Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The GOP's Future

William Watkins of Southern Appeal links to this piece by Lou Rockwell, titled "The Future of the Republicans." There's much to say about it, but a few of the pertinent parts. First, there's his thesis, which he lays out in his second paragraph
The Republican love of liberty, which seemed to be a sincere impulse of the party's core during the 1990s, has been reduced to mere sloganeering. After many decades of balancing its ideological contradictions, the culture of the party – its leadership, activists, interest groups, and intellectual backers – has fully embraced power in all forms.
The Republicans have become the home of big-government conservatism - or perhaps worse - and he predicts this trend will continue in Bush's second term.
The second term will bring more of the same, or worse. Bush is going to try to install the country’s first-ever peacetime program of forced savings. Though it is being sold as privatization, it is a huge step-up in statism, and also prepares the way for controls on consumption spending, as seen in World War I and II. There could be more wars in the Gulf region, with Syria, Iran, and others tossed on the chopping block. As regards the invasions of individual liberty, there are no limits. Already proposed is a national ID, fingerprints on passports, more intrusions into bank accounts, more travel restrictions, more surveillance, and even the draft and national service.
I'm a little confused as to how private accounts will foster the growth of greater governmment, but I'll let that slide for now.

He continues on, and here's the money quote that William highlights:
Virtually all traditional Republican themes that were once seen as making a case against government have been transformed into policy agendas for more government power. Pro-family means a national law on marriage. Pro-religion means funneling tax dollars to religious charities. Education standards means centralization and regimentation. The free market means forced savings at home, vicious anti-trust prosecutions, protectionism for favored industries, and the imposition of new economic structures abroad. The parts of the GOP agenda that appear to be compatible with the idea of liberty – tax cuts and contracting-out of government services – are better understood as sops to the donor base that are unmatched with a principled commitment to spending cuts or meaningful deregulation. And even the contracting notion is being put to dangerous use in the privatization of tax collection.
As is often the case with the paleos, Rockwell makes as many astute observations as awful ones. For instance, while he's completely right about the protectionist policies - many of which have been altered, and which some of Mr. Rockwell's companions on the far right championed - and the growth of certain government programs, some of his other beefs seem more an attempt to bemoan anything which has come out of the Bush White House. Say what you will about the federal marriage amendment, but it is hardly evidence of some big-government power grab. I think the amendment foolish, but it represents an effort to prevent the judiciary from, as its backers see it, re-definining the institution of marriage. I also hardly think the idea of using religious groups as a means by which to administer social aid constitutes a gross enlargement of federal power.

There are also several minor quibbles with some of Mr. Rockwell's facts. In his litany of awful things about the President, he includes
not to mention two major wars that have cost hundreds of billions, and left only destruction and chaos in their wake
Hmmm, only destruction and chaos, eh? I'm sure the millions of people who just participated in the first free election in Afghanistan and have seen the Taliban removed from power might disagree with this assertion, but we'd hate to point out any positives of foreign intervention to the isolationists in our midst.

Mr. Rockwell also makes an historical comment.
The relationship between the Republican Party and the central state is very different. It was the party of big government from its founding in 1856 though the Hoover administration.
Ah yes, the fabled neo-confederate revisionist history argument. The American state was a pure federalist paradise until the big, bad Republicans came along and bullied the south, augmented the power of the central government, and ruled the land with an iron fist.

While it is true that many Republicans, especially Lincoln, were former Whigs who favored a more nationistic role for the federal government than the Democrats - for instance spending more money for things like internal improvements - to characterize the GOP as the late 19th and early 20th century party of big government is an overbroad argument that does a disservice to American history. The parties were more divergent and more regionally diverse than they are now to adequately define either party, generally, as the party of big government. I would hardly label McKinley as more "big government" oriented than Bryan or Cleveland. It is also true that Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, far outpaced any peer in his yearn to grow the federal government. (Jonah Goldberg discusses Wilson and Bush in the Corner today as a matter of fact). But that's more of a historical debate, and one perhaps for another time.

All those arguments aside, conservatives ought not to casually dismiss Mr. Rockwell's article, for as often as he over exaggerates, he makes critical and accurate points about the current Republican party, especially as led by George W. Bush. Big-government conservatism is still big-government. The idea that one can grow the government, but only in the interest of doing good, is folly. And it's not just the President that comes in for blame. Though I do not agree with all that folks such as our own Mouldfan, or Publius, and various others have to say about Republicans' growing thirst for power, they are not entirely wrong. More than once in the past few months I have cringed at actions undertaken by party leadership. At times it seems that we truly believe that we are the permanent majority - a trap the Democrats fell into a decade ago.

But this discontent felt by elements of the right is not something easily quelled. There is a great ideological schism that portends greater trouble for the Republican party down the road.

The Iraq war in many ways represents one of the great divides in the conservative camp. Rockwell observes
Third, there is its theological-political position that the American experience represents a unique godly intervention into world affairs, and that the American mission is a holy one guided and blessed at every step by the Creator. The roots of this error lie very deep in America's past, dating to 17th-century New England. But it is especially worrisome on the level of a world empire, with power-mad politicians claiming to act through Divine Mandate.
This messianism does creep into Bush's talk, and it his worst (IMOHO) trait. I am not shy about claiming America as the greatest force for good in the history of the world, but only the blindest patriot could not acknowledge our historical warts. Many Americans have of course dreamed of a benevolent empire since the time of its founding, and have sprinkled their dreams with the romantic vision of the glorious American republic enlightening the rest of the world. Such talk is part noble and part arrogant.

But at the same time, while we can never cast a blind eye on our historic failures, nor should we disregard the fact that at this moment, there is no greater beacon for freedom than the United States of America. It would be nice, perhaps, to turn inward upon ourselves and pretend that the rest of the world does not exist. Or, if we must acknowledge its existence, play no substantial role in world affairs beyond a shallow regard of our self-interest. But we can't do that.

Like it or not, we have the toys, we have the money, and we have the responsibility to act as guardians. What we must remain on guard against is the over-optimistic and fairly naive belief that we can simply transform the world. Simply installing "Democracy" accross the globe will not achieve what some of the neoconservatives seem to think it will. But at the same time we must recognize that creating a more stable environment in the Middle East will ease the tensions that have given rise to Islamic terrorism. Can war bring stablity? In the long run, yes.

There is a certain idealism of the Lew Rockwell set that I admire, but it does us no good to shoot for an abstract standard of perfection. Of course there are more substantive areas of disagreement between conservatives of my stripe and the paleo- and neoconservative variety that can never be adequately be bridged. I am not even sure that we can really co-exist as we ultimately have different philosophical beliefs. The Republican party will be unable to please all of these camps, but it should at least start doing a bit more to stop pissing us all off. Just a start.

Boy, to think we're the party that's currently in power. I can only imagine what you Democrats are going through right now.


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