‘Kick the Can’ Politics and Diplomacy: A Short Course

My dissatisfaction with the GOP runs very deep. The birth of the Tea Party and the subsequent criticism of same by numerous establishment Republicans are strong indications that I am not alone in my opinions nor reasons for them.

The recent debt limit debacle is merely the most recent example of what I call ‘Kick the Can’ politics. Waffle long enough, and just about any issue – other than the economy, gay rights, abortion, education, climate change plus other miscellaneous environmental issues, evangelical Christians and self-detonating Islamists, of course – will fade from the consciousness of the electorate as newly minted crises and disasters become the coin of daily political exchange. All that generally remains in the collective memory of the electorate is a fuzzy image of an unsettled issue that was formed by a concurrent media barrage. Then it’s out-of-sight, mostly-out-of-mind, until someone decides to write a book that repaints the picture. Make the New York Times best seller list and you’ve created history almost out of thin air.

Bill Kristol, Harvard Ph.D. and former instructor at its Kennedy School of Government, was honored in 2005 by that esteemed institution when it recognized the 10th anniversary of Mr. Kristol’s founding of Weekly Standard magazine. On stage and taped, with Fred Barnes delivering the punch line, he confirmed my suspicion that political can kicking is not strictly unintentional:

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“That sums it up, pretty well.” Yes, indeed. A question I ask myself is, “Are there any Bush Presidency loose ends not left untied?” You may consider that unfair. However, the Bush II Administration’s taking of the path to inconclusiveness seemed fairly obvious to me back in 2002.

In April of that year, Laura Ingraham wrote a piece that was published in the Jewish World Review chiding conservatives for being ill at ease with the apparent course of the Administration:

April 24, 2002
The good news about conservatives versus Bush
by Laura Ingraham

It’s a story over which America’s left-leaning press has always salivated–Republican in-fighting.

The Washington Post goes front page Monday with an article titled “Bush Faces Sustained Dissension on the Right.” The article describes “a sense of disappointment” spreading across the GOP after President Bush seemed to undercut his own moral clarity in the war against terror by coming down hard on Israel for trying to beat back its own problems with terror.

Similar pieces chronicling a growing divide between Bush and conservatives on this and other issues (immigration, steel industry protections) have popped up elsewhere. Political reporters are positively gleeful, of course, since they’ve had precious little anti-Bush sustenance to feed on since 9/11.


So while there may be some near-term political costs from the fire the Administration is catching from the right, long-term it’s a healthy thing because it forces the Bush Administration to stay on its toes. And it’s working — more Americans see the GOP as the party of ideas. Meanwhile, the unified Democrats parrot the same tired slogans.

Problem is, parrots are rather long-lived.

Undeterred by my future standing as an amateur, neophyte political know-it-all, I immediately retorted in a letter sent via the editor of JWR:

April 24, 2002

Ms. Ingraham:

In addition to your Jewish World Review article of 24 April, “The good news about conservatives versus Bush,” I’ve read a few op-eds regarding conservative dissatisfaction with the Bush Presidency, specific decisions, or where policy appears headed.  There are reports of White House “spokespersons” making assertions minimizing the degree of dissent within conservative ranks.  I assert they’d be better off keeping their ears more open to the murmur before the chorus grows much louder.


The more the President tries to please everyone the less he’s going to please anyone.  Support remains high because of 9/11.  However, if Bush continues to whittle away at his conservative support by making more politically rather than philosophically motivated decisions, he will, in the long run, do neither himself nor the Republican Party much good.  A large contingent of the American public is totally fed up with “spin”, “continuous campaigning”, and all the rest of the political skulduggery.  It’s coming out of their ears!  Do what’s right because it’s right.  Not because you’re buying votes.

That’s what we have the Democrats for.

The rest is history.

But President Dubya outdid himself when he kicked the can, not just down the road but over to the Supreme Court, by signing the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation into law. This was an undisguised breaking of a specific Bush campaign promise. If there’s ever been a more egregious trashing of the First Amendment, I’ve no idea what it is. As I lamented during the presidential campaign of 2008:

The implications, ramifications and direct results of McCain-Feingold are legion and as yet not fully known or understood. The law not only provides a multi-faceted means of suppressing free speech, but adds another arrow to the litigation quiver of federal, state and local governments that have already grown too large, too expensive and too oppressive. We don’t have a Human Rights Commission on the order of the one in Canada that has triggered outrage amongst Canadians for its inquisition of writer Mark Steyn. But who can say in what form will next appear the reform avatar? We would be wise to remember that the Reform Institute is hard at work cooking up another political witches brew.

Presidential candidate John McCain has over the years said and done much. His military record and conduct as a prisoner of war are beyond reproach. He has earned his country’s respect and its undying gratitude. However, in and of itself, that is not fully qualifying for this nation’s highest office. We don’t owe John McCain the presidency. He is asking that Americans place their faith in him and that he will confirm their trust when he is in office. But we should require no assurance, nor need be given any promise, other than that offered when a President elect stands, takes the oath of office, and swears to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to Mr. McCain and his record regarding McCain-Feingold, I have some nagging doubts.

I fear that the Republican can kick regarding the debt limit, and their failure to impose any immediate spending discipline, will prove to be another regrettable GOP failure to act decisively in the face of a propaganda onslaught by the Democrats. How can we tell that kicking the can one more time won’t be once too often? And if we won’t try, time has already run out.

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