Vladimir Lenin and Chester Carlson never met, and wouldn’t have gotten along well if they had. Samuel Johnson could have resolved that in a hurry.
It was Johnson, the 18th century seminal thinker and writer, who came up with this oft-plagiarized line: “Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging.”
Hanging in the balance right now is this nation’s economic, political and national survival. Time to focus.
At the dawn of the 20th century, Lenin wrote a tract calling for a revolutionary party, the Bolsheviks, to create a dictatorship of the proletariat, resulting in a socialist society. His title, plagiarized from a radical Russian novel by Nikolay Chernyshevsky and often later stolen by others, was “What Is to Be Done?”
Lenin’s answer to his own question created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The world now knows what a howling flop that answer became.
It was Carlson, the decent, generous American developer of xerography, who said, when asked why he endowed a think tank, “When things go really bad, the first question people with the most at stake ask is, Who’s thinking?”
This sums up the challenging dilemma confronting the Republican Party and conservatives generally: How to respond to Barack Obama’s crypto-socialist administration.
To begin with, it’s a false dilemma.
The worst thing conservatives could do is respond — that is, react. Almost by definition, that is the surest way to lose the political struggle with the far left in the next two, four, six or eight years.
Glum as everything may seem, these upcoming elections are the brightest opportunity conservatives have had in decades to win a decisive victory.
Most voters in America, still center-right, are not interested in hearing about who’s right or who’s wrong. Ever-increasingly, they will want to hear what’s going to work — as it affects their immediate lives.
They won’t care whether those ideas come from the left or the right. But they will certainly take careful note of who does present them and the voice in which they are explained.
At the national level, conservatives now enjoy, if that’s the right word, the luxury, if that’s the right word, of not being incumbents. Anyone who has ever been involved deeply in political incumbency can tell you it’s more fun being on the outside.
Incumbents have to juggle and wrestle every special interest, including those who supported and those who opposed their election. Non-incumbents can think more clearly about what’s best for the country, rather than what’s the easiest political course or the lowest political denominator.
Best of all, they can present those alternatives in affirmative, understandable language unencumbered by special-interest baggage.
To do that, conservatives must begin, right now, thinking before speaking.
One of those who obviously gets this is Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, who recently made the common-sense decision not to seek a Senate seat next year.
This catapults him into the ideal position from which to help fellow conservatives offer succinct, appealing alternatives to policies cobbled together by the Democratic Party majority in Congress and the incoming administration — who are already at sixes and sevens with one another.
Bush has suggested the possibility of a conservative “shadow government” as a highly visible counterpoint. That raises some fascinating pros and cons, inviting further discussions.
Regardless of whether a shadow government is the best way to go, Jeb Bush has given the best answer to Carlson’s and Lenin’s questions: Start thinking.
It comes at a time when Americans’ minds are focused on what gallows the future may hold for them and theirs.
John L. Perry, a prize-winning newspaper editor and writer who served on White House staffs of two presidents, is a regular columnist for Newsmax.com. Read John Perry's columns here.
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