Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Dan McLaughlin offers a brilliant, Christmas-themed argument against political despair; chock full of facts and logic, and also of moments like this:

Progress, I know, is frustratingly slow, and backsliding all too common. But that is the nature of a Republic—“if we can keep it.”...When George Washington found that the Revolution he had labored for had produced a failing state, he did not retreat in a snit to Mount Vernon to let the British re-invade, he waded into the Constitutional Convention to strengthen it. When Ronald Reagan lost the primaries in 1976, he redoubled his effort to sell conservative ideas while tailoring his own more narrowly, enabling him to win in 1980.

We can get results. We can change the world together. And we don't need perfect people in government to do it. I never thought I'd live to see the end of the Soviet Empire. I never thought I'd live to see the Democrats' 40-year control of the House broken. I never thought I'd live to see New York City cleaned up of crime. All those things arrived after decades of failed or apparently failed attempts to bring them about; the steady stream finally broke the dam. It has been, perhaps, too long since we have seen those kinds of vivid results at the national level, but victory after long persistence can be the most rewarding kind of all.

The key to his argument, it seems to me, is to abandon our illusions about politics and especially political parties. There is no law of physics keeping the GOP conservative or even honest. (In fact, it strikes me that these days the primary obstacle to conservatism is not “moderation” or liberalism or softness or cowardice among the GOP leadership, but simply their selfish lack of interest in anything but their own comfort.) If we despair of expecting a world in which things go our way naturally, we just might get a world in which things go our way artificially, i.e. through enormous effort.

Everything in his column seems right to me in the short term. In the long term, we are going to have to not only act more effectively within the two-party system but save the two-party system. Someone in a blog comment I saw this week made the statement “if only one party obeys the constitution, there is no constitution.” That's correct, and it means we can't accomplish all we need to accomplish through conservative politics. An even more far-reaching despair about transcendent politics is needed; it is not just the GOP but the Constitution and the Democratic Party that need saving. But that larger despair will also, I hope and believe, make possible a larger success. Ultimately the question is whether we can share this country, and I still think the answer is yes.

Merry Christmas, America.

Greg Forster is the author of six books and the co-editor of three books, including John Rawls and Christian Social Engagement: Justice as Unfairness.

More on: Politics

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles