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The GOP is out of touch with Conservatism

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Message Eric Marshall

The GOP is out of touch with Conservatism.

Campaign finance reform is the only solution to this problem.

A number of articles have surfaced in the past year or so about what many in the media and blogosphere perceive to be a radicalization of the Republican Party, particularly by self described conservatives alienated by the recent tea party phenomenon. In a piece written last summer during the debt ceiling debate, New York Times columnist David Brooks chided House Republicans for their actions, claiming that members of the tea party movement "do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities," "have no sense of moral decency," and "have no economic theory worthy of the name." Shortly following the debt ceiling showdown, a veteran Republican operative on Capitol Hill, Mike Lofgren, "left the cult," excoriating the GOP for "political terrorism" and accused the party of deliberately plotting to undermine Americans' faith in federal institutions in order to reap short term electoral windfalls. More recently, former Bush 43 speechwriter David Frum wrote a lengthy piece in New York Magazine on the extent to which he felt that his party was "out of touch with reality," noting that today's conservatives "have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, [and] its own laws of economics." Julian Sanchez, a blogger at the libertarian CATO Institute, h as referred to this phenomenon as 'epistemic closure,' where "reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News."

The above writers attest that today's GOP is far out of step with modern political reality, yet what is more pressing is that today's Republicans appear to be largely out of step with the ideology they profess to adhere to, which has severely impacted the party's ability to elect conservatives to Congress. Several years ago, a lengthy piece was written about the decline of America's conservative movement (written by C. Bradley Thompson, a professor of capitalism who referred to the Democrats as "socialists" in his earlier work), which noted that "the ideals to which today's conservatives subscribe" ("compassionate conservatism" and "neoconservatism") are radically different from "the basic ideals that have traditionally been regarded as the gold standard of true conservatism: the ideals associated with Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign, which, in turn, point to the principles of America's Founding Fathers." In his best-selling book, The Conscience of a Conservative, Goldwater noted that his chief concern as a political conservative and United States Senator was to "maximize individual freedom" in a way that was consistent with maintaining social order. It does not appear that today's conservatives share Goldwater's priorities, however, as many recently elected Republicans are instead primarily concerned with legislating morality and enforcing a strict anti-tax orthodoxy in order to satisfy various special interest groups. At the same time, these Republicans vilify those they disagree with, such as members of the other party, various members of the media, as well as anyone within the Republican Party that does not oppose Barack Obama and the Democrats 100% of the time.

The following analysis of the positions held by today's leading Republican presidential contenders, as well as those held by "Mr. Conservative," shows how far today's conservatives have drifted from many of the ideals of the man who made the Republican Party a conservative organization in the first place. Before analyzing these conflicting views, it is important to note that today's conservative Republicans and Senator Goldwater are also radically different in their approach to governance. Today's conservatives, for example, regularly repeat some variant of "government is bad" or "we need spending cuts" whenever they are asked about a particular problem facing the country, and repeat vague platitudes about how the free market and private enterprise will solve everything as if such responses adequately address their constituents' concerns. This "all government is bad all of the time, government is the problem not the solution" talk fits nicely into the Republican narrative that they are the "small government" party while the Democrats are the "big government" party, but it is unclear how such statements adequately answer Americans' questions regarding the country's problems. An extensive study of Senator Goldwater's political philosophy reveals that conservatism does not mean that all government is bad all of the time, but rather that people should not turn to the federal government to solve all of their problems. If government intervention is absolutely necessary to address a problem, conservatives should advocate local and state action to address the issue before drafting federal legislation as a last resort to deal with the matter. The further away from the federal government a problem is addressed, the more influence the average citizen has in affecting public policy, and the more accountable elected officials have to be in solving the issue.

Today's Republicans vs. "Mr. Conservative" Barry Goldwater on the Issues:

"A public official owes the people--along with honor and integrity--candor about his views. Now, as I seek the highest office in this land as the nominee of my Party for the Presidency, it is more important than ever that you understand these positions. You want to know what the candidate believes, and how he would translate these beliefs into public policy. You, as an American citizen and voter, should demand this type of discussion from all candidates, at all levels, for this government is your government. It is not the property of the elected few.

"We consent to be governed. We do not elect to be ruled. But if your interest as an American citizen is confined to the tuning of a television set, the scanning of an editorial or column, without careful study of the issues and the answers offered--then it may well turn out that some day your actions will indeed result in electing to be ruled."

-Barry Goldwater, Where I Stand (1964).

Note: I believe that the GOP's remaining four presidential contenders are representative of the different wings of the Party, with Mitt Romney representing the business-friendly wing, Ron Paul representing the libertarian wing, Rick Santorum representing the religious conservative wing, and Newt Gingrich representing the Tea Party wing. Examining the views of these individuals on the issues of the day should thus provide a fairly accurate picture of where today's Republicans stand.

On Abortion

On Campaign Finance Reform

On Defense Spending and Foreign Policy

On Education

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My name is Eric, and I've been following politics heavily for about seven years now. I have a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of North Carolina, and I'm currently working on a Masters of Management in Accounting at the University of (more...)
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The GOP is out of touch with Conservatism

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