Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What is a Republican?

The Republican Party wins presidential elections when they successfully unite three groups:

1.    Fiscal conservatives.
2.    Social conservatives.
3.    Foreign policy conservatives.

I am shocked by recent movements within the GOP; some are actively trying to oust one or another of these groups from the winning coalition.

Recent attacks on this coalition started in 2007. Against the backdrop of the war weariness that had begun to set in, Congressman Ron Paul began a systematic effort to drive foreign policy conservatives out of the party. No one running for president, least of all John McCain, wanted more war. But Paul continuously attacked his primary opponents as being “pro-war” and began to divide the party. Paul wrapped his arguments in appeals for peace, philosophical jargon about Just War Theory, and endless name dropping about the separation of powers.

The funny thing is that, at face value, all these arguments are great. We all agree that peace is better than war. Although there are disagreements about details of Just War Theory, most agree with the concepts behind Just War principles. Finally, if there is an advocate for returning to a proper application of Constitutional law, I am their ally. But Paul used these winning arguments to attack a position that is not at odds with any of these principles. He worked relentlessly to tear down anyone advocating a traditional understanding of conservative foreign policy and insinuated that anyone with such views was unqualified to serve as president. This approach would disqualify even Ronald Reagan (and that shows a serious weakness in the position). Paul tried to persuade people that a conservative foreign policy is antagonistic towards peace, justice, and constitutionally. Not only is this not true, Paul’s efforts at spreading his belief also hurt the tripartite coalition that upholds the GOP.

The second attack on the coalition that I have seen recently is aimed against social conservatives. The argument: social issues distract from the “real issues” and Republicans need to come to a truce with the Democrats, holding off on social issues until the “real issues” are dealt with. This position was most openly advocated by Governor Mitch Daniels.

Daniels is neither as talkative nor as persistent as Paul. He hasn’t elaborated on the underpinning thought of his “truce”. This makes it hard to respond to his views in detail, but his willingness to drop the social issues entirely shows that he doesn’t value the unity of the coalition. The idea that the social conservatives should be quiet and go along with the fiscal conservatives without getting anything is an affront to all partnership.

The third attack is a small but growing (especially among Evangelical Youth) group that wants to break up the winning coalition by dropping the economic conservative branch of the Republican Party. They want to take George W. Bush’s “Compassionate Conservatism” to a new level. Their argument is still gelling, but it currently looks something like this: “We need to take care of people in our communities and the government is a way to do that.” Some argue that capitalism has failed and paying a little more in taxes isn’t all that bad. The bottomline is that those crazy Tea Party people are just greedy and maybe the Occupy Wall Street people are right after all.

All of these attacks on the coalition are falling into the same trap: each group thinks that they are the only ones who matter in the Republican Party and they insist on absolute purity in their candidates. Let’s look at Reagan again because both Paul and Daniels cite him as an inspiration: He believed in fighting Communism outside our borders and would have failed Ron Paul’s foreign policy test. He was pro-choice as Governor of California but became one of the strongest pro-life voices in America when he ran for president (during a severe economic crisis that was so bad fuel was strictly rationed). So much for Mitch Daniels’s “truce.”

Finally, Reagan was against government programs that tried to help people because the programs simply didn’t work. He promoted the phrase: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'” Yet his economic reforms set a new record for the longest peacetime economic expansion. This cut unemployment in half, helping the poor by allowing them to work - consistent with the principle of teaching a man to fish instead of just giving him a fish. And Americans’ standard of living increased 20% while Reagan was in office, showing that sound economics results in helping people better than any government program ever has. When the whole coalition works in harmony, as they did with Reagan, spectacular things happen.

I don’t agree with every plank in the Republican platform and hope that some things will be changed in the next 5 years. But the fact is, if we want to win, we need to stand together and not act like a bunch of hooligans fighting over a life raft. If we throw each other off the raft no one will be left to paddle us all to shore. But if we work together, we can not only survive but all make it home to a huge dinner that we can all enjoy. 

Post by Jeremiah Lorrig
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