Monday, July 13, 2009

Where Does Republicanism Go From Here?

I think I may be the only person in the world who switched from Democrat to Republican this spring. I didn't do it because I like the Republican party, I did it because I admire conservative principles. I think these are the right principles to lead us forward to a new era of American productivity and prosperity, but unfortunately there are a lot of Republicans who have confused principle with policy. Different times demand different policies, and we shouldn't consider any change to be a dilution or moderation of classic conservative principles.

The most important thinker of the conservative movement was the Irish statesman Edmund Burke. He wasn't a political philosopher as we think of them today, and he published no grand treatises or magnum opuses. Instead, Burke articulated his vision of politics mostly through speeches in the British Parliament. This was particularly fitting, because one of his greatest contributions to political philosophy was that we should be wary of grand theories - reality is complicated and humans aren't capable of experiencing enough to be able to ever have the final word.

This critique was articulated on the occasion of the French Revolution, a time in which men rejected any reformist compromises and challenged everything that came before. The French Revolutionaries were certainly right to question the rule of an absolute monarch, but everyone can agree that they took it too far with the reign of terror. This bloody purification was exactly the type of excess that Burke warned against.

Conservatives are at their best when they remember that no action is better than a bad action. But this doesn't give us a license to reject every proposal that comes along, we also have to understand that no action is perfect and circumstances sometimes necessitate a swift response. I believe it is the duty of the true conservative to reflect on the unintended consequences of policies and proposals, and to be watchful for zealous moralizing.

However, the modern conservative movement, embodied by the Republican party, has lost touch with this at times. We need a reality check, the kind of reality check that Burke would have slapped us with.

We need to recognize that a large percentage of America thinks abortion should be legal. We are unable to force any big policy changes down the throat of the public. Even if we had that kind of strength, it would be counter-productive. Isn't the point of pro-life politics to reduce the number of abortions that happen in the world? Why not work within the current system, alongside pro-choice-rs, to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies? Why not make adoption more available? I may be crazy, but I even think it would be good to have honest discussions about why each side feels the way they do about the issue. The point isn't to drag them over to your side, it's to promote mutual understanding and heal old wounds. I bet the number of abortions in America would be cut in half if that kind of co-operation happened. This is just an example of one specific issue, but there are many more areas for common ground and I'm sure I'll go into some of those in the future on this blog.

We need to embark on the journey of rediscovering the wisdom of the Founders, and of great political philosophers like Burke, Plato, and Aristotle. We need to open our minds and realize that the true and profound meaning freedom is not something we are automatically blessed with by virtue of living in America. Freedom is an ideal to aspire to. We all have our imperfections, and they hold us back from being the people we want to be. But the good news is that those imperfections can be minimized through hard work and determination. Only insofar as we are wise and exercise self control are we truly free. Freedom doesn't mean "do what I wanna do, with no stinkin' government in the way." But this should already be obvious because conservatives support strong enforcement of the rule of law. We need to be unafraid of acting like it, and we need to stop pandering to the narcissism and laziness of some in our party.

We need to realize that giant corporations are just as detrimental to individual liberty and free markets as big government is. Power corrupts, and nobody with a personal interest really wants a level playing field. Everybody wants an edge. The founding fathers meant to solve this problem in government by pitting ambition against ambition, and dividing up the powers in our ingenious constitutional design. But they couldn't foresee the mammoth corporations that have been enabled to exist by communications and transportation technology. I want to see economic policies that are focused on enabling entrepreneurship and small business. I want to see stagnant markets un-clogged with stronger anti-trust enforcement. We should not regard every government regulation as a bad one. What is a law other than a regulation? Do we not need laws to have order in society?

The real issue is, the law has to be applied equally and blindly. The law can't have political favorites, and big donors. This is why Republicans should push for strong campaign finance reforms, so that another slick Barack Obama cannot break another promise. The political campaign is not a free market, it is a job application process, and the government can and should regulate it more strictly. This is crucial to lessen the moneyed interests and create a more level playing field, to maximize everyone's freedom.

We also need to renew our vision of small government. A small government is only good if it is still strong enough to protect the individual liberties of each citizen. America is at its best if we have a society of individuals creating prosperous, healthy communities by working together. Markets are essentially communities of people, trading goods and services. I think a lot of the left's skepticism of markets is actually a skepticism of overly large, exploitative corporations that have the resources to buy political favors. But conservatives know that free markets are the engine of real progress. We should enable markets to develop solutions to America's problems by getting out of their way and breaking up their clogged arteries, and getting big government and old corporate favorites out of the way, freeing room for innovative individuals to go to work and be rewarded for their efforts. The future of business is small.

On social issues, we need to make sure we're picking the right goals (results, not politics) in order to make real progress and heal old wounds.

We need to change the Republican culture to be more reflective and less ideologically driven - Burke would be turning over in his grave if he watched an episode of Hannity.

We need to be pro markets, not pro business.

We need to gain back America's trust after the Bush/Cheney/Rove years damaged it badly.


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