Sunday, December 10, 2006

What is a Republican?

While I was home for Thanksgiving this year I talked to some friends of mine who aren't too into politics (at least not like most of the people in the WMU College Republicans) and I had an interesting talk. One person I talked to declared himself as a Democrat. When I asked why, his main arguements surrounded around the idea that Bush is stupid, Ann Coulter's a stupid blonde (even though he said he never read any of her stuff), and baseless attacks like that. He couldn't even name any of the core components of conservatism (less government, personal responsibility, etc.). The other person I talked to was a Republican. But this person couldn't say more to why that's the case than that they like George Bush. Now these are all pretty weak reasons to be on either side of the fence. All of this got me thinking. How often do we share the heart of conservatism with those around us? How often do we discuss what makes someone a conservative or a liberal? I don't think we do this very often.

I know this post is kind of random and all, but I have to admit, it has been something I've been really questioning. And I also think it's something that we need to concern ourselves with. If you want non-political TV for more than 20 minutes, you will probably hear someone make a joke about Bush being stupid. And I think that's driving a lot of public opinion about the Republican party. What should be driving public opinion about the Republican party is the true ideas of conservatism. So I guess consider this a call. Next time you run into someone who hates the Republican party, ask them why. If they say things like "Bush is an idiot and Cheney shot his friend" have them put that aside and talk about the ideas behind the Republican party. I think one mistake a lot of people out there make is they think Bush, Cheney, and those in DC are the Republican party. That's not true. I'm a part of the Republican party. The WMU College Republicans are part of the Republican party. Our conservative friends over at Michigan State are part of the Republican party. Without us, the people who do the majority of the voting in the party, there is no Republican party. So point out why you are a Republican. It's not about people, it's about ideas. And when you get people talking about ideas, I think they'll have a hard time finding problems with the party. And if they're a Republican but can't say why, tell the why you're a Republican. Now that we're done with an election, I can't think of a better use of our time until the next one comes around.


Anonymous said...

The only problem with that posting is I kept waiting for you to do what you were calling on others to do. Alas, it was to no avail.

Conservative First said...

We need to focus on converting people to conservatism. If we do that, getting them to vote Republican should be comparitively easy. To convert people, we need to make a clear conceptual distintion between conservatism and the Republican party. Conservatism is a set of ideas, the Republican party is an imperfect means of implementing them.

If conservatism is seen as only a means to elect Republicans, then the inevitable failings and compromises of politics will lead people to reject conservative ideas along with the Republican party.

A.J. said...

The best post on this blog by anyone in awhile Dan. Allow me to comment on it and respond to the commenter, as well as elaborate somewhat on what Allan has said.

I think there is a marked difference between a Republican and a conservative, especially these days. I have often said that if there were a better outlet for my conservatism, I would gravitate towards it. This has been one of my arguments for a multi-party system for awhile now, wehre more parties equate to stronger parties and embody the need for coalition building and compromise. However, the GOP is the best we've got, so we should work on making it better.
The Republican party, at the national level at least, have failed to embody what many within the party would consider its main tenets. Whereas Republicans and Democrats were clearly distinguishable in the past regarding many issues, the lines have blurred somewhat, and the two have become indistinct.
The foundations of conservatism are clear: small government (meaning limited size and scope of government, with a bureaucracy only tending to the most basic needs) and fiscal responsibility (spending tax dollars wisely, while increasing growth and keeping all taxes low and non-existent when possible). Personal responsiblity has become a rallying cry for conservatives over the last 50 years as well. It is important for people to take control of their own lives rather than looking for ways to minimize fault within themselves, while at the same time expecting the government to handle their problems. This is true when it comes to abortion, welfare and health care, and law and order. Barry Goldwater, the head of the libertarian wing of the Republican party, once said that "Politics [is] the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order." This is probably the most concise, pithy description of what conservatism is, and what the Republican party USED to be all about. In the last few years, under Republican controlled government, we have seen a meteoric increase in spending and the size and scope of government has ballooned as well. One scandal after another brought down prominent Republican leaders who proved to be poor standard bearers for the morality the party promised the American people in 1994, when we signed our Contract with America.
Though the Republican party tends to be conservative, it is often referred to as the 'big tent' party, since there are very moderate Republicans such as John McCain, Rudy Giulliani, Susan Collins, and outgoing local Congressman Joe Schwarz. That said, it is disheartening for me personally when someone who doesn't get a 100% from the ACU is labeled a RINO (Republican In Name Only). Though I do believe that those who are very close to the middle may not be representative of a Republican tag, those in the middle of the dead-center and the far right are attacked unfairly.

Thank you Dan for saying what I think has needed to be said by someone for quite some time. I hope as you do that people will stop identifying Republicans with people, and start identifying them with ideals.

Anonymous said...

AJ’s comments to this blog are what should be commended as the best posting for quite some time. His honesty and candor are to be applauded. As far as I am concerned, AJ is the one who said what needed to be said. Particularly heartening were his appeals for a multi-party system in this country. I can only encourage you to fight harder against the Republican Party if it has abandoned its conservative ideals. For better or worse, the Republican Party is the face of the conservative movement at the national level. There are likely a lot of people who would identify with the party if it stood for what you suggest it should; seeing a party so callously abandon its positions once obtaining power leads one to fear that conservatives will do the same. Were the WMU College Republicans to sponsor events that bring in speakers who point out exactly these flaws, it would render most of the opposition on this campus impotent and force them to rethink their own positions. Sadly this is not done and too often the RSO seems to line up behind the party because they feel they cannot or should not speak out. AJ’s comments must then serve as a call to arms. Many of the points AJ listed are commendable, though I think one of the problems with the conservative movement’s reliance on individual responsibility is it punishes people who make mistakes and punishes children for the sins of their parents. Insistence on maintaining a traditional family unit whilst denying a role for government leaves few options. Not recognizing that government could (to say nothing if it currently does) help the disenfranchised and destitute is a prime reason why conservatism seems to only represent the well-off. It is also not clear what AJ meant by personal responsibility should extend to matters of law and order. I certainly hope this is not a call for individual justice and I suspect it is not but it is a point you might what to clarify. Nearly all great liberal (yes liberal) thinkers from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman have posited that government needs to secure the protection of the individual from others in society. Whatever party the GOP is supposed to be, it seems both those who support and oppose it agree it is not what it says it is. Therein lies danger and this is the situation that must be rectified. Cheers to AJ for taking the first steps.

A.J. said...

I would be more than happy to clarify. When I talk about personal responsibility in law and order, I do not mean vigilante-style order. I mean blaming society for why people commit crimes, and I also mean paying your debt to society with whatever punishment is doled out by our justice system (not that I am a huge fan of how the justice system works). Though we should concentrate on rehabilitation to lower the high recidivism rate throughout the country, we should not do so at the expense of punishment. Striking a balance between the two (maximizing punishment while maximizing rehabilitation) should be the goal of any just society, and it used to be for the conservatives, but whether or not they feel this way now is rather unclear.

Dan Roth said...

Actually our group has brought in speakers that spoke out against some of the things the GOP has done. When Pat Buchanan came, he mentioned a number of things he thought the GOP could do better to become more conservative. Also when Tom Tancredo came in he mentioned that there were too many people in the party who are not being tough on immigration and for the party to get back to conservative values, it must start protecting the border.