We’ve been hearing a lot this campaign season about “conservative principles.” Some of the tea party conservatives held out on the payroll tax bill because it was only a short-term fix and didn’t make economic sense. And so, voting for it would violate their “conservative principles.”
Never mind that it’s the Republicans who look bad because House conservatives held out for a better payroll tax bill. Never mind that they could have walked away days ago and claimed victory, since the Senate bill (and the one the House finally agreed to) was a winner for Republicans. The bill forces President Obama to make a final decision on whether or not he’ll give the green light to the Keystone XL pipeline, a decision he was hoping to put off until after the election. Now he’s got a problem: If he votes to proceed with the pipeline, he risks losing some of his progressive base, mostly environmentalists. If he says he won’t proceed with the pipeline, he risks losing blue-collar union workers. Forcing the president to make a decision by early next year is a win for Republicans, a win they could have had without the delay that makes them look like obstructionists.
The headline on ABC News.com said, “House Republicans Cave on Payroll Tax Cut Extension. On the CBS News Web site, readers saw this: “House GOP takes a political beating in payroll tax fight.” But it wasn’t just the so-called mainstream media that was taking shots at the GOP. Conservatives like Senator John McCain and Karl Rove and the Wall Street Journal editorial page said it was a mistake for the House to hold out for a long-term extension.
“There’s no doubt this hurts the Republican Party, and that bothers me a great deal, as a Republican,” McCain said.
Here’s a bulletin: We don’t live in a theoretical world where principle always trumps everything else. On certain matters – life and death issues, for example – standing on principle is the right thing to do. We should not expect someone who believes abortion is murder to compromise on the issue. But to stand on principle over a payroll tax bill isn’t noble. To the outsider it doesn’t look like it has anything to do with principle, but everything to do with partisan politics.
I have principles. One of them is that I refuse to give my hard earned money to some lazy bum simply because I have it and he wants it. I’ll give my money to people who work for me or sell me something or sometimes just to people I like in the form of a gift. But if a mugger comes up to me, puts a gun to my head and demands my money, I’m going to be realistic. Besides, after he shoots me he’s going to take my money anyway. Did I violate my principles by forking over my money to this sleaze ball? I guess so but only a fool would not.
I can understand the frustration of tea party conservatives. They didn’t go to Congress to piddle around with measly payroll tax deductions that last only two months and create exactly no jobs. They went to Washington to accomplish bigger things. I’m with them. But in the real world, the man or woman of principle can come off looking like an obstructionist. The man or woman of principle can do a lot of damage to his or her cause. Sometimes you have to give in. In the payroll tax debate, lots of conservative Republicans in the Senate had already voted to accept the bill. But to the “real conservatives” in the House, I guess they weren’t conservative enough.
That kind of rigid thinking could get Barack Obama re-elected. Moderates and independents – the crucial voters in the 2012 election – don’t care much for Mr. Obama’s politics. That’s the good news for Republicans. The bad news is that care even less for those “real conservatives” in Congress who should be smart enough to know what The Gambler knew: You have to know when to hold ’em … and know when to fold ’em.