being broken apart as individual family members take “employment as guards, taxi drivers, and members of the lower scale bureaucracy.”  A new technocratic elite is increasingly regulating the lives of local communities and families, and this kind of organization has been ushered in by Western influence.  Commercialization is entering the Middle East.  When I was there, I watched the number of McDonalds’s and Burger Kings that were setting up in Iraqi cities double in number.  These are not necessary accoutrements to self-government.

One of the reasons I decided to serve in the U.S. military was because I learned at our school that it was precisely the military experience of some of our founding fathers that gave them insights into the reality of how government worked.  Washington and Hamilton both had learned, firsthand, how the powers of a Confederate Congress worked when they attempted to obtain financial and logistical support for the army during the Revolutionary War.  It is no coincidence that the institutions and limitations of our constitutional order was designed by many men who learned practical political lessons by their experience in war.  You can even see it at the Constitutional Convention.  The voices of those who only sat in political office during the war ring with a different tone in the debates than the more urgent voices of those who personally fought in the war.

So how, as a veteran, is my point of view now different?

I’d confess that, because of my experience, there are some ways in which my point of view should carry less weight.  I’d also argue there are ways in which it should carry more.

In order that you may know how to take a veteran’s point of view cautiously, let’s first consider the disadvantages of being a veteran.  There is a real sense in which life in the military is unhealthy for the soul.  I didn’t go through any greatly tragic or searing experiences that many other of my fellow service members went through.  I don’t have post-traumatic stress disorder.  But those problems aside, military life and war still influence the participant unhealthily.  In the training process, mentally you have to steel yourself against feeling.  After experiencing a combat environment where you could endanger the lives of your friends by making even one single tiny mistake, after living in a state of constant vigilance and lack of security every day for a year, you develop mental habits that are not always going to be desirable in civilian life.

I believe in the faculty of free will and I believe influences do not impare one’s will.  I am still morally culpable for every choice that I’ve made.  But that does not change the fact that, since my military service, I now lack empathy in a way that I didn’t before.  Empathy is one of the basic requirements for close personal relationships, but my experience has roughened (or corroded) my ability to relate to others as Christianity teaches I ought.  This is an advantage in emergencies.  Everyone else around me can be upset, stressed out or even shouting, and I will stay utterly calm, ready to act with ruthless efficiency despite the feelings in the room.  It is often a disadvantage at being a human being.  My personal relationships with friends and family have suffered because of this.  There was, for example, a lovely young lady that I was growing closer to before I left for Iraq.  It sounds too dramatic to say that the deployment changed who I was.  The alterations were often small, gradual and subtle.  But I grew less empathetic, more callous, and even more coarse, towards her.  She noticed and rightly drew away.

My faults are my own, but I can also see how being a veteran has decreased my own personal responsibility.  When you live for an extended period of time doing a job that is literally a matter of life and death, when you have watched other people at the very moment when they deliberately try to kill you, when you have ducked so as not to be torn in half by gunfire, it is often very difficult to view other less demanding things in life as priorities.  I now work in the law.  There is occasionally a “crisis” at my office concerning what we’ll call the filing of paperwork.  I simply cannot feel any sense of urgency about paperwork.  I happily work hard at things.  I’m willing to commit to finishing things.  But the excitement or the adrenaline rush I used to feel in accomplishing simple workday tasks under pressure is now gone.  I’ve talked to other veteran friends and they’ve said they share this same problem.  Basic adult responsibilities have been neglected in my life as a result of this attitude.  If you happen to know other veterans who have seen combat, understanding this about them will do much to your understanding why they sometimes act the way they do.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

On Houses Divided vs. Houses That Need Cleaning

On October 28, 2013, Ramesh Ponnuru & Rich Lowry posted an essay over at National Review analyzing the fallout from this whole sordid government shutdown business.  The essay is full of a number of well-timed common sense tactical observations.  Summing it up, Lowry & Ponnuru strongly denounce the blind insistence upon ideological purity that leads to much strutting and fretting upon the media stage, but inevitably ends like a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.  This essay is the sort of thing that conservatives are strangely somehow in great need of today.  Over recent years, it has not been exactly clear just how many conservatives there are for whom the word “tactical” is included in their vocabulary.

It is quite refreshing that Lowry & Ponnuru do not mince words.  The problem is basic: there is a kind of politics that ought to have no place in conservatism.  Furthermore, this insight is not new.  The government shutdown was only the most recent instance of what keeps happening when one particular faction of the Republican Party controls the leadership:

“[The government shutdown] was the latest and most consequential expression of an apocalyptic conservative politics. It is a politics of perpetual intra-Republican denunciation. It focuses its fire on other conservatives as much as on liberals. It takes more satisfaction in a complete loss on supposed principle than in a partial victory, let alone in the mere avoidance of worse outcomes. It has only one tactic — raise the stakes, hope to lower the boom — and treats any prudential disagreement with that tactic as a betrayal. Adherents of this brand of conservative politics are investing considerable time, energy, and money in it, locking themselves in unending intra-party battle.” [emphasis added]

Thus, strategically, the insistence upon ideological purity is one of the best plans for guaranteed failure.  In the real world, refusal to compromise nets zero results.  It also strips away all those who would have agreed with a primary position, merely because they aren’t interested in taking such a position all the way to its nth-most extreme.  This shrinks what often is already a minority, burns bridges, and encourages the desertion of many natural allies from the ranks.

“An emphasis on purity — even when defined essentially by matters of style and attitude rather than policy views — has too often kept such allies out of power. It has led Republican primary voters on several occasions to choose candidates who lost races that mainstream conservatives would likely have won. William F. Buckley Jr. said that conservatives should support the rightwardmost viable candidate, with viability understood to include the ability to make the case for conservatism in a way voters will find compelling. For the purists, viability is an unacceptable compromise. Which leads us to such candidates as Sharron Angle ... National Review joined the purists in supporting Richard Mourdock in Indiana, too, and that turned out to be a mistake. Too many conservatives have not admitted it or drawn appropriate conclusions.”

Don't forget both Christine O’Donnell and Ken Buck (who all but gift-wrapped Senate seats for the Democrats).  If conservatives are not careful, the 2014 elections (traditionally favorable to the party outside the White House) may cause more harm than good.  There is evidence that has been piling up over the years that Tea Party candidates who win in the primaries very often give up elections to the Democrats even in districts that have Republican majorities.  This can only mean that there is something defective about certain types of candidates.  (There are many who learned this long ago in elementary school.)

Lowry & Ponnuru’s warnings here are timely and much needed.  There is currently a strategic problem among conservative leadership, and recent failure has been based upon some fundamentally false assumptions:

“The key premise that has been guiding these conservatives, however, is mistaken. That premise is that the main reason conservatives have won so few elections and policy victories, especially recently, is a lack of ideological commitment and will among Republican politicians. A bigger problem than the insufficient conservatism of our leaders is the insufficient number of our followers. There aren’t enough conservative voters to elect enough officials to enact a conservative agenda in Washington, D.C. — or to sustain them in that project even if they were elected. The challenge, fundamentally, isn’t a redoubling of ideological commitment, but more success at persuasion and at winning elections. [emphasis added]

Unfortunately, Lowry & Ponnuru can’t even make common sense warnings of this sort without being attacked - and the attacks derive from within their own camp.  On October 29th, editor-in-chief of, Erick Erickson, tore into National Review for even making this argument in the first place.  Unlike more traditional online conservative writers (see Ross Douthat, Rod Dreher or Alan Jacobs), Erickson appears to represent a new and popular brand of “conservative” that is currently more trendy these days over at CNN and FoxNews. was launched in 2004.  Erickson is also a radio talk-show host not known for temperance at, as Buckley used to say, “the rhetorical or bombastic level.”  To see the rather disconcerting nature of his rhetoric, all you have to do is listen to Erickson actually talk for a couple minutes anywhere on the news or on youtube.

Mr. Erickson’s counterpoints to Lowry & Ponnuru's essay demonstrate a profound unfamiliarity with traditional conservative thought.  He attempts to back up his first point by referring to Buckley’s 1955 mission statement for National Review, noting that Buckley “did not mention winning elections” and that, instead, Buckley encouraged “standing athwart history yelling stop.”  First, it is not entirely clear if Mr. Erickson understands that Buckley’s language was intended to be taken metaphorically rather than literally.  As one continues to read Mr. Erickson, one comes away from his writing with the distinct impression that actually “yelling stop” may be one of his preferred methods of debate over at  Secondly, reading his attempt to argue that it is meaningful that Buckley did not mention winning elections in one notable column, one can only conclude either (a) that Mr. Erickson has not really read much of Buckley, or (b) that he decided to deliberately ignore what Buckley actually did say about winning elections.

When asked who are the best types of candidates that a conservative should support, Buckley replied: “The wisest choice would be the one who would win. No sense running Mona Lisa in a beauty contest. I’d be for the most right, viable candidate who could win. If you could convince me that Barry Goldwater could win, I’d vote for him.”  (And, apparently at least someone over at has heard of this rule before.)

The Goldwater example is, in fact, instructive.  While Goldwater did garner the support of Buckley and National Review in the mid-1960s, the interesting story is how he was able to do so.  At the time, supporting Goldwater was a matter of controversy over at National Review.  William Rusher and Brent Bozell were among the first to support him.  On the other hand, James Burnham and Buckley’s sister, Priscilla, did not and warned against the consequences of supporting him.  But Goldwater eventually gained the support of both Buckley and Russell Kirk before the Republican Primary by initially agreeing with them to distance himself from members of the John Birch Society.  This agreement, however, did not last very long.  Carl T. Bogus explains:

“In the end - and to his undoing - it was Barry Goldwater who accommodated himself to the John Birch Society.  Some of his advisers begged him not to do it.  Nevertheless, when he accepted his party’s nomination for president in July 1964, Goldwater stood before the Republican National Convention and declared, ‘I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.’  Cheers shook the Cow Palace in San Francisco.  Goldwater had to wait more than forty seconds before he could deliver the companion line: ‘And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!’  The audience leaped to its feet.  Everyone understood that Goldwater had just said that the John Birch Society was okay by him.  Richard Nixon, who had introduced Goldwater, grabbed his wife Pat’s arm to keep her from rising with the crowd ...”

This was ultimately disappointing for the crowd at National Review.  Goldwater had disregarded the advice of both Buckley and Kirk, and this disregard contributed to his loss of the 1964 election.  Burnham’s warnings about Goldwater had ultimately proved to be correct. Reflecting on this later, Buckley wrote bemusedly that “Goldwater had learned too late the lesson that one must guard against any use of a word which, for many, amounted to a call to immoral ends ... It was so in 1964 with the word ‘extremism.’  It could not be hygienically used in any affirmative context.”

Also, when asked, during another conversation about Goldwater, about which “failures of the conservative movement in the past ten to twenty years” most distressed him, Buckley answered that he understood the conservative argument against voting for Goldwater.  However: “In any case, that was not by any means my idea of the great disappointment of the sixties.  That was the failure, on the whole, to verbalize more broadly, more convincingly, the conservative view of things.  The conservative critique has been very well made, but it hasn’t got through with sufficient force to the opinion makers.  It is still hard as hell to find a young conservative with writing talent.  That distresses me deeply.”

In other words, according to Buckley, the conservative failure that the entire Goldwater episode demonstrated was one a failure of persuasion.  Poor conservative persuasive skill is a direct result of ignoring practical considerations.  Lack of self-restraint and associating oneself with extreme points of view detracts from one’s persuasive power.  These are the considerations that Mr. Erickson completely misses.  These same strategic considerations regarding candidates who cannot persuasively articulate the conservative position also equally apply to the tactics used by elected conservatives members of government.  This is one of Lowry & Ponnuru’s most convincing critiques of the recent government shutdown:

“The defunding campaign was the legislative equivalent of the hopelessly ill-suited candidate — and, like many of those candidates, it drew support from people who see politics primarily in terms of purity, confrontation, and willpower. The contrast to the Democrats’ behavior in 2009 and 2010 is instructive. They were willing to muscle through a health-care bill even though the public opposed it, and even though some of them realized it would cost them seats. Republicans should have a similar commitment to better causes. But they should also note that Democrats used this maneuver only when they had the votes — large majorities in both houses of Congress, control of the White House — to pull it off. They did not take a large political risk while having no plausible way to gain a policy victory to show for the potential costs.”

But Erickson dismisses National Review’s point here with contempt: “Now, instead of standing athwart history yelling stop, National Review spends 3,591 words to tell conservatives to stop fighting until they win ... I await the well-fed editors apologizing for the Goldwater candidacy. At this point, it is only a matter of time.”  Making cheap shots like this ignores the lessons that conservatives learned from the Goldwater candidacy.  For our purposes, the whole point is that the Goldwater campaign went off the rails, turning towards precisely the type of uncompromising rhetoric that Erickson supports.

“The truth,” argues Erickson, “is that Obamacare is deeply destructive and an assault on individual liberty. It should be fought by all means, with or without a Senate majority or White House. The fight should not depend on electoral outcomes and should not be delayed pending reinforcements, many of whom will flee the field once elected.”  But that’s just the problem, who wins the fight does depend on electoral outcomes.  The reality is that conservatives have to return back to convincing the public of their positions or they will never advance any further conservative objectives.  But Erickson doesn’t care:

“The present editors of National Review, over the last several years, have made it clearer and clearer that they now speak mostly for the well-fed right and not for conservatives hungering for a fight against the leviathan. They have made their peace with the New Deal ...”  But hungering for a fight isn’t enough.  Mere opposition, without even the a minimal plan for success, will never reverse anything.  Drawing a proper distinction between fighting now and living to fight another day is not making peace with the philosophical consequences of the New Deal.

Erickson’s contempt contrasts sharply with National Review’s respect for the more energetic elements with in the Tea Party movement.  Lowry & Ponnuru are happy to point out that the “groups that pushed defunding play an important role in galvanizing grassroots sentiment. The insistence on conservative rigor can exercise a welcome influence in fights like the one over the farm bill, in which inertia and self-serving Republican politics are at their worst and many of the same groups that supported defunding urged a better, more reformist course. Their willingness to go out and fight is indispensable.”  And yet, a willingness for a fight alone isn’t enough.  Effective politics means picking and choosing your battles.  Some fights are unrealistic in a government specifically designed so as not to be shaped by sheer brute power.

So how exactly is it that have we stopped caring about reality?

“Conservative groups that have internalized the apocalyptic view of politics believe the most effective model for gaining ground is simply pressuring Republicans to be more confrontational. The first step of the defunding strategy was not to persuade most Republicans that it was a good idea; it was to force them to go along with it whether or not they agreed. So the defunders prevented the majority of House Republicans, who disagreed, from being able to follow a different approach, and threatened to run primary opponents against some of them. Then they began to insist that Republicans who remained critical were dishonorably breaking the party’s (coerced) unity.”

In fact, there is a whole other story here about how Ted Cruz and Rand Paul pushed past the more realistic options for working out real compromise that other conservatives like Paul Ryan were negotiating for.  Instead, when Republican leadership caved and stumbled, Paul Ryan was ignored and the “defunders thus filled a vacuum — but filled it badly. And they did not supply what the leaders most woefully lacked. Neither group has promoted a free-market health-care plan of the kind that would have to be part of any plausible strategy to replace Obamacare.”

The editors of National Review are, in fact, pleading here against despair.  The leaders that produced the government shutdown are implicitly acting, for all intents and purposes, as if winning elections are now beyond hope.  Rushing to make stands against the inevitable without waiting for the right moment;  insisting on votes before they have the opportunity to collect the necessary majority; demanding that the other side give in when the other side obviously can tell  that you are bluffing ... all these maneuvers are the tactics of a mind-set that has given up on winning elections and persuading the electorate.


“There is no alternative to seeking to expand the conservative base beyond its present inadequate numbers and to win the votes of people who aren’t yet conservatives or are not yet conservatives on all issues. The defunders often said that those who predicted their failure were ‘defeatists.’ Yet it is they who have given in to despair. They are the ones who entertain the ideas that everything has gotten worse; that the last few decades of conservative thought and action have been for nothing; that engagement in politics as traditionally conceived is hopeless; that government programs, once begun, must corrupt the citizenry so that they can never be ended or reformed; that the country will soon be past the point of regeneration, if it is not there already.”

The only way that conservatives will enact legislation to reform health care, to reform the budget, to put in place a reasonable plan to decrease the debt, and to stop the incredible recent exponential growth of government spending, will be to put such legislation up to a vote.  Need we really explain this any further?  (To win a vote, you submit your legislation to a vote after you have collected enough votes to win.  Refusing to do anything as blackmail in order to force the other side to give in accomplishes nothing.  The refusing-to-do-anything-strategy has historically helped one political party to enact exactly no legislative reform whatsoever.)

Scott Johnson wrote that “Erickson’s response illustrates one of the phenomena that Lowry and Ponnuru decry in Cruz’s leadership.”  It almost appears as if Erickson doesn’t care if the conservatives win.  If the point is to find a public spotlight in which to demonstrate one’s ideological purity, then Ted Cruz and the defunders’ strategy was successful.  If the point is to eventually change Obamacare and/or replace it with a plan that is at least somewhat designed to account for Economic 101, then Erickson is not helping.

Not only is he not helping, but, considering the press coverage Erickson has been able to attract, he might as well be working against conservatives.  The news of the last week has been of the “house divided against itself cannot stand” variety.  MSNBC was happy to report that the “ideological civil war inside the Republican Party is well underway.”  Jonathan S. Tobin, at Commentary Magazine, enthusiastically explains that: “Those parachuting into this debate from the outside will struggle mightily to see what the two sides disagree about in terms of principles or policies and will discover little evidence of any actual split on anything of importance. All participants oppose President Obama’s policies and ObamaCare. They’d like to see the president replaced by a conservative at the next presidential election and ObamaCare to be repealed. But that unity of purpose isn’t enough to prevent what is starting to take on the appearance of an all-out civil war within the ranks of the conservative movement.”

This is not what conservatives need right now, but Tobin may not be that far off from the truth.  If enough conservatives are not paying attention, they will allow electable candidates to be replaced by mere core-base-pleasing unelectable candidates.  The Democrats will then increase their majority in the Senate and even threaten a considerable number of seats in the House.

“It’s too soon to know for sure, but right now I’m starting to think that those inclined to pooh-pooh the chances for a genuine split are wrong. If that portion of the conservative base listens to Cruz and Erickson they are going to spend much of the next year trying to exact revenge on the senator’s critics. And if that means helping to knock off genuine conservatives like McConnell who will almost certainly be replaced in the Senate not by more Cruz clones but by liberal Democrats, they think it’s no great loss because such people are more interested in purifying the GOP than in beating the Democrats ... This drama will be played out in many states next year in the midterm elections, but it will come to a head in 2016 when a single formidable moderate conservative may possibly be opposed by a split field of right-wingers in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.”