Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I Have A Dream: My Vision of a New and Improved GOP

In the past several years, more accurately since the rise of the Tea Party, the Republican Party has lost its way. More to the point, it has lost its membership, as people like me no longer feel welcome. In that time a purging has taken place, with the only remaining members being those identified- in some cases generously- as conservatives. There seems to be some sort of intellectualizing of the idea that Republican values and ideals can ONLY be expressed through a conservative perspective. As a matter of fact I’m listening to a Republican strategist right now on MSNBC that is making the continued mistake of conflating the conservative viewpoint of being representative of the entire Republican Party, and therein lays the crux of the problem.

 I am here to tell you that his view is wrong, and that there are “Republican values” that can be held consistently by both the conservative and more progressive wings of the Party. I know that because I am one of those progressives, and I was once a loyal member of the Party. For those who will listen, I would like to present those values and ideals that I believe the Republican Party should be espousing, that they should be promoting to the public as they seek to regain “market share” in the political sphere. They are values and ideals that would be attractive to a broad demographic, and they could even help make inroads in urban areas, currently little more than deserts to the GOP. I am going to limit discussion of individual issues like abortion, immigration, or gun control, as they should be somewhat tailored to reflect local culture and custom. This is also consistent with general Republican belief and consistent with, at least before the Tea Party came on board, the idea that governance requires negotiation and compromise in pursuit of pragmatic solutions to national issues.
What does it mean to be a Republican? What values and principles could conservatives and progressives both embrace? One is the idea of a limited but vigorous national government. Conservatives and progressives may differ on what issues the Party should emphasize, and that will no doubt be the subject of lively debate. The wisdom of our Founders must endure; their confidence in individuals-through their associations with others in the economic and social spheres- must be honored and promulgated. And their belief in federalism should be promoted through a relationship where the federal government “challenges” and rewards innovative states that meet federal goals and standards and continuously improves its citizens’ quality of life. Republicans must stop “bad mouthing” government as somehow in opposition to the People. We cannot have our elected officials damage the public’s perception of its government but instead do all that they can to make sure government is transparent, responsive, and representative or it will lose its legitimacy. The integrity of our institutions are essential if we are to truly honor the legacy of our Founders; this means foregoing efforts to “game” both the process for electing our representatives and the legislative process that creates our nation’s laws. The creation of our Nation was one history’s greatest experiments and I am horrified at the thought of Republicans actively trying to undermine our Founders incredible achievement.

  A second is the belief in fiscal restraint. Both “wings” of the Party agree that the body politic should not be seen as a bottomless pit, and that revenue should be judiciously allocated to accomplish short term needs and long term goals. Expenditures must be seen as investments in the American people; at the point where such expenditures are seen as creating dependence on the state then it must be reconsidered. This would apply to so-called “corporate welfare” as much as it does to individuals. Fiscal restraint does not mean being parsimonious nor overly austere. Democrats will continue to promote “demand side” policies, deficit spending, and the role of government in stimulating the economy when consumer spending and business investment contract. Republicans must accept this, but be the voice of moderation and discipline. Opportunity cost will be a hotly debated concept as Republicans seek to find the most productive uses for limited resources. Demonstrating restraint means that choices will be made, and it is important that as a result of those choices the Party does not appear aligned with those with the resources to care for themselves.
The legitimate use of military power is a principle consistent with these aforementioned values. The use of force should be limited to those situations where the national security of the United States is being threatened. This is not to be confused with our national interests, a much broader concept. This use of power necessarily includes the security of our borders and projects outwards to address other threats to our sovereignty. The Republican Party must not have an adventurous nature, nor should we believe that it is our sovereign duty to be the world’s watchdog. We must be willing to participate in military actions taken on behalf of the world community, but such actions must be multinational.

Economic mobility and economic efficiency are cornerstones of a well- functioning free market economy where participation is based on merit, where consumers are fully informed, and where businesses engage in honest competition. Opportunity for the poor to ascend upward to the middle class, and frankly for the wealthy and middle class to descend must be insured by the government in the name of justice and fairness. Support for a strong “entrepreneurial class” is inherent in this goal of economic mobility. There are an enormous variety of variables that affect an individual’s potential for economic success a nd mobility, and conservative Republicans must be willing to concede, for example, that a strong public education system and a strong public transportation system are important components of a free market that is fluid and fair. They must also resist efforts by small, well- organized special interest groups, or “distributional coalitions,” to borrow a phrase from Mancur Olson, from seeking the kinds of government protection that reduce efficiency, reduce aggregate income, and raise social costs. They represent a serious threat to both our economic and political systems.
Guaranteeing a dignified quality of life is another Republican value, one that is rooted in both the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution’s preamble. Whether this is provided through entitlements or earned benefits (these are not necessarily the same thing), adults, and especially children, have a right to lead a dignified life. These great documents are rooted in social contract theory, and as such they embody the belief that each individual, in exchange for giving up their absolute freedom and agreeing to abide by society’s rules, should not have to spend their life wanting for food, shelter, or good health. This concern for the dignity of the individual extends beyond these necessities, however, and includes actions by those empowered to maintain law and order within our communities. Dating back to Adam Smith, capitalism conceives of a role for government and it would be laughable to think otherwise, and providing a “floor” to support those less fortunate, those unable to care for themselves, and those that helped defend our nation. This notion of providing a “floor” is wholly consistent with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the social contract theory on which they were derived.

Engagement in civic life is essential for the vitality and legitimacy of a democracy, and conservative and progressive Republicans can agree that participation in political and social institutions, both public and private, creates important connections between the People and its government, and between groups and individuals living in our nation. At a time of growing economic inequality, these connections are critical if we as a nation are to maintain its character and our belief that political institutions are truly being representative of the body politic. De Touqueville noted that this involvement in groups and organizations was unique, setting it apart from Europe and a quality that helps us maintain our special character. These connections are also important because Republicans tend to be averse to using the courts to “force” change on the citizenry, and more inclined to believe that change should evolve and percolate through the culture. As of late Republicans have been seen as the party trying to limit participation by particular groups, and that is unacceptable. We as Republicans should be trying to broaden and deepen participation, lest we turn our backs on our nation’s heritage and exceptionalism.
There are two more “value pillars” on which the Republican Party rests. One pillar is energy independence. Many years ago I read a wonderful essay in the Atlantic about whether the US should pursue a “staying on top” or “tending the front yard” economic policy in the global environment. If you believe as I do that tending the yard is a more appropriate, practical goal, then you can see why energy independence is so critical. In a world with dwindling natural resources and the potential for other nations to exploit their advantages, energy independence affords us a greater sense of autonomy and security.

The final ideal that Republicans of all political temperaments must agree is environmental integrity. The Republican Party must connect with both the past and the future, and the delicate nature of our environment must be acknowledged. It must also be acknowledged that the condition with which we leave our environment is as much a part of our legacy as the condition of our economy or political institutions. The Republican Party has a proud heritage as conservators of our nation’s natural beauty, and true conservatives, as well as progressives, need to embrace this important value. America the Beautiful is a wonderful song, it would be a shame if future generations had no personal connection to its words. Whether domestically or internationally, the government must take a leadership role in promoting environmental integrity for the sake of our own well-being and the ability of future generations to at the very least maintain the quality of life enjoyed by the People.

Earlier in this essay I posed the question “What does it mean to be a Republican?” I have suggested a series of ideals and principles that can be embraced by both conservative and progressive Republicans. They may and likely will differ on the issues that should be atop the Party agenda, and they may and likely will differ on what it considers reasonable proposals in the spirit of negotiation with Democrats and the formulation of pragmatic solutions to the issues facing government. Quite frankly, it is likely that the Democratic Party shares at least some of these principles and ideals. So why be a Republican if there is so little difference between the parties? The answer to that question may lay with the “talking points” of the Party; the values that Republicans believe should have primacy in this nation. It is these values that further distinguish Republican approaches to Democratic approaches. Think of these values as the lenses through which Republicans view our nation. Thought of in terms of a “bully pulpit,” these are the values that Republican leaders should be espousing as the keys to our strength as a nation and as a people.
Yes, we are a diverse nation, but let the Democrats harp on the differences between people. The Republican Party should be promoting the oneness and unity of Americans, those things we have in common that make us Americans. There is indeed something exceptional about America, and one of the great features of our nation, what made us unique from the time of our founding is that Americans don’t, in contrast to Europe for example, “think with our blood.” It is that thinking that gave us the Thirty Years War, one of the many great tragedies that befell people who think that way.

On economics, Republicans should be promoting policies that reflect the importance of economic mobility, that we pursue policies that will not make being poor a generational certainty. Domestically, this means making a strong commitment to what are historically considered to be the engines of innovation and growth, namely entrepreneurship and small business. These are values that will resonate in the inner city and help Republicans make inroads into our increasingly decaying urban areas. Internationally, our economic position should be to support free trade among equal partners, and fair trade among unequal partners. We should also be pursuing policies that require countries we trade with to improve working conditions and regulation to increasingly reflect the higher standards we maintain; the alternative is a reduction in wages and conditions in our own economy, something we should not do.
Education should also be an important talking point for Republicans, and though it is ok to continue pushing vouchers, vouchers and competition alone are not sufficient. Most Republicans probably don’t realize this, but charter schools were not envisioned as competition for public schools but as “laboratories” that would collaborate with our public schools. Our focus should be on urban schools, and Republicans should be encouraging less government intrusion and oversight. Instead, we should support a more entrepreneurial approach to education; liberating schools to operate more independently, as if they were themselves charter schools. We value liberty more than equality; we don’t want urban schools to be like suburban schools, we want them to be unique, innovative, and fully integrated into the community. Republicans believe that the private sector should play an active role in urban education, that teachers should receive performance pay, and that the curriculum should be less focused on “college for everyone” and more focused on providing a practical, skills centered curriculum.

Republican social values and ideals should focus squarely on the primacy of the two parent family and the importance of “middle class values.” There can be no denying that the degree to which we value these ideals is inexorably tied to our success as a nation. The importance of family values and middle class values cuts across socioeconomic and ethnic lines. This is a unifying issue for Republicans from the most conservative to the most progressive.
On social issues, a “broad tent” Republican Party will have views that cut a wide swath. As the more conservative of the two parties, I believe that social and cultural change evolves locally. And as the more libertarian party, it should favor the legalization of behaviors that pose no direct harm to others.

If my dream party were to take a position on abortion, it should be simply that, in light of changes in technology and the quality of health care, that Roe v. Wade should be revisited as being outdated. The trimester standard may no longer be relevant.
Gun control is an issue of “domestic tranquility” and subject to regulation in some form. I would like my party to support registration and a limit on the size of “clips.” Most importantly, I believe that all gun owners be required to purchase liability insurance for the guns they own.

My dream party is committed to energizing the democratic process by working tirelessly to increase participation. Recent efforts to “sanitize” the voting process are a slap in the face of our forefathers. If we truly believe that the people are sovereign and value then we must be promoting policies to increase voter participation and participation in increase civic participation. DeTouqueville noted that this engagement in civic organizations was one of the great features that distinguished us from the nations of Europe.
On foreign policy, the my Dream Party needs to embrace Washington’s concern with entangling alliances and adventures overseas. Since President Carter elevation of “human rights” as a primary value that we will help safeguard, and since the end of the Cold War, the use of our military has become a nightmare, opening us up to a whole menu of potential uses for our military. Whenever possible, we should support international rather than national uses of force, reserving military force to only those instances where our national security is being directly threatened. Our traditional military branches must not get entangled in conflict to the point where “mission creep” keeps us in places they should not be. This has been a real concern in the modern age. I personally we should advance the idea of creating a new branch of the military, one whose mission is “nation building.” They can do the work our current military is being asked to do once they have completed their traditional missions.

This is my vision of a “dream party,” and a vision I would like the Republican Party to embrace. Embracing these values and ideals would, I believe, attract new members and encourage those like me to return. They are values and ideals that cut across ideologies, where conservatives and progressives can both find common ground; these values and issues “tap into” the interests and passions of both ideologies within the Party.
A free market economy that believe entrepreneurism and small business are the engines of growth and innovation, supports economic mobility and fairness through a strong public education system, protects individuals and our environment through sensible regulation, provides a “floor” to assist those that have been disadvantaged by circumstances, supports those who have “earned benefits” through their hard work and contribution to our society, builds an infrastructure to make our economy efficient and allows its citizens great mobility, two parent family and middle class values, states rather than fed, greater

One of the enduring problems that Republicans must grapple with as it considers a role for government is that American history displays both a libertarian and a puritanical nature, resulting in a somewhat schizophrenic “upbringing” for our nation. There are few people who can consistently take a strict ideological view to all of these issues, nor should they. Political solutions in our nation reflect the overwhelmingly pragmatic inclinations of Americans. For a Party to succeed, it must have members that reside somewhere in the middle, or the Party risks drifting too far away from that place where most decisions are made.
I have a dream today, a dream for a party that reflects my values, interests and passions. The Republican Party was once that party, but no longer, and I wish I could be more sanguine about prospects for its return. The Party has been kidnapped and is suffering from a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome. I guess I will continue to dream.



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