“Politics Ain’t Beanbag”

“Politics Ain’t Beanbag” is a response to politicians who complain about the rough and tumble of politics, below-the-belt shots from their opponents or unfair treatment from the media.

It’s ofter attributed to Tip O’Neill, Speaker of the House while Ronald Reagan was president. O’Neill never said it. Mr. Dooley, an Irish-American character created by writer Finley Peter Dunne in an 1895 newspaper column, first said it. The full quote: “Sure, politics ain’t beanbag. ‘Tis a man’s game, an’ women, childer, cripples an’ prohybitionists ‘d do well to keep out iv it.”

Some in the Republican establishment seem to think politics is, or should be, like a child’s game which I guess beanbag is or was. The so-called NeverTrumpers are the worst in this way of thinking. They’re taking Dooley’s advice and trying to stay out of it.

Bill Kristol and Jonah Goldberg are devotees of what should be called “beanbag politics.” Goldberg has a book out right now, The Suicide of the West, in which he laments how the Left is destroying American democracy. He’s right about the threat the Left poses to America.  The advice he gives in the book for dealing with what the Left is doing makes it more a recipe for “The Suicide of Conservatism.”

The Left is not going to be talked out of its agenda. It can’t be shamed into changing its modus operandi for winning elections. It cannot be reasoned with. It must be defeated in elections. It can only be defeated by an opposition party that is willing to fight and to engage the Left by its own rules. In every conflict the aggressor makes the rules. The defender either follows those rules or loses.

The NeverTrumpers like Kristol and Goldberg are offended,by Donald Trump because they believe he is uncouth. They are repelled by his personality for sure, but perhaps even more by his success. Trump has achieved things they have always said they wanted but apparently they won’t accept any of it if Trump gets the credit for it.

Should the 2018 midterms be a blue wave for Democrats they and other Republicans like them will be responsible. There are 35 Senate seats up in the 2018 election. The Democrats must defend 26 of those 35 seats. The stars are aligned for Republicans in 2018 like never before. If they blow it they will have shown that they have no right to claim any respect from anybody as a political party.

Standing on principles and having good ideas is certainly important for good governing, but too many people vote on too little information and don’t make decisions on what may or may not have happened in the Washington six months ago. If one hasn’t been fighting hard for one’s principles it will ring hollow at election time. If a candidate allows the other side to smear one’s honor without fighting back is going to lose no matter what. Weakness gets no respect.

For an understanding of raw human nature one should study the behavior or children. The school yard bully is feared and that equates to a certain kind of respect. The kid who allows the bully to beat on him and responds by crying and promising to tell the teacher get neither respect nor friendship. The kid who fights back against the bully is the hero. His other flaws are diminished in the glow of his refusal to be bullied. The other kids are naturally drawn to him, he makes them feel safer. They are repelled by the crybaby who runs to tell on the bully. They instinctively know the weak kid can’t save them from the bully or any other threat they may face. They recognize, without any articulation, that they’d rather be in a foxhole with the kid who fights back against the bully.

George W. Bush said he was going to Washington to “bring a new tone to Washington politics.” A “new tone” that would be nicer and more respectful, I think is what he meant. The “new tone” was met with the most vile words the Left could come up with, such as “Bush lied, people died.” His father had said he wanted “a kinder gentler nation.” In both cases this nicety approach spelled disaster for their presidency.

W left with  the lowest approval rating any president ever had. In 1992 the Clinton campaign hounded father Bush with the chant, “It’s the economy, stupid!” After being elected in 1988 on his promise of “no new taxes” he quickly folded in 1990 when he refused to stand up to then Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. His voters never forgave him for that and when hot-headed demagogue Ross Perot entered the race as a third party candidate he won the most votes of any third-party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt in 1912. As a result Clinton won the election with 43% of the popular vote and 370 electoral votes to Bush’s 168. Perot won no electoral votes.

As proof of what happens when the GOP goes all General George McClellan and refuses to fight the Democrats, we should remember that third-party candidates are usually the most harmful to Republicans. As in 1992, a third-party candidate is usually someone angry with Republicans over their failure to deliver on their promises. The Democrat candidate will usually sail to victory when there is a third-party candidate.

General Grant was a drunkard but, as Lincoln said to the other generals (who would be NeverTrumpers today): “He fights, so let’s find out what he’s drinking and give it to the other generals.” Until Lincoln found Grant he was plagued by generals like George C. McClellan who were ineffective because they spent too much time planning and avoiding confrontation with Lee’s army.

Politics is a dirty business and those who win are the ones who understand that. Machiavelli is today a well known philosopher of the Middle Ages precisely because he understood this so well. To be Machiavellian in politics is not a pejorative. It’s a smart necessity. Politics ain’t beanbag.

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