This blog post by disaffected former GOP bigwig Bruce Bartlett has me thinking about my own reasons for shunning the party. As someone with an instinctual aversion to statism and an inclination to believe that the free market is generally the best mechanism for creating positive social, economic, and technological innovations, I've never been comfortable with the sort of blunt-instrument big government interventionism favored by old school liberals, and certain elements of the Democratic coalition (teachers' unions, urban political machines, radical pro-choice militants, etc.) I find distasteful, if not actively loathsome. I'm the type of voter who ought to be right in the GOP wheelhouse. And yet, since I've come of voting age I've held my nose and voted for Democrats more often than Republicans. Why?
Many of my reasons are the same as Bartlett's. The contemporary GOP's naked partisanship and complete lack of ideological principle are part of it - for the party to declare reforming Medicare outside debate while simultaneously arguing that Obama's health care proposals will bankrupt the nation is disgraceful, and a first-order insult to the intelligence of conservative-leaning voters. The widespread pandering to the delusional paranoia of lunatics like the birthers, with their unseemly, racially tinged xenophobia, is also an issue. Both are primarily problems created by the pressures of electoral politics, however, problems that the Democratic party also has in spades.
The biggest reason I am not a Republican is that the modern Republican party is intellectually bankrupt. On domestic and foreign policy alike, they have failed to present anything like a coherent set of ideas for tackling the problems of contemporary America, instead choosing to robotically repeat Reagan-era slogans as if they were magic mantras. The problem is that while Reagan was an effective conservative leader for his time, 2009 is not Reagan's time. Domestically, the U.S. does not face the same problems it did when Reagan was elected. Taxes are low. Business is relatively unregulated. Cutting taxes and de-regulating, therefore, are not the winning ideas they once were. While the economy might be just as bad as it was in the late 1970's and early 80's, the causes and nature of the downturn are entirely different. We're now living, working, and doing business in a global, information-based economy. The government must be willing to provide a business climate and infrastructure which enable American companies to compete and thrive in that environment, and in some cases that may mean that more government spending is necessary. Government spending is not in-and-of-itself a bad thing - the idea that government spending in areas other than defense, law enforcement, and bare bones infrastructure must always and everywhere be opposed to tooth-and-nail is irrational, and increasingly obviously incorrect, dogma. The international situation is entirely different as well. Certainly the U.S. still faces threats, but none are as powerful, well-organized, or ideologically unified as Soviet-era communism was, and Reagan's admirably clear rhetoric denouncing the abuses perpetuated by the USSR and its satellites is out of place in the murky, multi-polar world in which we now live. Responding to the threat of militant Islam by announcing a "crusade" against terrorism and invading a Middle Eastern country was, and continues to be, a batshit insane idea. Promoting the idea of bombing a country like Iran, in which a domestically unpopular regime only hangs on to power by appealing to nationalistic sentiment and demonizing the West, is equally wrongheaded. The list goes on. The Democrats' ideas are often wrong and even more often compromised by venal politicking, but at least they have ideas.
I have a sneaking feeling that the Republican party will need to absorb a few more sound electoral beatings before the fact that they are no longer connecting with a majority of American voters begins to sink in. As someone who readily self-identifies as a conservative and considers a great many of the ascendant left's initiatives deeply problematic, I find this distressing. American politics needs a sane, sober, reflective, and intellectually sound conservatism. What it has is the contemporary Republican party. The gulf between the two has never been wider.
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9 months ago