Sunday, October 18, 2009

Opposing the Republican Party for the Right Reason

A farily large number of Evangelicals have become disillusioned with the Republican Party in the US over the past number of years. They have come to oppose the policies of George W. Bush, and especially the ill-fated decision to invade Iraq in 2003. But sometimes one gets the impression that they really oppose Bush and the Republicans because they are welfare-state building, economic liberals who find the war to be a handy stick with which to beat their political opponents and build support for the Democratic Party.

They are opposed to the Religious Right, not so much because of its stand on abortion or marriage, but because of the support of the Religious Right on issues such as limited government, the rule of law and fiscal conservatism - all of which stand in the way of the high-tax, big government solutions to all the problems of the world agenda about which they really care. Continuous expansion of the nanny state with fighting poverty as the excuse is their real preoccupation. To the extent their opposition to the war in Iraq is genuine, the most important reason for opposing it is that it funnels resources away from welfare state entitlement programs. Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren are examples of such Evangelicals.

A different group of Evangelicals has become disillusioned by the Republican Party for very different reasons. They are true conservatives and they view the George W. Bush Republicans as sell-outs for not governing as real conservatives. Bush has increased the debt, created new unfunded entitlement programs, allowed the size of the federal government to spiral out of control and failed to veto pork barrell spending earmarks on bills.

Richard Viguerie's book Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause was published in 2006 so I'm a bit behind the curve in calling attention to it now. But it is fascinating to read this book in 2009 and see how its thesis is being vindicated by events. He argues that the problem with the Republican Party is not that it is too conservative, but that it is not conservative enough. This is the second way to oppose the Republican Party and it is the route most Evangelicals will take, as opposed to the contention of Wallis and co. that the problem is that the Republican Party is too conservative.

Viguerie contends that conservativism is a movement separate from the Republican Party and has never been co-extensive with the GOP. He says that at best, it has temporarily seized control of the party, but the big business establishment of the party, which has historically controlled the Republican Party, has always looked down its nose at the social conservatives and traditional conservatives who are simultaneously embarassing and necessary to the party establishment. Viguerie calls for the conservative movement to think of itself as a movement first and as Republican only strategically. He wants conservatism to be a third force, not a third party, and to exert influence on the Democratic Party as well as the Republican Party.

Viguerie is a traditional conservative, not a neo-conservative or a libertarian. He identifies with the social conservatives and the populist conservative movement, not the imperialistic hawks or big business wing of the Republican Party. He is against judicial activism and a strict constructionist in legal theory. He is prolife and a fiscal conservative. He believes in the Tenth Ammendment and opposes the bloated federal government and its excessive taxation. Naturally, he is a big fan of Ronald Reagan and is looking for another leader like him - a true conservative instead of the blue blood conservative imposters like the Bush clan.

Viguerie takes some positions that might surprise those who believe that all conservatives think alike or march in lockstep behind some demagogue. He supports the Afghanistan war as a proper response to 9/11, but he is opposed to the Iraq War. He also opposes capital punishment in his chapter on "Building a Culture of Life." He was personally responsible for the direct mail revolution that allowed an appeal to the grass roots over the heads of the party bosses and professional politicians.

Viguerie is steamed about the fact that Bush has simultaneously betrayed conservatism by governing like a liberal and at the same time embarrassed conservatism by his stupid policies in Iraq. Conservatives are thus blamed for the policies of a man who is not even a real conservative.

Now, just a word about how the book is prescient.

First, he notes that the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976 paved the way for the election of a true conservative in 1980 and the similarities between then and now are errie. Obama is discrediting liberalism in the eyes of independents and seniors - two categories of voters who often determine the outcome of elections - and this will pave the way for the election of someone who is as unlike Obama as possible.

Second, he notes that the growth of big government has never stopped throughout the 20th century, but it has been slowed considerably under the conditions of divided government. The 2010 mid-term elections may deliver one or both branches of congress to the Republicans and may well set the stage for the derailing of the radical agenda so fervently promoted by the Democratic Left.

Third, the rise of the Tea Party movement, which appears to have no central, Republican Party approved leadership, is an example of exactly the kind of third force, conservative, grass-roots movement Viguerie's book called for. If you look at the current election in the 23rd Congressional district of New York, called to replace John McHugh, who was appointed to the Obama adminsitration as Army Secretary, the Republican Party establishment has nominated an ACORN-friendly, big labor backing, tax and spend radical named Dede Scozzafava. She is a recipient of the Margaret Sanger award and an ardent pro-choicer. Now, Doug Hoffman, a Conservative Party candidate has entered the race and for the first time the Democrat candidate has pulled into the lead in a tight three-way race. Hoffman may actually have an outside shot at winning, but if he does not he almost certainly will cause Scozzafava to be defeated. If the Republican Party continues to ignore conservative it will do so at its peril. Think of this as a preview of November 2010.

Viguerie's book is encouraging and well-worth reading. He opposes the Republican Party for the right reason: because it is not conservative enough.

No comments: