Whither the Republican soul? *
In the wake of a major rebound in their electoral fortunes last month, you might think that the Republican Party would be absorbing the lessons and beginning the process of healing and reunification. But you would be wrong. Instead of seizing on the one issue that unites virtually all Republicans -- fierce opposition to the statist agenda of President Obama and the liberal Democrats -- the "grassroots activists" are on the rampage once again, excoriating those in the party who do not toe the party line -- or their version of it, that is.
This is particularly odd, because the elections of 2009 proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Republican Party prospers when it emphasizes pragmatic issues that appeal to independent voters. Have people already forgotten how Bob McDonnell won the governor's race? He sure didn't "campaign to the right," as I recently heard from one commentator. It is almost as though the hardline conservatives (if that's what they are) don't want to win. Can that be the case?
Ironically, the recent ideological purification drive had its origins in the Republican National Committee, currently led by the (relatively moderate) conservative Michael Steele. At the behest of RNC member James Bopp Jr., from Indiana, the RNC floated a proposed list of ten key policy positions that Republican public officials and candidates were expected to support during the 2010 campaign. These were spelled out in a Wall Street Journal blog by Peter Wallsten, who noted that it pays lip service to Ronald Reagan's belief that "the Republican Party should welcome those with diverse views." (My reaction follows each item, highlighted in yellow.)
- We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama's "stimulus" bill; OK, but...
- We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare; OK
- We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation; OK
- We support workers' right to secret ballot by opposing card check; OK
- We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants; OK
- We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges; OK, but...
- We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat; OK
- We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act; not sure
- We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing, denial of health care and government funding of abortion; OK
- We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership; OK
It goes on to say that a "candidate who disagrees with three or more of the above stated public policy positions" will not get funding support from the Republican National Committee. Well!
Personally, I have qualms about item #1, based on the inherent tension between some of those policy goals, and my priority of reducing the budget deficit over cutting taxes. The GOP has a weak fiscal record in recent years, moreover, so there ought to be a frank acknowledgment of that. As for #6, no one should expect the success of the troop surge in Iraq to be replicated in Afghanistan, where "victory" is simply beyond our means. We must set our strategic goals there more realistically. As for #8, I oppose "gay marriage" but I have doubts about the Defense of Marriage Act, which seems to contradict Article IV of the Constitution. Do I agree with the assertion in the preamble of that "purity test" that President Obama is a socialist? Probably, but I'll reserve judgment until another year has passed. In sum, it would be difficult for me to pledge unequivocal adherence to all of those positions as stated.
Obviously, my opinion carries little if any weight in the Republican Party, but I'm sure there are many fine conservative prospective candidates around the country who feel the same way as I do. The last thing the GOP needs right now is to alienate potential leaders of the future. As Kathleen Parker wrote in the Washington Post on November 29, that pledge amounts to a "suicide pact" for the party at the worst possible moment -- "Just when independents and moderates were considering revisiting the GOP tent." What is so sad about the Republican Party today is that the Bush legacy has imbued party activists with a deep suspicion of outsiders. The suggestion that the party should grow does not register, and the "big tent" metaphor has become a code word for closet liberals. It drives me nuts to think that millions of sensible people across the country are being shut out from the Party of Lincoln because of a psychological wound, the source of which most Republicans cannot even identify! Meanwhile, guess whose face you see almost every day commenting about world events on Fox News? That's right: Karl Rove, the notorious "architect" of the short-sighted Bush "victory" that ironically paved the way for "Obama-nation."
Just in case anyone thought that the GOP litmus test would be a good way to placate the right wing in the party, no such luck. As Richard Viguerie wrote, "Conservatives Don't Need a Litmus Test for RINOs." In short, if relative moderates like Steele thought that appeasing the fire-breathers on the right would do any good, they were gravely mistaken.
Clearly, something is preventing a large number of conservative activists from thinking straight. One of the best recent examples of "cognitive dissonance" (which I explained in Dec. 2008) is a piece by Matt Latimer called "It's The Philosophy Stupid," at humanevents.com. He attacks David Brooks, one of my favorite TV pundits, for suggesting that Republican candidates should "avoid talking about their 'conservative bona fides.'" Brooks does not mean to disparage conservatism because, after all, he identifies himself as a conservative, but rather to downplay a potentially problematic aspect. Anyone who thinks that there is a consensus about the meaning of the word conservative right now is just not paying attention. That being the case, the less we argue in public about whether we are conservative or not, the better the chances will be that conservatives will win elections. It's a simple matter of electoral expedience, something that the naive ideologues of the Right who prattle on about their "principles" cannot even grasp, evidently.
A similar problem is the growing tendency among conservatives to engage in heated, hyperbolic rhetoric that fails to convince undecided folks but merely serves to fire up those who think the same way. It is as though Ann Coulter were the role model for everyone in the GOP. For example, a recent piece by logisticsmonster.com (hat tip to Stacey Morris) laid out a strategy for combatting the Obama agenda that contained several good points, but overall it left me very disappointed. As I commented on Facebook:
Much as I agree with the general thrust of that "open letter," I find the strident tone and contempt toward "moderate republicans" (why the small R?) and "big tent" politics (a.k.a. garnering a majority) to be stupid and self-defeating.
And speaking of "stupid," that would be a fair description of anyone who suggests that Thomas Jefferson had anything to do with framing the U.S. Constitution. (Yes, that includes whoever did that Web page for the Constitution Society.) Jefferson wasn't even in America when the Constitutional Convention was taking place in Philadelphia, and as an Anti-Federalist, he was a fervent opponent of the Constitution! I am not big on name calling, and adhere almost fanatically to a code of politeness in this blog. But I am getting so sick of all the right-wing crap out there that I'm not sure I can keep doing so.
So, what should Republicans do to rally the troops in preparation for the coming year's great electoral battles? I'll leave the details for later, but for now suffice it to say that we should spend more time articulating clear alternatives to the Obama agenda, to convince those in the middle that Republicans are not just a bunch of stubborn nay-sayers. The more time we spend elaborating persuasive rational arguments in support of a comprehensive market-oriented set of policy reforms, rather than attacking other Republicans, the more chance that we can still save freedom in America.
* An allusion to the book The Conservative Soul, by Andrew Sullivan.
Free speech? Not!
The United States Supreme Court has refused to hear the case of a high school valedictorian Brittany McComb, whose Foothill High School in Henderson, Nevada. June 15, 2006 school administrators proceeded to censor her speech, deleting all three Bible references, several references to "the Lord" and the only mention of the word "Christ." Rutherford Institute.
My, look at the time: