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The War Room: If You Would Rather Be Right Than President … Find Something Else to Do

Wednesday, 04 June 2003 12:00 AM

In the last two War Rooms, I tried to persuade Christian conservatives to respect the limits of the political arena and become more effective in the process. In American politics, no one is going win majorities if they appear to exclude ethnic, religious or racial minorities or to target them for persecution. That is a simple political fact.

As it happens, Christians are themselves regularly persecuted in America's political culture by the forces of the secular left, more specifically by the gay left, which disrespects their moral beliefs and invades their communities and schools with anti-Christian agendas.

But the Christian conservatives to whom I directed my comments had put themselves in a position where it was they – not their antagonists – who appeared to be the persecutors, attempting to quarantine and stigmatize a homosexual group.

By not distinguishing the homosexual left from homosexuals as a group, the conservatives were turning what could be a winning political position into a morality-induced political defeat.

My point was this: Theology is one thing; politics is another. The political arena is about regulating the interactions of the diverse members of our pluralistic polity, many of whom we disagree with and some of whom we despise. It is not about saving souls, making people moral or getting them into heaven.

Moreover, the failure to understand these limits will lead to politics that are self-defeating. The American public will reject any political party that attempts to legislate moral behavior that does not harm others. Homosexual relations between consenting adults harm no one.

(On the other hand, promiscuous gay sex during an epidemic and opposition to testing, contact-tracing and other proven public health methods – all of which are part of the gay left's agenda – do.)

Consequently, the American voting public will reject any political effort that seeks to declare homosexuality, as such, immoral or illegal. If Christian conservatives want to achieve their agenda of blocking the gay left's aggressions on families, schools and the public health system, they will have to be much more careful as to how they formulate their demands.

I failed in my effort to persuade Christian conservatives – or at least the conservative leaders to whom I addressed my remarks. Although many of their critical responses – for example, the remarks by Robert Knight and the Rev. Lou Sheldon – were fraternal, they rejected my advice.

Since the tactical principle I was trying explicate applies to all political players, I thought it might be helpful if I discussed two additional examples of self-defeating political strategies – one from the moralistic left and another from the moralistic (but not necessarily theological) right.

A movement seeking reparations for the remote descendants of black slaves is being conducted by the left wing of the Democratic Party led by Rep. John Conyers. Even as I write this (Saturday, May 30, 2003), there is a demonstration in support of the reparations claim going on in Los Angeles led by Congressman Conyers and backed by the city's black establishment.

As it happens, Los Angeles' left-wing City Council has already passed an ordinance requiring corporations that do business with the city government to provide records of any past business dealings that precursors of their companies may have had with the slave system in the American south.

The agenda of the movement and today's demonstration is to support lawsuits that have been filed against major American corporations whose ancestor companies are alleged to have been beneficiaries of American slavery.

The more ambitious agenda is to regain a Democratic Party majority in the House of Representatives so that Conyers can get his reparations bill out of committee and passed on the floor of the House, and ultimately made federal law.

Like Christian conservatives, pro-reparations blacks and political leftists are convinced of the moral cogency of their cause and even have some political victories to show for it. You can argue with them until you are blue in the face and you will never convince them that their cause is not "just."

Nonetheless – and despite victories like the vote in the Los Angeles City Council (and in other important city councils like Chicago’s and New York’s), they will fail to convince a majority of the American public and inflict on themselves a political defeat.

They will fail because the American voting public will not see the justice of punishing a population that has no obvious connection to slavery (most Americans are descended from people who either were not American citizens when slavery was in effect or fought against it) or of rewarding a black population that is largely middle class and has achieved a significant place among America's economic, social and political elites.

In other words, like Christian conservatives, no matter how correct they consider their cause, they cannot win it in the political arena.

The moral issue cannot be settled by political constituencies. The moral issue of past injustice and present-day reparations is one that only God can sort out.

The political issue is limited to how a reparations bill will impact the American public, and how the voting majority will relate to that impact. The answer is: negatively.

Three years ago, I wrote an article about the reparations movement and said among other things that it was a "bad idea for blacks." It still is. Despite victories in city councils dominated by left-wing Democrats, it is an idea that is opposed by 75 percent of the American public, and there is no chance that that will change.

But just as I predicted, the effort to pass this legislation has isolated the black community and marginalized its political leaders, and will continue to do so. The closer this movement gets to any kind of political success that would put it on voters' radar screens, the greater will the resistance to it become.

The more the Democratic Party embraces this cause, the more electoral support it will lose.

Republicans in California are also mounting a moral campaign that is making them feel very good about themselves but which will result in a defeat for the Republican cause.

It is generally conceded that Gray Davis is an atrocious governor. Under his administration a $4 billion surplus has been turned into a $40 billion deficit. His approval ratings are as low as Nixon's were on the eve of his Watergate resignation. Davis is despised by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Some Republicans have seen this as an opportunity to punish a man who deserves to be punished and to make a political gain in the process. They have sponsored a recall movement which if successful would remove Davis and elect a successor at the same time.

Republicans are pouring millions of valuable political dollars into this campaign and mobilizing the passions of their rank and file to bring it to success.

All this makes perfect sense until you look at what will actually happen if the recall campaign is successful. In the worst-case scenario, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is about to retire at the end of her term, will instead put her name on the ballot and become the new governor of California.

She will then appoint her own successor in the Senate. California Republicans will have achieved two knockout blows (but to themselves) at the same time.

The California Republican Party already holds no statewide offices. With Feinstein retiring, Republicans have a chance to run for an open Senate seat in the next cycle, which is always an advantage for a party out of power. If this recall scenario holds, they will have created a situation in which they will have to run against an incumbent instead.

Likewise, instead of running for an open gubernatorial seat against the legacy of a discredited Democratic administration, they will either have to run against a popular Democratic incumbent or her anointed successor.

There are other possible scenarios. California Attorney General Bill Lockyear, a savvy Democratic politician, might run (and win) the governor's seat, for example. This is not quite as certain as a Feinstein victory, but it is certain enough.

But what if the Republicans win? They will then inherit the monster deficit and all of its unpleasant problems, with less time than even Davis has to fix it before the next election.

You could talk to the leaders of the recall campaign until you were blue in the face and never convince them that this is a bad idea. I will undoubtedly be criticized for writing these words, even though they are friendly advice.

Conservatives will say Horowitz is defending Gray Davis, just as Christian conservatives presumed I was criticizing their theological views and pro-reparations blacks that I was denying that slavery was unjust.

But of course the justice of the Gray Davis recall movement is not what I am challenging. It's the political wisdom of the recall campaign. Politics is about winning. If you don't win, you don't get to put your principles into practice. Therefore, find a way to win, or sit the battle out.

David Horowitz is a nationally known author, lifelong civil rights activist and founder of the New Left movement in the 1960s. His autobiography, "Radical Son," chronicles his odyssey from radical activism to the current positions he holds.

He has penned numerous other books including "The Politics of Bad Faith," "The Art of Political War" and his latest book, "Uncivil Wars," which chronicles his crusade against intolerance and racial McCarthyism on college campuses last spring.

Since 1988 he has served as president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, a vehicle group for his campaigns and his online newsmagazine, FrontPageMag.com.

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In the last two War Rooms, I tried to persuade Christian conservatives to respect the limits of the political arena and become more effective in the process. In American politics, no one is going win majorities if they appear to exclude ethnic, religious or racial...
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Wednesday, 04 June 2003 12:00 AM
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