Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Trouble with Republicans

“There has long been an element of the Republican Party that has felt a need to distance themselves from people who stand up for conservative principles, whether those with principles have been Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, or whomever.”

So observed Thomas Sowell on March 17 in his latest Townhall column, “The Republican Civil War.” Sowell is one of my favorite political commentators, together with Walter Williams and a few other conservative/“libertarian“ columnists. Author of many books that explode contemporary political and social fashions with bomb-squad precision, Sowell wrote what I consider the best critique of Marxism, Marxism: Philosophy and Economics (1985), in which he shreds the doctrine into countless specks of chad. And his columns can be depended on for their cogently piquant criticisms of what passes for modern political and social “received wisdom.” It is doubtful that any of his book titles will be found on President Barack Obama’s bookshelf -- if he has one.

His latest column, however, points up the main problem with the Republican Party, and with Sowell’s argument, which is chiefly that conservatism, as an ideology or a set of principles, is utterly bankrupt. Its adherents can only try to out-shout the Democratic Party that they could do a better job of “managing” the country and the economy, when the best solution is to get the government out of the economy and back to its Constitutional mandate of protecting individual rights. But such a solution is as abhorrent to the Republicans as it is to the Democrats. It would entail a relinquishment of power and the repudiation of not only the welfare state, but of the roles of God, family and other “traditional” values in the GOP platform. Any other course of action will guarantee a sentence of irrelevancy of the Republican Party.

Sowell takes the Republican Party to task for being bankrupt, citing its current infighting over whether or not to side with Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and other outspoken religious and secular conservatives. It is not so ironic that most Republicans wish to distance themselves from the likes of Limbaugh and Coulter, who regularly launch broadsides against liberals and the Democrats from their flip-flopping religious/common sense convictions. It is exactly those convictions on which the Republicans once campaigned and legislated.

The Republicans behave like private citizens cowering in fear of a roaming street gang, and seek to protect themselves by paying moral and political protection money to the gang -- the gang in this instance being the Democrats.

Sowell, however, does not name those principles, nor does he offer a constructive solution other than that the Republicans should stick to their principles and stop indulging in what novelist Ayn Rand called “me-too-ism.”

“There has even been an undercurrent among some Republicans of a sense that it is time to move away from the image of Ronald Reagan, to update the party and court newer and less embarrassing segments of the voters than their current base.”

One can wholeheartedly agree with that observation. The two Reagan administrations made no serious attempt to abolish or reduce the welfare state. Reagan did nothing to nip the Islamic jihad in the bud (remember the Marine barracks massacre in Lebanon?) when forthright and terminal action against our enemies, chiefly Iran and Saudi Arabia, would have spared us 9/11 and the two futile and costly Iraq wars under the Bush administrations. One is at a loss to understand why Reagan is upheld by conservatives as the template of “good government.” He is credited with making tax cuts. But what the government gave during his terms of office, can be taken away just as easily, as Obama and a Democratic Congress are eager to do.

And, of course, let us not forget that the Republicans, under both Bush administrations, were responsible for the largest expansion of the welfare state and intrusive government interventions, which the Democrats happily obliged them with, and which the Obama administration wishes to surpass FDR-style.

Jared Seehafer, in his article of March 17, “Jesus Christ or John Galt? The Republican Party’s Identity Crisis,” argues that if the Republican Party wants to regain Congress and the White House in the next election, it must abandon the religious foundation of its principles and discover and advocate capitalism. He also argues that conservatives largely recognize the value of capitalism and seek to ensure its existence, and that the Republicans must realize that religion and capitalism, as moral systems, are irreconcilable.

I agree with that evaluation, except that, from my experience and observations, I do not think the conservatives actually value capitalism. It is a secondary matter to them. But, Rand put it best in her 1973 article, “Censorship: Local and Express”:

“The conservatives see man as a body freely roaming the earth, building sand piles or factories -- with an electronic computer inside his skull, controlled from Washington. The liberals [the Democrats] see man as a soul freewheeling to the farthest reaches of the universe -- but wearing chains from nose to toes when he crosses the street to buy a loaf of bread.”

Further on, she notes:

“…Each camp wants to control the realm it regards as metaphysically important; each grants freedom only to the activities it despises…..‘Control,‘ to both camps, means the power to rule by physical force. The conservatives want to rule man’s consciousness; the liberals, his body.”*

Sowell raises the issue that Republicans could easily win more black voters to their party by charging the Democrats with the horrendous and ongoing debacle of their welfare state and educational policies.

“No segment of the population has lost more by the agendas of the liberal constituencies of the Democratic Party than the black population. The teachers’ unions, environmental fanatics and the ACLU are just some of the groups to whose interests blacks have been sacrificed wholesale. Lousy education and high crime rates in the ghettos, and unaffordable housing elsewhere with building restrictions, are devastating prices to pay for liberalism. Yet the Republicans have never articulated that argument, and their opportunism in trying to get black votes by becoming imitation Democrats has failed miserably for decades on end.”

All that is true. But what Sowell fails to grasp is that, for reasons of altruism, the Republicans largely endorse the programs that Democrats advocate and enact, but say that they would do a better job of it, just as left-wingers claim that Soviet communism would have triumphed if only it had been guided by “better men.” The Republicans are not going to garner any significant support by implicitly endorsing Obama’s aggressive takeover of the economy by bickering over such minor issues as the amount of pork in the stimulus legislation or by harping on whether or not Obama and the new Treasury Secretary “knew” about the AIG executive bonuses before taking an 80% ownership in the company.

(Abetting both the Democrats and the Republicans in that exercise in fascism are the news media, which continue to report the lie that American taxpayers “own“ that 80%. I have heard no Republican point this out. Nor have I heard any conservative warn the nation about the peril of forcing AIG executives to return their bonuses, which would be an assault on contract law via ex post facto taxation, regardless of those executives‘ culpability in the subprime mortgage fiasco. No Republican has upbraided Congressman Barney Frank for demanding a list of those executives‘ names, which he would hand over to a Congressional lynch mob.)

Seehafer is correct to ask what Sowell did not: What principles does the Republican Party uphold, other than religious-based ones, which Sowell does not even mention in his article? Another question to ask is: What intellectual leadership could cure the Republicans of their bifurcated political policies and persuade them to adopt a moral advocacy of capitalism?

It certainly will not be the Sermon on the Mount, nor even Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. It must be John Galt. It must be a philosophy of reason, or Objectivism.

*In Philosophy: Who Needs It. New York: Signet softcover (1982), p. 187.


Michael Labeit said...

I'm tempted to think this Republican party is set in its ways. Its the same reason why the Ayn Rand Institute markets Objectivism to students and young adults, not baby boomers and people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, ages that correspond with those within Congress.

Older adults are fixed, philosophically. There are exceptions, but this is a true generalization. If a rational Republican party were even fesible, it could only form itself after the party has cleansed itself of its contamiant.

Anonymous said...

If Republicans abandoned the welfare state, they'd lose even worse. Their vote tallies would be slightly ahead of the Libertarians.

The welfare state is a popular notion to all strata of our society; it relieves guilt on the one hand and provides a potential safety net for "me" on the other hand.

Edward Cline said...

If any of you watched Obama's appearance on the Jay Leno show last night (the 19th), all was good cheer and laughter and applause, until Jay Leno, much to my surprise, asked Obama about the consequences of Congress retroactively taxing the AIG executive bonuses, a subject I mention near the end of this commentary.

Leno more or less asked him, "If they can do that now, what's to stop Congress from targeting anyone and taxing selected "enemies" for any reason it wished?

Obama yadda-yadda'd in his answer. I can't even recall what he said, except something to the effect that "safeguards" must be put into place to prevent, not Congress from persecuting individuals or corporations, but from unsanctioned bonuses being paid.

Leno did not press Obama for a more specific answer. I do not know if Leno's questions were prepared, as they are during his bogus press conferences, or off-the-cuff.

Obama more or less was in his non-stop campaign mode.


Anonymous said...

"Older adults are fixed, philosophically."

This is a really good point. Once you get past the age of 30, it becomes increasingly less common for someone to change (or develop) their philosophical premises. For the Right, those philosophical premises are basically religion. For people in their 40s,50s and beyond who have a decades long *confessional commitment* to religion... well its the rare person who can pull themselves out of that. All this leads to the conclusions that today's Republican party will not embrace Rand or capitalism. The future really is a battle for young minds.


Grant Jones said...

Aloha Ed,

True to form, conservatives are ignoring the issue you and Leno raised. Instead they are jibbering about Obama's Special Olympics "joke." One can count on conservatives/Republicans to always focus on what's most important.