Republican Soul Searching
January 7, 2013
Attached is an article in today’s NY Times on what the paper calls the “soul searching” going on in the Republican Party. Here is one thing I found interesting or several things that might be one thing.
The article is written, as all such articles are, as if this activity is (a) about winning elections and (b) is unconstrained by what I will call political choices. By the latter, I mean that it is nowhere indicated that some choices entail other consequences or require that other choices be made if the “original choice” is to be viable. This is a variation on the old saw: “If you want mayonnaise, you have to break some eggs.”
So, for example, some argue that the Republican Party has to get back to “its roots” as the party of “small government.” But to be, really be the party of “small government,” the Republican Party, or any party really, has to be the party of a “small economy.” If you are seeking to build and maintain “a big economy,” you need, whether you want it or not, big government. The two, a big economy and big government, go together like a horse and carriage or love and marriage, as was known by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson and as is still true today. One reflection of this today is the inability of the Republicans, in their alleged quest for a “small government,” to so much as put a dent in our military-industrial complex, if for no other reason that this complex is indispensable for making the economy grow. Big military-industrial complex means or is big government.
Here is another example, along the same lines, indicated in a quote from the article by Ralph Reed:
“The Republican Party can’t stay exactly where it is and stick its head in the sand and ignore the fact that the country is changing,” said Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and onetime leader of the Christian Coalition. “On the other hand, if the party were to retreat on core, pro-family stands and its positions on fiscal responsibility and taxes, it could very quickly find itself without a strong demographic support base.”
Reed is correct, I think, on the need to maintain some “core” principles. But to maintain a strong stance on what he calls “family values” would require some kind of moderation of what many like to call our “free market” or our “capitalism.” Free markets and capitalism are just not family or traditional values friendly, as the Catholic Church has known for a long, long time now. It is quite amazing in a nation where much of what is called “popular culture” – at least in movies and books – is dedicated to just this proposition that people seem unaware that a politics of traditional values requires an economic arrangement that does not revolve around unlimited acquisition nor a society that lionizes those who have shown the most skill in acquisition, be they called “job creators” or those millionaires that all women apparently want to marry.
Moreover, it is not clear to me that it is possible to maintain an active, interventionist foreign policy, so to speak, while maintaining those traditional values Reed claims to honor. A “realistic” foreign policy requires and is based on a rejection of the idea that nations can afford to behave ethically in the international arena. As we have been told these days, we must torture other human beings and spy on almost all human activities if we are to avoid another 9/11. Once one makes such arguments, it is difficult to see how what are called “traditional values” like honesty or even responsibility can be maintained. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson pointed out in his dissent in the Korematsu case, when waging war responsible behavior could spell defeat. [Jackson’s “dissent” was “odd” in that he would have allowed the government to do what it did but without validation by the Supreme Court. Courts should not act irresponsibly but presidents and congresses may and even should.]
So the “bind” the Republican Party finds itself in is not due simply to the fact that “the country is changing.” That bind is also due to the fact that the party has been trying to reconcile the irreconcilable and, as it always does, “push has come to shove” and it must decide which way it wants to go. Of course, because this is politics, the party will, I imagine, continue to grope its way “forward” without choosing because its main concern, as it is for the Democrats as well, is to get and hold power, rather than using it well.