It's hard to imagine a Republican more useless than South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. Whether he's spearheading legislation that would grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, stumping for the $787 billion taxpayer robbery known as TARP, being the lone GOP committee member to confirm liberal Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, or partnering with John Kerry to promote cap-and-trade, Graham has never been a friend to conservatives.
And yet in 2008, Graham was reelected in the deeply red state of South Carolina over a Democratic candidate, Bob Conley, who staunchly opposed amnesty and TARP and was well to the right of Lindsey in almost every respect. Many dubbed Conley a "Ron Paul Democrat," because of his support for the Texas Congressman during the Republican presidential primary. In that senatorial contest, the conservative "D" lost to the liberal "R" as a simple result of party affiliation. Rest assured, Lindsey Graham would like to keep things this way.
And Ron Paul would not. Comparing the 2008 Paul campaign with every other Republican who ran for president that year is a study in contrasts. Paul remained a Republican out of political necessity, sometimes seemingly regrettably, despite his continuing disappointment with his party's lack of serious commitment to limited-government principles. Every other GOP candidate, from talk-radio favorite Mitt Romney to eventual nominee John McCain, would mouth occasional limited government rhetoric despite their lack of a voting record to match; unlike Paul, these candidates seemed more interested in their ascendancy in the Republican Party and the power it affords.
Not surprisingly, when confronted by a crowd of tea partiers, town hall protesters, and other angry grassroots conservatives at a meeting in Greenville last week, Graham reacted to criticism leveled against him by attacking one man — Paul: "We're not going to be the Ron Paul party ... I love this party ... I'm not going to let it be hijacked by Ron Paul ... Ron Paul's run for president like 39 times. He keeps losing."
Also in News+Opinion: Mapping Charleston's public urination problem with the PeeNinsula 5000
Graham is right. The limited government philosophy that Paul believes once was the guiding principle of the Republican Party, and could be again, keeps losing. Despite the Founding Fathers' best intentions, the Constitution that has remained the only guideline for every vote Paul has cast during his decades-long career in Congress has been badly damaged by politicians from both parties. To "hijack" the Republican Party, Paul would have to inspire a genuine revolution, not only in the way our government conducts its business but in what Americans think about how much business their government should be conducting. For Paul, the battle has never been about Republican vs. Democrat but limited government vs. unlimited government. There's never been any question about which side Paul stands on.
On the other side, you'll find Graham. As the quintessential GOP establishment man, the big-government Republicanism that defined the Bush era had no greater champion than Graham. Conservatives who now trash Lindsey for siding with the Democrats have short memories, as it was Bush who first promoted amnesty, supported TARP, and grew our government and debt to record levels. At every turn, Graham was Bush's boy. Today, Graham's GOP remains wedded to recycling Bush-era, big government policy, always stamped with an elephant insignia and always designed to fool rank-and-file conservatives into voting against their better interests.
But now, too many are tired of being played for fools. The angry crowd that confronted Graham at a town hall meeting in Greenville last week were but the most vocal representatives of an ever-growing group of Americans who are fed up with both the excesses of Bush and the even worse excesses of Obama. For the first time in a long time, many Americans are looking back to the Founding Fathers, holding up their Constitution, and seriously reexamining the role of government in their lives. This is fertile ground for an admitted "revolutionary" like Ron Paul. This is dangerous ground for protectors of the status quo like Lindsey Graham. South Carolina's senior senator may be able to say defiantly, "We're not going to be the Ron Paul party," but he won't be able to do so definitely.
And neither can Paul. While any future Republican Party worth having must indeed, finally be hijacked by the principles of limited, constitutional government, big government Republicans like Graham would like nothing more than a safe return to the good old Bush days when constituents would just keep their mouths shut, wallets open, and their votes a-comin.'
If this happens — and there's a good chance it might — conservatives, constitutionalists, and patriots of all stripes interested in genuine political revolution must finally go to whichever party, old or new, that best suits their interests. And Lindsey Graham and his retread Republican Party can go to hell.
Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.