Last week, I addressed the conundrum of “liberal Republicans” and the virtual absence of “conservative Democrats.”
I should now confess that I used to be a liberal Democrat and am now a conservative who leans Republican. (Note to the out-of-state reader: Montana doesn’t have party registration, so technically I have no declared party affiliation and can vote in either party’s primary.)
The question of how I made such a transition may be educational, so I’ll spend a few weeks working my way through the process.
I grew up in New York state in the wonderful 1960s when Gov. Nelson Rockefeller was the virtual dictator of the Empire State, and so I am well aware that once upon a time there were liberal Republicans. My guess is that Nelson could not distinguish his own vast personal and family fortune from the taxpayer dollars under his control, and so thought that reckless government spending was his birthright. And spend he did — on housing, welfare, mass transportation, education, the arts, you name it.
Being a good little liberal Democrat at the time, I was wryly amused by the fact that the Republicans kept electing a governor who was generally just as liberal as the candidates the Democrats put forward. But it was sort of understandable because, well, it was New York, so there was no point in trying to be elected as a conservative!
Here’s where I get lost though — why would anyone want to belong to a party that could have both Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater as serious presidential contenders? Rockefeller was a wealthy East Coast liberal and Goldwater was the prototypical Tea Party conservative who was dismissed by the liberal media of the time for daring to declare that “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” I still scratch my head trying to figure out why zealously defending liberty would scare liberals.
Maybe at a given snapshot in time, like 1964, it is possible that a party can be caught in transition between beliefs — for instance, Rockefeller and Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon believed in bigger government, but Goldwater and his ideological heir Ronald Reagan believed in smaller government.
But this is 2012. How long does it take a party to transition from one set of beliefs to another? Enough already. We’ve got huge problems confronting us — threats to our unity and nationhood as serious as those faced by the Founding Fathers when they were planning our republic.
So why would you want to belong to a party that can’t decide something as fundamental as whether it believes in bigger or smaller government? The Democrats seem to have a firm belief in bigger government, and anyone who shares that belief can proudly hold up the mantle of their party.
But what about the Republicans? What do they stand for? Smaller government? Restrictions on federal power? Then someone forgot to tell the last two Republican presidents (Bush the elder and Bush the younger) because they supported bigger government, along with a majority of their GOP senators and representatives, even while most of their party base opposed bigger government.
So what’s the point of having parties if the members don’t share fundamental beliefs about human nature, about morality, about the rights of the governed?
Isn’t a political party supposed to be an alliance of people who have come together to shape policy that reflects their common interests and common outlooks?
I’m pretty sure it is. And it’s nothing new. In fact, it dates to the founding of our country. The federalists at the Constitutional Convention essentially believed in a strong central government, and the anti-federalists fought to limit government’s power and to protect individual rights.
These two parties (federalists and anti-federalists) battled for supremacy, and yes they ultimately reached a compromise that gave us our Constitution, but they did not compromise their principles — they just reached a point of exhaustion where they realized that neither party could prevail without the other. The point of compromise wasn’t selling out; it was safeguards for their principles.
The federalists never reached a point where they willingly surrendered their vision of an effective government, and the anti-federalists never gave up their championship of the individual.
This same fight, of course, continues today, with Democrats generally acting like federalists and Republicans taking the role of the anti-federalists. But Republicans somewhere along the way lost their ability to enunciate their principles and distinguish themselves in a positive way from Democrats, and that has made all the difference.
Democrats on the other hand are brilliant political strategists, co-opting the Republican issue of individual rights and making it look like it is Democrats who will protect the individual. In other words, Democrats now claim that bigger government IS the way to protect individual rights. They claim that unleashing the power of government can ensure that everyone everywhere is safe, secure, educated, well-fed and has a bed. And because Republicans don’t want to be labeled the party that is against education and jobs and in favor of hunger and homelessness, they generally “go along” with the Democratic agenda to “get along” with the voters who enjoy being taken care of by big government.
This is not just a compromise; it is a sell-out.
Republicans need to reclaim their championship of the individual, and seek to put shackles on today’s big government which closely mirrors the tyranny that Founding Fathers such as Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams feared would be the end result of a federalist agenda. The individual who is dependent on government is not a free person, but rather a subject of what amounts to a modern-day monarchy.