Was John Stuart Mill right that conservatives are members of “the stupid party”? I used to scoff at that charge. Lately, alas, I have begun to harbor doubts. Maybe “stupid” is a bit of an overstatement. But how about “supine”? Can it be said the conservatives are “the supine party”? The evidence, I submit, is formidable.
You have probably noticed that the computers furnished to journalists these days come with the phrase “the Big Lie” programmed into them. It is impossible to write about the 2020 election, Donald Trump, the political environment, or your Aunt Mabel’s recipe for fudge brownies without encountering it.
A couple of days ago, CNN speculated about “Why Republicans won’t walk away from the ‘Big Lie’.” Ditto Politico, which assured its readers that “The ‘big lie’ lives on.” MSNBC weighed in with a story that the GOP was the “Party of the Big Lie.” Then there is the Washington Post which told its readers that Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” was about more than the “baseless and overwhelmingly debunked effort to call the results of the 2020 election into question.”
These examples easily could be multiplied a hundred-, a thousand-fold. There seems to be an unwritten rule (or, who knows, maybe it is written down in the stylebook by now) that you cannot write a column without declaring that any suggestion that the 2020 election was fraught with “irregularities”—which is a polysyllabic word for “fraud”—be described as “baseless,” “debunked” (“overwhelmingly debunked”), etc.
This tic is not confined to acknowledged leftists. It has also infected the prose and pronunciamentos of the entire anti-Trump fraternity. Thus we see soon-to-be-former Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) deriding Donald Trump and his repetition of “the Big Lie” in columns, speeches, and tweets. “The 2020 presidential election was not stolen,” she wrote. “Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their [sic] back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.”
The great thing about the phrase “The Big Lie,” of course, is its origins in the philosophy of Adolf Hitler. That gives the phrase, free and for nothing, an extra dollop of nastiness making it easier, for example, to describe supporters of Donald Trump as potential (or maybe actual) “domestic extremists,” “terrorists,” etc., because, after all, they support die große Lüge, recommended beforehand by Nazis, ergo what do you expect?
In my view, however, it is not CNN or MSNBC or even Liz Cheney who has demonstrated a true understanding of the nature of the Big Lie that is affecting our society. It is writers like Julie Kelly. Just a couple of days ago in American Greatness, Kelly hit the proverbial nail on the head (Jeeves would have said rem acu tetigit). “The ‘Big Lie,’” she wrote, “isn’t that the 2020 election was stolen; the ‘Big Lie’ is that it was fair and lawful.”
Bingo, as anyone who can pronounce mail-in ballots, unconstitutional changes to voting laws immediately before the election, or ballot harvesting knows full well. Stalin got it in one. Voting is fine, he said. We all want voting. What matters is who counts the votes. Thus, just as things are getting interesting in the Arizona vote audit, Joe Biden’s Justice Department is making noises about shutting it down.
Which brings me back to the question of whether conservatives are naturally members of the stupid or the supine party (the choices obviously are not mutually exclusive).
If you step back, a pattern emerges. At least since the election of 1968, every time a Republican has won, his victory has been deemed to be illegitimate by large swathes of the Democratic establishment and their flacks in the media industrial complex.
When Nixon won in ’68, it was illegitimate because he had convinced the South Vietnamese government to postpone peace talks until after the election. As James Piereson pointed out, Lyndon Johnson and other Democrats said this was an act of “treason.” When he won in ’72, it was illegitimate because of Watergate (which had no effect, zero, on the election). When Ronald Reagan won in 1980, it was illegitimate because (it was later revealed) his campaign had gotten access to Carter’s debate book. The election of 1984 presented an insuperable hurdle for this narrative because Reagan won 49 states.
But the Dems wheeled out the banners of illegitimacy again when George H.W. Bush won in 1988: it was all because of his “racially charged” (read “effective”) anti-crime ads. When George W. Bush won in 2000, the Left went nuts claiming that the election was illegitimate because it was really a process of “selection” by the Supreme Court not “election” by the people. When he won again in 2004, his campaign’s effective deployment of the swift-boat ads against John Kerry and sundry claims of “voter suppression” were said to have rendered his election illegitimate. And this brings us to the 2016 election. It was impossible that Donald Trump could win, therefore when he did win, it was only because of nefarious (though totally fabricated) help from Vladimir Putin. Thus was born the Russian collusion delusion.
It is a depressing litany. There are, I think, two main lessons to be drawn from it.
One lesson concerns the utter disregard for electoral integrity on the part of the Democrats. For them, Republicans, in so far as they espouse conservative ideas, are ontologically illegitimate, hence, should they somehow win an election, it cannot, by definition, be on the up-and-up. A corollary of this lesson is that any means necessary are allowed when it is a question of opposing Republican electoral victories.
A second lesson concerns the Republican reaction to Democratic charges of illegitimacy. With the one exception of Donald Trump, they ignore or downplay the charges. Many rank-and-file GOP politicians, I suspect, secretly agree with, or half agree with, their Democratic opponents. Witness the disgusting behavior of Liz Cheney, who has abandoned her constituency in Wyoming in order to represent Peggy Noonan and the Upper East Side of New York.
All of which leads me to conclude, with sadness, that Mill was on to something. Conservatives may not be the stupid party. I mean, consider Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Stacey Abrams (D-Ga.), or Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). Talk about tough competition in the stupidity sweepstakes! But there are good grounds for regarding Republicans—Trump and his allies excepted—as the supine party.
They just don’t seem to understand how politics is played. They are always going on about “losing with dignity,” “elevated conservatism,” and the like. Meanwhile, Democrats are dismantling the country, injecting the toxin of woke politics throughout the culture, even the U.S. military, and acting just as if they were being instructed by America’s enemies instead of being her duly elected representatives. If someone were to object that such supine behavior was itself a form of stupidity, I would reluctantly have to agree.