Conservatives, It's Time to Dream Big and Defy the Stage of the Status Quo

COMMENTARY Conservatism

Conservatives, It's Time to Dream Big and Defy the Stage of the Status Quo

Dec 2nd, 2016 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY

Former President

After serving in the Senate, DeMint served as President of The Heritage Foundation.

Politics has been called the “art of the practical,” since the days of the Aristotle and Plato. The idea is that politics is not merely a theoretical science, but one that is actively put to use in the real world, guided by past experience and accumulated wisdom.

Over the centuries, some people have interpreted this in a rather limiting way. The architect of the German Empire in the 19th Century, Otto Von Bismarck, said “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable, the art of the next best.”

I suppose that’s right: we can’t promise our countrymen unicorns and rainbows. But this attitude too often treats politics as merely managing the status quo — counting votes and compromising to the lowest common denominator. That’s what a lot of people in Washington mean when they talk about politics: “the art of the possible.”

And yet, supposedly “impossible” things happen all the time.

During the Revolutionary War, for example, a small percentage of the Americans joined up with the Continental Army and local militias, and defeated the most powerful military in the world to win their independence. There was no reason — and certainly no prior experience — to suggest that they could accomplish that. But they dreamed that impossible dream and made it a reality.

Like military victories, political revolutions have also achieved the impossible. Barry Goldwater ran for the presidency and failed. It wasn’t even close. But his campaign and the ideas that animated it inspired millions — among them, Ronald Reagan. He, too, ran and failed — in 1976. Four years later, when Reagan ran again, he swept the country.

Newt Gingrich and the GOP did the same thing in 1994. Armed with the ideas written into the Contract with America, they ousted the Democratic majority that had ruled Congress for decades. Few people expected to see a Republican majority in the Capitol; many, in fact, called it impossible.

And, of course, we’ve had this year’s historic election.

Political experts — always practical — have been telling conservative for years that it’s impossible to repeal Obamacare, and that they were foolish to even try. We were told such efforts did nothing more than give Americans false hope.

We’ve been mocked and criticized by talking heads all across the country for refusing to heed their practical advice. Yet now, repeal is not only possible, it’s going to happen.

This is the heritage of conservatives: it’s our legacy to prove them wrong when they say that it’s impossible.

Many years ago, writing in the pages of the then-infant National Review, the philosopher Frank Meyer proposed that “impossible” politics are the only solution when standing against cultural forces that have rejected the founding principles of our society:

It [Politics] must be an art which, in terms of the accepted norms of a rotten society, is the art of the impossible. It must take as its standards concepts founded in truth and in the tradition of the West, but scorned today by the enlightened: the responsibility of individual men for themselves, their family and their future; the moral evil (not the “sickness”) of the criminal; and the moral excellence of patriotism; the shame of paternalism and the deep danger of government that amasses power beyond its natural limits.

This could just as well have been written today, so aptly does it apply to the political sea change we witnessed this year.

Of course, the more impossible the dream, the more desperate the sages of the status quo become to tell you it will never happen. They’ll call you foolish, a bigot, and a relic — bitterly clinging to unfashionable arms and scriptures. We’ve seen that too.

We must continue, as we always have, to push the boundaries of the political art, to make our best dreams a reality. 

Lord Cornwallis was said to have had his band play “The World Turned Upside Down” when his troops surrendered to the revolutionaries. Doubtless, it’s how those wearing safety pins and waving “Not my president” signs (and worse) are feeling today.

But what happened on Nov. 8 wasn’t the first impossible feat in American politics, and it surely won’t be the last. Even now, the horizon is filled with impossibles that are suddenly quite possible: giving healthcare back to doctors and patients; lowering, simplifying, and reforming our taxes; reviving economic growth and mobility; securing our borders; valuing the youngest, most vulnerable human lives; and letting all people live out their faith in peace.

We must continue, as we always have, to push the boundaries of the political art, to make our best dreams a reality.

This piece originally appeared in Conservative Review