Recasting Reagan’s 11th

Ronald Reagan famously said, “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican,” and it became known as “Reagan’s 11th commandment.”   For many of my fellow Republicans, however, this sensible commandment is, as Shakespeare said, “More honored in the breech than in the observance.”  That is, it is better for us to break it than to follow it. They are partly right. Certainly we need to expect our elected officials to hold to conservative principle, but that need not and should not take the form of unbridled criticism, especially when much of that criticism is unwarranted and even works counter to our own best interests.

We elect Republicans because their principles are closer to ours than ANY Democrat’s, regardless of what Democrats may say. When it appears our elected Republicans have strayed from principle we do indeed have the right and duty to question their statements and votes, but we must also remember that every vote they take is a conflict among multiple principles, policy objectives and political considerations. Most of these criticisms, therefore, share two glaring faults. First, we tend to have imperfect information. Our representatives are the ones in the action, elected and paid to know more than we do about what is in a particular piece of legislation and what its real-world effect may be.  For example, characterizing the recent Continuing Resolution as “$1.1 trillion of pork” is so wildly deceptive as to be worthy of a Democrat talking point. Only a tiny fraction of that spending could legitimately be called pork at all, and Republicans have led the charge to eliminate these “earmarks” entirely.  In short, the criticism is invalid, and harms the Republican brand by promulgating an untruth. 

The second fault is the general one applied to all criticism, which is that you can’t fairly or constructively criticize unless you offer a better alternative. The example here is the criticism that “Republicans voted not to defund Obamacare.”   The statement, while true, completely (and deliberately) misses the point. Republicans did in fact vote many times to defund Obamacare in the House, and finally attached it to the “must pass” continuing resolution to keep the government open. But the U.S. Senate refused to act on that, or on any of the three or four subsequent compromises Republicans passed, while Obama shut down the government, closed national parks and told government employees to make the shutdown as painful as possible while he and his minions in the media blamed Republicans endlessly and mercilessly. Those who criticize Republicans for yielding to this outrageous Democrat extortion and slander never offer a plausible alternative course of action. All that “standing on principle” was gaining the Republicans was a rapid erosion of their poll ratings and our ability to elect Republicans in the next election cycle. 

And that is why keeping this commandment is so important.  It is because Democrats cannot win being truthful about their policy positions and are reduced to criticizing Republicans as their only strategy. When we criticize our Republican candidates unfairly we only offer Democrats more ammunition for their scurrilous attacks. Certainly they will simply make something up if we don’t, but we shouldn’t be helping them with “stuff” they will certainly use to persuade our conservative brethren to vote against our own best candidate.