Over the last few years, as I’ve taken public stands on issues and ruffled some feathers, I’ve been derided as a libertarian, a moderate, a Christian conservative, a RINO, a Tea Partier, a liberal, a social conservative, an economic conservative, a neo-conservative, a limited-government conservative, even a Democrat (just to list a few of the labels that are clean enough to post on this website)—and these labels came from fellow Republicans. My wife and I would always laugh about all of this, because what it really reflected was the independence of my spirit, and how hard it is for some Republicans now to deal with someone like me.
So, let me be clear—for the umpteenth time—what I am, and what I always have been, is a Republican. Because of my independence of mind and judgment, I, like you, think through each issue based on my core conservative principles and come to positions that I then strongly support. I, like you, care about some issues more than others. My pet issues are education and national defense, and my concern for these different issues leads me to want strong and effective local leadership to address education while wanting strong and effective national leadership to address our national defense. To some my desire for strong and effective government locally and nationally at the same time is inconsistent, but I can complete this circle because of my understanding of the Founders’ idea of federalism and the different spheres of responsibility for each level of government.
Whether we like to admit it or not, we all share commitments to different pet issues, and we all come to positions that, to others, might seem politically inconsistent. Over time, some of us have gotten our pet issues written into our party platforms at the state and national level. That’s not a problem; in fact, it’s a good thing, because the aggregate contained in these platforms reflects the broad consensus within the party at any given time on the issues of the day. It is important to document this consensus so our elected officials and candidates have guidance as to that consensus; and it is important to remind our elected officials and candidates that they should heed that guidance or explain pretty clearly to us what conservative principles they are using to deviate from it.
The problem comes when we try to read the planks of a platform, or impose fidelity to our own pet issues, as if they are the political equivalent of verses of scripture—like an inerrant political Word. As I’ve said in other posts over the years, Republicans aren’t sheep and we aren’t jackasses—that’s the other party. Instead, we’re pretty ornery and independent-minded elephants, who are proud and stable beings who care for our herd, but who don’t want someone else’s political litmus test or pet issue imposed like a yoke upon us.
So, why do so many of us want to impose such rigid purity of thought on our fellow Republicans? Think about this—if each of our own pet issues and ideas must be considered as the scripture for the party that must be followed literally without deviation, can we ever really form a lasting and strong political party with those who disagree with some of our verses? Instead, aren’t we going to break-apart into smaller and smaller units with narrower and narrower agendas, until we can not elect anyone who will have the political support to make the fundamental and innovative changes we so desperately need? Isn’t this drive toward purity what is really behind the effort to label every Republican we disagree with as a RINO? If we are all RINOs to each other, are there any Republicans left?
To bring this post back full circle, will our future Buckleys and Reagans be allowed to hold opposing positions on the important issues of the day and still remain friends and allies, let alone be called “conservative” or “Republican”? Heck, will we even attract future Buckleys and Reagans to our party if we continue down this road?
The problem I am discussing is a problem Reagan and his generation foresaw, and it’s why they embraced principles, rather than orthodoxies or ideologies.
So, as our newly-elected representatives in Austin and Washington debate the issues before them, and as we start evaluating candidates for 2012, let’s not impose on them our own litmus tests, and let’s not call them “traitors” or threaten them with retaliation if they deviate from a platform plank. Instead, let’s tell them that it is alright to debate and disagree on how to use our conservative principles to solve the problems we face, and then let’s encourage them to debate the potential answers on immigration, the budget, ballot security, national security, the wars, foreign affairs, and many other issues guided by our platforms, but governed by our principles.
If we follow that path, I believe we eventually will get some great and innovative solutions based on our conservative principles—just like the solutions Buckley and Reagan worked together to give us a generation ago.