Today, one of my thoughtful, moderate co-workers lamented that the Republican Party had become too socially intolerant, and too focused on culture war conservatism focused on the mores of the Deep South. As a result, he said, the party was no more than a regional party that could not provide a viable alternative to the Democrats. Echoing a familiar refrain, he asserted that the GOP could be understood now for what they are against, and lacks any positive agenda or ideas.
Naturally, I disagree completely. I do not believe that any political party could be defined as a “party of no,” or of having no program or policy goal they support other than that of opposing the programs and goals of others. Every party has its own values that lead logically to actionable policy positions. Even libertarians and anarchists could enumerate any number of general concepts and specific ideas they support.
Polemics and partisans will always be tempted to cast their opponents as, well, obstinately opposing all the great ideas, policies and programs that they themselves support. “Why,” they ask, “can’t they come up with something to be ‘for’ rather than just being ‘against’ everything we suggest?”
But this works both ways. Where some on the left call Pro-lifers anti-choice, we on the right could just as easily call Pro-choicers anti-life. Where they call supporters of school vouchers anti-public education, we could call them anti-parental choice. Pick an issue. You can characterize either position in the positive or the negative.
When George W. Bush spent all of his “political capital” following his 2004 re-election on the ill-fated GOP Social Security reform effort, Democrats picked and poked, criticized and complained, but they did not suggest any alternatives to the plan. Instead, they used this notorious Third Rail issue to batter their Republican rivals, and enjoyed sweeping success in the 2006 mid-term elections. Certainly, this was not the only issue that helped Democrats, but it was the most important.
Indeed, throughout the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, the Democrats made opposition to all things supported by the president the cornerstone of their electoral strategy. John Kerry ran his entire 2004 presidential campaign on a platform of anti-Bush discontent. And when he wasn’t parroting David Axelrod’s taglines on change and hope, Barack Obama ran a similarly anti-Bush campaign in 2008. What specific policies did Obama put forth? Not many. His candidacy was all about change away from everything Bush ever did, and hope that things would get better after said change.
The presidential candidates were certainly not the only Democrats we could identify more for their opposition to Bush and his policies than for their own ideas. In 2003, the U.S. acted unilaterally in Iraq, and when that operation became unpopular many months later, a great number of Democrats suddenly regretted that action had failed to make proper accommodations of our “traditional allies” like France and Germany. Of course, when the U.S. refused to act unilaterally in dealing with North Korea, and instead insisted on the six-party framework including Russia, China, Japan and South Korea as well as the U.S. and North Korea, Democrats complained that Bush was being stubborn in refusing to charge ahead without the foot-dragging regimes in Moscow and Beijing. They made similar complaints when the U.S. failed to act unilaterally in Darfur.
So what is it Democrats? Are you for unilateralism or multilateralism? For interventionism or for respecting sovereignty? Answer: None of the above. Democrats were simply against whatever the administration did, much as Republicans were against whatever the Clinton administration did when it intervened (unilaterally) in Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Rwanda, and Haiti.
Certainly there are plenty of ideas and policies the Democrats are for. But from 2001 to 2008, those took a backseat to everything and everyone they were against – pre-emptive military strikes, faith-based initiatives, the Patriot Act, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, anyone who could be called a neo-con, the warrantless surveillance program, the war in Iraq, CAFTA, drilling in ANWR, Gitmo…
But what about the GOP? What are we for?
My co-worker feels we are merely against gay rights, against evolutionary science, against anyone who looks or believes differently from the lily white values of the last century. Of course, I happen to think there is something to be said for some of those old fashioned values, but it’s simply not accurate to say the GOP today is stuck in some bygone era or intolerance, or that we are no more than a party of opposition to Democrat positivism.
Naturally, there are those who would disagree with me, and those who call themselves Republicans who do not share the beliefs outlined below, but here’s my own take on what we Republicans are for…
First and foremost, Republicans are for America. We love our country and our countrymen. We cherish the values of liberty and tolerance, and we shape every other idea and policy position with this love of America foremost in our minds. As such, we oppose those ideas and policies that tend to harm America’s interests, or which subordinate American sovereignty to foreign or international bodies. When American judges, for example, refer to laws in other countries in writing their own rulings, we naturally protest this abandonment of domestic law and the resulting erosion of American sovereignty. And when bodies such as the United Nations try to impose international tribunals that would subject our people to capricious or politically motivated persecution, we refuse to go along with the will of the international community. You can say we are simply against internationalism, but we would say we are for our own country and our own people first, last and always.
Following from this love of America is Republicans’ support of the Constitution, the whole Constitution, and nothing but what is actually in the Constitution. Whereas many on the left push for speech codes to stifle debate on college campuses, a “Fairness Doctrine” to undercut the airing of conservative opinions on the radio, and hate crime laws to regulate thought, we Republicans insist on positive protection of free thought and speech. We are for punishing crimes according to the severity of those crimes and not according to the ideas that motivated them. We are for allowing students on college campuses to disagree with their professors, and to resist academic-politico orthodoxy without being expelled, castigated, or shouted down.
We are for the establishment and the free exercise clauses of the First Amendment. As long as Congress does not establish a state religion, we believe Americans’ right to worship freely as they choose cannot be limited. While some on the left wage a war against any religious display or activity in any public space, we recognize that their actions have no Constitutional basis, and in fact are an aggressive infringement upon the rights of those who wish to freely exercise their faith.
We are for Second Amendment and its guarantee that no governmental body may infringe upon the right of Americans to keep and bear arms. And arms are arms, not merely specifically authorized and enumerated types of rifles or pistols found to be acceptable to some particular lobby. We are for the right of Americans to own any type of arms they may acquire, without government regulation for any reason. The Constitution does not give the government any such regulatory power, and our acquiescence to such regulation does violence to the Constitution and to Americans’ rights.
We are for the strict limitation of government power, and emphasize the Tenth Amendment’s stipulation that all powers not specifically delegated to the national government are reserved for the states and the people. As such, many federal laws and regulations are unconstitutional in that they rely on national power that simply does not exist, but which is the province of the people and local and state bodies we elect to represent us in crafting laws. We see the proponents of unconstitutional national regulation as opponents of the Constitution, and of the rights of the states, and of the people.
We are for the protection of private property, the encouragement of private enterprise, the empowerment of the individual. We are for equal opportunity rather than equal outcomes regardless of effort, skill or other merit. We are for privacy, and see the so-called penumbras upon which mandatory nationwide acceptance of abortion as an issue of privacy as being dishonest and violent towards the Constitution. We are for the protection of human life, and believe that it is sacred. If it were not, there would be no basis for protecting humans other than the arbitrary whim of our rulers or of the mob.
We are for safety and order in our communities, and justice for those who disturb this safety. We are for the security of our people and our way of life, and support a strong defense to guarantee that security. We are for economic competitiveness that builds our national strength, and which is the basis for a sound defense and all of our other endeavors.
We are for families, which are the basis of healthy communities and a healthy country. Where the left continually assaults the family, seeking to replace it with new bureaucracies, Republicans seek to protect the family both in terms of specific policies and in safeguarding the definitions of terms to prevent the dilution of their meaning and erosion of family bonds.
We are for educational accountability, and see resistance to things like standardized testing as evidence that teachers unions and the education establishment are more concerned with their own economic and political interests than they are with the education of our children. We are for school choice to allow poor families to send their children to schools in safe communities with good teachers and resources rather than trapping their children in underperforming institutions that turn out generation after generation of illiterates.
We are for sound environmental policy that is rooted in conservation and stewardship of our land rather than being driven by the religious zeal of scare mongers relying on junk science as evidence of manmade global warming. Just as man did not cause the last (or any) ice age, or the rapid warming that melted the ice to carve out the Grand Canyon, Great Lakes, and other natural wonders, so now man is powerless to prevent global climate change that has stronger correlations to sun spot activity, volcanism, reversals in the Earth’s magnetic field, meteor strikes and other natural phenomena than to the emission of carbon dioxide or other alleged greenhouse gases over the past century or so.
We are for protecting our borders, choosing who and how many to admit into our country from foreign lands, and preserving American jobs, American rights and American privileges for Americans, including those we choose to welcome into our ranks by due legal process. We are for assimilation into the great melting pot of American society since it is by this process that varied peoples may come to live in harmony and succeed, rather than toxic multiculturalism that emphasizes separatism, grievance-nurturing victimhood and identity politics.
Of course, there are those in our party who are inspired more by intolerance or by some petty interest than they are by these values. And there are those on the other side who share many of these values, and who reject our claim upon them as being uniquely Republican. Meanwhile, one could certainly disagree with any or all of these ideas, and perhaps they will be right in so doing. That does not change the reality that we Republicans do stand for a great many things, as do Democrats. They stand for a variety of post-modernist policies that elevate group rights at the expense of the individual, and which encourage the ever-accelerating consolidation of power in the central government so as to protect society at large from allegedly unenlightened state and local bodies. And we stand for the rights of the “unenlightened” to remain that way if they so choose rather than conforming to the Leviathan’s tyranny of unbridled state power.