Those involved in political movements have known for many years that half the battle in any argument is winning the battle over what language will be used to describe the terms of that debate. When we allow our opponents to set the terms, we operate at a deep disadvantage.
This battle over labels is particularly evident in the debate over abortion. Those who work to limit abortions describe their movement as “pro-life” and they do battle with those who are “anti-life.” For those who want to expand access to abortions, they are “pro-choice” and describe their opponents as “anti-choice.”
Sometimes, however, movements can be limited by adopting language that is not fully accurate.
For some time, conservatives interested in turning out entrenched incumbents have struggled to articulate proper labels for the candidates we support and oppose.
In pre-Reagan days, it often was enough to simply label the better candidate the “conservative.” Until the Reagan revolution, “conservative” was enough of a dirty word that only those who truly promoted the principles of the conservative movement would adopt it. But with the success of the conservative movement in Texas and nationwide, it now seems that every Tom, Dick, and Harry running on the Republican ticket considers himself or herself to be a “conservative.” In recent years this has led to many movement conservatives describing themselves as “liberty-oriented” or “constitutional conservatives.” Better yet, some of the best of our elected officials describe themselves as “principled” and as “servant leaders.”
On the flip side, the candidates opposed by conservatives are still often described as “moderates.” But this label almost always fails to properly describe the concerns conservatives have with such candidates and officials. Indeed, moderation is a virtue and conservatism, being the negation of ideology, seems a banner ill-suited to hoist over those who would demand rigid orthodoxy to a specific platform.
The chief complaint regarding so-called “moderates” is rarely their moderation. More often, it is their willingness to say one thing on the campaign trail in order to get elected and then do something completely different (and self-serving) once they are in office. Without standing on principle, these politicians often appear to be serving the government, rather than the people. This has led to the term “establishment Republican” being used frequently this cycle.
But that label isn’t particularly accurate. “Establishment” politicians are not so much servants of some undefined “establishment” — some cabal of wealthy and powerful insiders — as they are servants of their own ambition. While the “establishment” label might be useful for persuasion (most voters know that whatever “establishment” the politician might be serving, they are not a part of it), the term simply doesn’t accurately capture what is wrong with that set.
I was recently introduced to a better and more accurate label for many of those candidates conservatives oppose, and I present it to you: “Entitlement Republicans.”
What is an “entitlement Republican”? Simply put, he is a politician who feels entitled to reelection or election to higher office. This sense of entitlement is objectionable because it turns the proper relationship between elected officials and the voters on its head. Rather than serving the people they represent, “entitlement” politicians serve their own self-interest. This inevitably leads to them serving those who can manipulate their self-interest for their own gain.
Last cycle Ted Cruz took fire as a candidate not only because he was principled and articulate, but because he offered a real choice in opposition to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, an entitlement Republican. Like Kay Bailey Hutchison two years earlier, Dewhurst seemed not to have a real rationale for why he was running other than that he had “waited his turn.” He felt entitled to the promotion and annoyed that Cruz was acting out of order by challenging his ascension to Washington.
Dewhurst has been an “entitlement Republican” again this cycle. With a serious challenge from State Senator Dan Patrick, Dewhurst has failed to articulate why his term in the Lt. Governor’s office should be extended from twelve years to sixteen. Instead Dewhurst has spent millions of dollars of his personal wealth personally attacking Patrick.
Dewhurst is not the only “entitlement Republican” on the ballot today. In North Texas, State Senator Bob Deuell is doing everything he possibly can to hang on against conservative challenger Bob Hall. Of course, Deuell’s failure to do the one thing voters want — legislate in Austin like he campaigns at home — will likely be his undoing.
In Conroe the battle to replace outgoing Rep. Brandon Creighton pits pro-life leader Ted Seago against “entitlement Republican” Will Metcalf. Metcalf, the son of a former Conroe mayor, did such a poor job articulating why he should be the next state representative for house district 16 that the liberal Houston Chronicle editorial board endorsed Seago, while hilariously comparing Metcalf to a “broken pull-string Ken doll.”
Races between citizen leaders and “entitlement Republicans” around the state abound. In Tarrant County, Tea Party leader Konni Burton looks like she has momentum to be the Republican nominee to replace Wendy Davis while her opponent, former Rep. Mark Shelton has failed to articulate why he should be given another shot at the seat after failing two years ago.
Likewise, conservative Philip Eby has outworked local school board member Dewayne Burns in the race for House District 58. To the east, in House District 10, the same can be said about conservative TJ Fabby in his contest against local mayor John Wray.
Voters want elected officials who will work hard to earn their vote, and who can articulate a vision for their leadership in these turbulent times. I am hopeful that voters today will reject those entitlement Republicans who feel they deserve to be elected, and choose servant leaders instead.