GOP: Back to the Basics

November 13, 2006

While I stand by my contention that the Democratic Party is intellectually and morally bankrupt, I’ll concede Republicans are floundering right now. Ideologically, this is a center-right nation, and yet Republicans lost at the polls. Democrats are going to continue being who they are, but Republicans need to come home.

It’s true our congressional losses were not unusual for a midterm election, especially in the president’s second term. But if the party had stuck to its principles, it wouldn’t have sustained such losses. Republicans need to find their voice again, and well before the 2008 elections, which will be a formidable challenge.

Before addressing the points of conflict, let’s consider the principles upon which most Republicans agree. Most agree on lower taxes, lower spending, less government regulation, a strong national defense and originalist judges. Our elected Republican representatives haven’t always lived up to these principles, but they remain our principles.

Unfortunately the intra-party differences are many and growing in intensity. The issue of immigration is particularly divisive. Wall Street Journal conservatives are militantly open-borders. They seem to view border control advocates with an elitist disdain, attributing their views to a nativist, xenophobic strain. The border control activists resent the mischaracterization of their passion to preserve our sovereignty and unique American culture as racist. Many of them see the open-borders policy of the elite as wrong-headed naivete at best and economic idolatry at worst.

Maybe there is some merit in the contention that the stridency of some of the more extreme in the closed-borders group turned off Hispanic voters. But that’s a comment on tone, not policy. Besides, the election results on this matter are ambiguous. I think the open borders crowd grossly underestimates the breadth of the border control constituency, which is not limited to single-issue extremists. Growing numbers of mainstream conservatives (and others) regard laxity toward immigration, our language and the cohesiveness of our culture as ultimately threatening to the republic.

Social issues are another area of deepening conflict on the right. It’s not just former Sen. John Danforth and former Bush faith-based advisor David Kuo complaining about Christian conservatives and their involvement in politics. There are many country club Republicans, Libertarians, agnostics, atheists and others who, though otherwise conservative, have had enough of “intolerant,” “intermeddling,” social conservatives who they mistakenly believe want to regulate their bedrooms.

Many of them seem to be as Christophobic as the most secular of liberal Democrats. They are even promoting the wrongheaded, hypocritical and convenient notion that Christians — but not those of other worldviews or religions — should relegate their religion to the privacy of their own homes and churches and stay out of politics and the public square. Sadly, this idea receives the unlikely aid of many apolitical evangelical Christians who wrongly — in my opinion — fail to grasp the interrelationship between politics, religious freedom and cultural wholesomeness.

Then there’s foreign policy, which is rife with schisms among conservatives following the end of the Cold War and its unifying influence. On the one end, we have the neo-isolationists, who seem to believe that nothing short of a full-scale invasion by the armed forces of another nation on the territorial United States constitutes a threat to our national security that requires a military response.

On the other end are the neo-conservatives who appear to believe that we have not only the right, but the duty to invade other nations and establish democracies that will spread like a contagion into surrounding areas and lead to peace and prosperity for everyone.

In the middle are mainstream conservatives who believe our foreign policy ought to be governed first and foremost by our national interests. They believe the terrorist enemy is global in scope and design and that we must use all available tools to defeat it, that we were justified in attacking Iraq and removing Saddam and that encouraging Iraqi self-rule is the best of the imperfect options. They do not believe democracy, especially when not undergirded by Judeo-Christian principles, is a panacea.

President Bush has been erroneously assumed to fit into the neoconservative category because of his obvious enthusiasm for the pacifying effects of democracy. But I don’t believe he ever would have attacked Iraq had he not believed we had a strategic interest in doing so quite apart from nation-building.

The antidote for what ails the Republican Party and the nation today is not to surrender to the destructive policies of the Democratic Party. But in the next few years, conservatives need to resurrect a defining, unifying message, which might result in some realignments. The guiding philosophy should be Reagan conservatism applied to today’s set of similar (and different) problems. As the elections proved, Republicans cannot rely on the Democrats’ bankruptcy to bail them out — and they shouldn’t.