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Donal Blaney: Actions and consequences

Every week the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the Young Britons' Foundation, Donal Blaney, explains one of Morton Blackwell's Laws of the Public Policy Process. Morton Blackwell is the Founder and President of the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia.

This week’s results from the US mid-term elections brings home the importance of recognizing that actions have consequences. 

Jim Talent’s opposition to stem-cell research, Rick Santorum’s unbending conservatism and unfortunate remarks about homosexuals, George Allen’s unguarded use of language, Conrad Burns’ association with a disgraced lobbyist, Lincoln Chafee’s perpetual flip-flopping, Mike DeWine’s failure to campaign with enough gusto – all of this had the consequence of the loss respectively of Senate seats in Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Montana, Rhode Island and Ohio. 

These consequences could have been avoided in some, if not all, of these states if different actions had been pursued by these incumbent Senators. This is particularly the case when one thinks of how George Allen, previously considered a likely presidential candidate in 2008, managed to lose Virginia. A series of own-goals seem to have put pay to a political career that had seen Allen secure a number of fine achievements from his time as Governor of Virginia (and which gubernatorial achievements, in turn, had seen him successfully elected to the Senate). 

All of us in politics say or do things that we often later regret. Bernard Jenkin’s use of the word “coloured” to describe ethnic minority candidates earlier this week is no doubt an example of this. US Senator Trent Lott likewise must have instantly regretted his fulsome praise of Strom Thurmond and his presidential election campaign in 1948, given that that campaign was segregationist in nature. 

Neil Kinnock’s behaviour at Labour’s pre-election rally in Sheffield in 1992 still makes one cringe even today and certainly seemed to have the consequence that the British electorate looked at this putative future Prime Minister becoming caught up in the emotion of the rally and collectively said “no thanks”. Howard Dean’s infamous “scream” in 2004 coincided with his fall from pole position in the running for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. 

Often these actions are not fatal. Some political careers can be rescued from the abyss. Indeed Neil Kinnock’s defeat in 1992 eventually saw him go onto to (in his terms) a successful career in Brussels as a European Commissioner. But actions undoubtedly have consequences. 

The Democratic Party, rightly reveling in so successfully winning the House and Senate on Tuesday, now has to face up to the consequences of its own actions. The Democrats can no longer simply sit and carp from the sidelines, be it about the Iraq War or the state of the US economy. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are now in charge of the US Congress and with that power comes the responsibility to actually say and do something constructive. The Democrats also have to deal with the fact that the only way in which they were able to secure victory in some key states was by selecting conservative candidates. Jim Webb, the new Senator for Virginia, even served under Ronald Reagan when he was President. 

Rather than securing victory on their own terms, Pelosi and Reid now find themselves having to manage groups of Democrat Congressmen and Senators who have divergent views on a number of issues that left-wing activists and voters expect to see at the top of the agenda (abortion and gun control to name just two). 

Given the increased numbers of conservatives on both sides of the aisle in Congress – and the fact that Congressman Mike Pence is highly likely to use the power of the conservative caucus to become House Minority Leader – all is most certainly not lost for conservatives in the United States. The defeat of so many liberal ballot measures, particularly on hot button issues such as gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana, and in favour of keeping English as the main language, should give conservatives considerable heart in the run-up to the 2008 presidential elections. 

One has to hope that President Bush finds his veto pen and learns to use the “bully pulpit” to better effect in the last two years of his presidency so that by the time the next presidential elections come round, the Democrats have been exposed as being as weak on homeland security and still as mired in the politics of envy as many of us suspect is the case.

Previous entry in this series: Effort is admirable, achievement is valuable


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