What Should the Republican Party Stand For?

What Should the Republican Party Stand For?

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
March 16 1999 10:00 PM

What Should the Republican Party Stand For?

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In 1975, Terry's onetime boss Pat Buchanan published a book titled Conservative Votes, Liberal Victories: Why the Right Has Failed. Inside, Buchanan attempted to explain why "conservative sentiment in the country so rarely translates into conservative government in the capital." And while Buchanan indulged in some "stab in the back"-type blame-laying for Nixon's Watergated passion at the hands of the wily Establishment, for the most part the author put forth a positive manifesto of cutting taxes and spending, rolling back the bureaucrats, and keeping a steely weather eye on the Soviets. I know the book was persuasive because I was persuaded; although still in college, I was inspired to help the Right reach its rendezvous with destiny.

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The victory of Ronald Reagan in 1980 was a case of conservative votes leading to conservative victory. And while the Gipper zigged and zagged sometimes, when his eight years were over, the world was transformed in ways that everyone from Pope John Paul II to Mikhail Gorbachev, from Bill Gates to John Kenneth Galbraith, can readily remember, albeit with distinctly different degrees of satisfaction and sadness. Newt Gingrich, too, owes something to Buchanan's not-so-silent-majoritarianism; while his speakership will be written off as a misfire, his Contract With America spiked paleo-liberalism once and for all. And so today Robert Reich is locked out for good, Ira Magaziner does laissez-faire Internet policy, and Anthony Lake, who couldn't concede that Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy, is off re-ivorying his tower somewhere. Indeed, the only significant engine of social transformation and income redistribution left to the Left is the neo-Naderite tort bar.

Unfortunately, Buchanan is no longer Crossfire-ing against such legal piracy, because he's now tilting at the same free-trade wealth mill as such troublemaking malefactors of misinformation as Ross Perot, Jesse Jackson, and ... Ralph Nader.

To his credit, Terry doesn't seem to agree with Buchanan's neo-Hooverite trade policy, but much of his proposed Republican platform speaks to an emerging phenomenon on the social-issue right: Call it populist minoritarianism.

Amid the general victory of conservative ideas on economics and foreign policy--many Democrats today are talking the talk, at least, of choice in education, health care, and retirement, and even Bill Clinton says he wants missile defense--the glaring failure of some conservative causes must grate hard on some 'wingers. In the 26 years since Roe v. Wade, for example, the legal and political status of abortion has barely budged. And so some "traditional values" conservatives feel distinctly back-stabbed. And not just in Washington. Out in the states, it must be galling for an ardent pro-lifer to see such pro-choice Republican governors as New York's George Pataki and Pennsylvania's Tom Ridge win thumping re-elections and emerge as national players while their own pro-life favorites, such as South Carolina's David Beasley and Alabama's Fob James, contemplate their next career moves, being retired by the voters in the same elections. There are two ways to approach politics: One can try to persuade, or one can be content to pronounce. Reagan in 1980 and Gingrich in 1994 proved the power of persuasion. By contrast, Terry's Republican platform--much of which I and most GOPers would agree with, albeit with a few word-tweaks--includes so much pronouncement that it actually dissuades. To say baldly "abolish abortion," and cite as one's authority "God and God's law," leaves me thinking that Terry is aiming for a good place in the hereafter as he sees it, not a first place in any election in the here and now as the American people see it.