by Jonathan Danzig | Hold accountable those responsible for the Republican failure.
In 1858, Abraham Lincoln described the Republican Party as a fractured group, “composed of strong, discordant, and even hostile elements.” Despite this state, the Republicans were able to unite behind one common goal: that slavery should eventually end. Then and now, the Republican Party stood behind the ideal of freedom. Over the decades, the Republican philosophy has evolved into a belief in low taxes, free markets, fiscal responsibility, and international strength.
Lincoln’s description of the party was a call to unite: the party must become a “big tent” of diverse ideas. With that mantra in mind, it is tempting for the modern GOP to hold on to the small amount of power it currently has by any means necessary, allowing all into our party; this is a bad idea. As a result of lust for power, certain individuals in the GOP have entirely compromised the party’s principles. These individuals must be noted, for their abandonment of true conservatism has shifted the party’s ideology away from Lincoln’s big tent and has doomed it to massacres in the 2006 and 2008 elections. From the anti-intellectuals to the neoconservative ideologues to the strictly liberals, they are the reason for the GOP’s minority status.
A popular slur among Democrats is to imply that their Republican opponents are stupid Bible-thumpers who ignore science and logic. Any sensible conservative will fight this charge, but the party becomes especially hard to defend when Sen. Jim Inhofe compares the environmentalist movement to Nazi Germany and uses a picture of his family to defend his belief that homosexuality is not natural. Gov. Mike Huckabee, besides running his state as a socially conservative liberal tax-and-spender, proposed that we “amend the Constitution to God’s standards” and refused to accept evolution as fact.
The icing on the cake, of course, is Gov. Sarah Palin; a woman tapped for V.P. to solidify support among evangelicals and possibly appeal to bitter Clintonistas. On paper, Palin was a solid conservative reformer with some positive results. In reality, she proved little to the American people beyond her penchant for folksy colloquialisms and utter lack of knowledge on foreign affairs. When pressed for questions in the vice presidential debate, she would change the subject or accuse the moderator of being elitist. Blatant, anti-intellectual populism does not impress the ordinarily religious American people.
Next on the list are the neoconservatives, who took the Republican notion of “peace through strength” to the more radical degree of “peace through arrogant dominance.” Best exemplified by Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Senator Rick Santorum, Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, they see the world as a constant struggle of good-vs.-evil. Besides a hawkish foreign policy, which this writer has supported at times, they stand for the worst excesses of big government: phone surveillance, internet surveillance, an overgrown federal Homeland Security bureaucracy, a national criminal DNA database, a national ID card, and worst of all, the travesty at Guantánamo Bay. The extent to which the activities at Guantánamo are technically “torture” does not matter; the fact that such debatable activities as waterboarding occur undermines international credibility and destroys Americans’ faith in their government. The party of freedom should not support these affronts to civil liberties.
But the greatest disappointment of Republican leadership is the almost comical lack of fiscal responsibility, a necessity of Republicanism. For the past eight years, “compassionate conservative” has seemed to mean cutting taxes while raising spending. President Bush himself is at significant fault, as he has failed to lead his party on fiscal responsibility. Though tax cuts are an integral part of the party platform, the 2003 Tax Cut, initiated by Bush, was passed at the peak of the War in Afghanistan and at the start of the War in Iraq.
The tax cuts, unaccompanied by spending cuts of any sort, was effectively a tax hike set for a later date. Speaker Dennis Hastert, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, in their desire to give people more government while having them pay for less government, failed to enforce any semblance of fiscal discipline on their party. As a result, the national debt has grown above $10 trillion, with no noticeable effort to shrink the federal bureaucracy or end the excessive earmark spending. Though disgraced Sen. Ted Stevens’ “Bridge to Nowhere” demonstrates the most laughable of these offenses, the party as a whole is responsible. Current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, facing a difficult 2008 reelection bid, focused much of his advertising on his ability to steer federal money towards his state and his opponent’s inexperience in the matter. As they frantically tried to run from the Bush Administration, the GOP should have committed itself to less spending instead of trying to out-compassion and out-spend the Democrats at their own game.
The Republican Party has always considered itself to be the party of freedom in all forms. Therefore, the 2006 and 2008 losses should come as no surprise when its officials spend much of their time crafting liberal policies and running out of the big tent. When three competing and overlapping factions all have it wrong, the time has come for self-examination. Successful conservative governors in Utah, Louisiana, Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, and Vermont are glimmers of hope and competence in the mud of mismanagement and mindlessness, but on a national level, the GOP needs to commit itself to serious soul-searching. The big tent of Republicanism should extend to all freedom-loving Americans, diverse as their views may be. In return, the Republicans should stand by their principles of free markets and free people and refuse to be tempted by tactics of demagoguery or deception. The Democrats can have those back.
Mr. Danzig is a freshman who has not yet declared a major.