"It Has Seven Elements."
Steering a ship, flying a plane, or just hiking through the woods requires a compass. The outdoor use of a compass recreationally goes by the name "Orienteering." Steering a nation also requires orienteering, although it requires two compasses, one to navigate the external environment using constitutional coordinates, the other to negotiate the political environment—using any means at our disposal to win elections and stay in office.
No matter which party governs, one faction of it wants to govern according to party tradition. The other faction wants to govern by political expediency. Sometimes the factions misunderstand the intentions of the other, with the result that no one provides the direction. Both sides get lost in the minutiae of the job until someone asks, "Who's captain of this ship?"
We're talking about a situation where officials serving in a Presidential administration—members of the same political party—are not sure who gives them their talking-points, elucidates or prioritizes the policy-initiatives, or generally-speaking tells its staff-people who is running things. Who gives the staff-people their marching-orders?
Robert Timberg describes such a situation during the Reagan administration in The Nightingale's Song, published in 1995. Timberg served with the Marines in Vietnam, and it gave him access to officials in the Reagan administration like Robert McFarlane, Oliver North, and Jim Webb, former marines who had also served in Vietnam.
Reagan promoted McFarlane to the National Security Agency, and he began to attend senior-staff meetings. He had his suspicions about the functionality of the NSA and the coherence of policies, then in place, but a meeting in February, 1982, brought it home to him, confirmed his suspicions. The nation's foreign-policy was in disarray, said critics:
He's not sure who said it, possibly press spokesman Larry Speakes. . . . In the course of the meeting,
he told the President that critics were saying he did not have a coherent foreign policy.
"Well, you don't," creacked an aide.
Unbidden, privately steaming, McFarlane broke the brittle, embarrassed silence: "Yes, you do!"
Heads snapped. The unfamiliar baritone seemed to be coming from a spot behind Vice President Bush
and National Secrity Adviser Clark, who were seated accros the long table from the President.
"It has seven elements," intoned McFarlane. He proceeded to enumerate an elaborate if predictable
laundry-list involving deterrence, alliances, the Soviets, arms control, and so on.
The recitation complete, someone said, "I think we just got ourselves a foreign policy."
This event takes place, suggests author Timberg, in an environment of increasing loss of focus and direction. I suggest that every direction-based organization, especially a political one, will have to compare two compasses, the philosophical or tradition-bound compass of the political party and the political-expediency or public-relations compass, as a matter of course. You have to get out your orienteering gear and take stock of your coordinates and direction.
At least, a political organization needs a man who will defy everyone else and say "Yes, you do," or even "No, you don't." If someone else asks you, "What are our coordinates, or what is our political plan-of-attack?" You should come prepared to answer, "It has seven elements."
Political organizations have to give way to expediency up to a point. President Hoover did not have a man who would tell him, "No, you don't," in order to tell him that his response to the 1929 Stock Market Crash was inadequate. The Crash had severely reduced the money supply. People needed cash in their pockets, since the banks had failed.
Scared of tampering with nearly sacred terms of government, Hoover did not respond quickly, and let the Crash degenerate into a crippling economic depression. It nearly bankrupted my grandfather and defined my father's early life. They remembered how consumer goods lost value. They did not produce enough income to offset the cost of producing and selling them. Besides that, the citizenry did not have the money to purchase them, so businesses closed wholesale. Farmers lost their lands to creditors, and the soup-lines at public-relief centers grew longer and longer.
Those extraordinary situations aside, Republicans should remember McFarlane's experience in the National Security Agency meeting. They should remember that they already have the ingredients for creating a country and making it prosper, and should never forget their navigational heading.
It has seven elements:
- Respect for law enforcement;
- Military power to protect us from enemies without and within;
- Secure borders;
- Reliance on freedom in the marketplace;
- Capitalism to delvelop commercial concepts and upgrade them;
- A preference for private ownership—schools, clubs, organizations, and businesses — over governmental institutions;
- Many independent centers of power to promulgate different solutions and ideas, and to preserve space for genuine dissent.