Let’s establish something upfront: I am not a hyper-devoted apologist for the Republican party and am often disappointed and even mortified by the GOP’s leadership and policy failures. I do not make a living in politics or as a pundit and have no desire to do so. Nevertheless, there are three significant areas where I believe conservative-Republican principles-ethos are clearly superior to more modern liberal-leaning Democrat principles-ethos and this is why I consistently vote Republican. The three core areas are basic civic philosophy, social fabric, and economic understanding. I cannot be exhaustive or scholarly in this format, but I will paint with some very broad brush strokes to start the picture and will then finish with some thoughts on particular issues.
BASIC CIVIC PHILOSOPHY
“No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” - Winston Churchill
Our Constitution did not arise in a quaint and naive philosophical vacuum. The Framers were very invested in a robust and just form of government, and yet they were also very concerned about the nature and extent of its various powers. They were especially alert about the powers of the state because history and their own experience showed how government can destroy and severely inhibit an individual’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Therefore, they developed a system of checks-and-balances - not just by separating power into legislative, executive, and judicial branches - but by constructing an intricate democratic republic instead of a raw democracy. This was all deliberately designed to create a slow-moving political machine that makes wielding power very difficult. As I often say, republic-oriented structures like the electoral college are design features, not flaws.
My sense is that the modern Democrat party bemoans many design features of our particular civic structure because it is too slow-moving and cumbersome to address the concerns they believe government should urgently intervene in and tackle. This is partly why we see a new generation of Democrats openly touting “democratic socialism” and the like. Indeed, it seems that modern Democrats share very little of the Framer’s sense of caution when it comes to government activism and power in virtually every sphere of life. There are notable exceptions to this, but in general, the liberal appetite for government-power-as-the-solution seems to have few bounds. I believe this basic impulse lies far outside our basic civic philosophy and is the historic pathway to interfering with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Now admittedly, Republicans have been far from perfect on this score. Their almost religious devotion to the ever-expanding military industrial complex and the neo-con approach to nation-building in our Western image are examples of the GOP gone awry. Nevertheless, I do believe there is a substantive divide in how Republicans and Democrats perceive governmental power... Republicans with general suspicion and Democrats with an enthusiastic embrace. This liberal ethos betrays our basic civic philosophy and in my opinion, leads down very dark paths.
Name almost any hot social issue - abortion, racism, immigration, environment, welfare, etc - and you are one degree removed from someone’s concept of morality, ethics, and religion. It may be true in a sense that you “can’t legislate morality,” and yet in another sense, all of these issues are driven by some notion of what is right and wrong - what is fair or unfair, etc. Every hot social conflict is a symptom of clashing convictions at a much more basic level.
This is where things get really tricky - especially for me as a Christian. On the one hand, I recognize that the United States is NOT a Christian state. It is technically a pluralist-secular state and I am not going to address whether I think that is good, bad, or indifferent here. If you are curious about my views on that, my book, “The Pajama Philosopher,” is still on sale on Amazon (wink, wink). For now, we will just stipulate that there are difficult tensions for someone who is of a particular religious persuasion living in a pluralist-secular state.
But now I have to nuance that a little because I do think there was a religious-philosophical framework that was assumed and promoted by the Framers. Namely, they were reasoning from a Judeo-Christian / Western philosophical worldview that placed a high premium on basic Biblical moral concepts, social institutions (marriage/family), individual responsibility, rule of law, retributive justice, etc. In fact, in his farewell address, George Washington said,
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness-these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, “where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in the courts of justice?” And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who this is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?”
While I would never suggest that the Republican party is consistently or thoroughly devoted to Judeo-Christian values, they at least give some credence to its vital roll in preserving our peculiar societal arrangement. I simply cannot say the same for the ethos of most liberal-Democrats who virtually celebrate being anti-Christian, irreligious and/or morally subjective. I’m not advocating for a theocracy here, so let’s just get that straight. What I’m saying is that for our system to “work,” there has to be a basic sense of shared values and I’m afraid the Democrats have abandoned our foundations and thus threaten our basic social fabric.
Our society is a melting pot, but this is a far cry from being multi-cultural in the sense that many progressives conceive of it. Our cultural (and really all cultures) are ultimately assimilative. That means that while we are and should be inclusive of outsiders and will even adopt and adapt at some level to outside cultural influences - it also means that cultures that “come into ours” are also radically changed. This is what happens when there is “melting.” Unique cultures blend and become part of the same base soup, if you will. To think that our country can have an infinite array of warring social-ethical ideologies is a betrayal of anthropological and social reality.
One of the canards I often hear from liberals is how Democrats are better for the economy - look at the prosperity under Clinton, the crash under Bush, the stabilization under Obama, yada, yada... I want to dispense with this argument right away because it is ridiculously simplistic. There is so much more going on that that surface analysis suggests. Can we also credit Newt Gingrich during the Clinton era? Or blame liberals for the housing crisis because of their push to approve more people for home ownership? Are liberals ready to credit record economic numbers solely to Trump? Let’s not argue at such an inane level.
Here’s the deal - what has driven the long-term prosperity, economic growth, and individual opportunity so unique to the United States? The answer is multi-variable and yes, government has a role to play. But you know what the most important role for government is? It is providing a stable framework for currency, property rights, contract law, and national defense. This predictable and stable context is what incentivizes people to unleash their creative potential on our national resources, amass capital, and then allocate that capital towards economic growth. Government creates an important context for this, but it is not the primary driver.
I believe conservative-Republicans have a better grasp of this dynamic than most liberal-Democrats. It seems to me that most liberal-Democrats have deep misgivings about the “greed” of industry and the private creation and distribution of capital. They love government taxes, levies, grants, subsidies, studies, committees, regulation, and programs. They recoil at Wall Street, banking, and various forms of private-religious philanthropy. Again, the difference in ethos is vast and meaningful.
Economic history is not on the side of socialist central-planning / heavy-handed government with high taxes. This squelches the capitalist impulse that creates wealth and raises standards of living. Government has a critical role, but when we try to put it at the center of the story, the oxygen goes out of the room. (I love mixing multiple metaphors! HA!)
INDIVIDUAL ISSUE #1 - TRUMP AS A SYMBOL
On the one hand, I couldn’t be happier that Hillary is not President and that Trump has been able to execute on some key victories for conservatives. On the other hand, I realize that this is coming at a very high cost - because associating conservatism with Trump is like wrapping a diamond ring from Tiffany’s in a discarded plastic bag from WalMart. It is not coherent or consistent. This sets up all kinds of challenges for winning people over to the Republican cause. My only prayer is that people can look beyond the blunt instrument of Trump’s rhetoric and towards the ideas that really matter. Time will tell.
INDIVIDUAL ISSUE #2 - IMMIGRATION
In general, I think the GOP is blowing a huge opportunity to tackle a huge problem that could solidify their future base. Namely, instead of taking up a fiercely nationalist rhetoric, they should be digging deep and getting creative for people who want and need immediate asylum. My understanding of jiu-jitsu is that you win by moving with your opponents energy, not resisting it. A caravan is coming to the border? Don’t send in the army - create a pathway for these people - pronto. I’m all for legal immigration - I know there are tricky issues at stake and that “nationalism” plays with a certain part of the base. But I also think that a large part of the base would respond well to a good solution - and it would win many independents and maybe even some liberals. The GOP is blowing it here.
INDIVIDUAL ISSUE #3 - ABORTION-ON-DEMAND AS CONTRACEPTION
This is a deeply troubling issue for me. Let’s leave red-herrings about every possible circumstance for abortion aside and focus on the real issue - should abortion-on-demand as a form of contraception be legal? My conviction is that the unborn fetus is a life - not merely a part of a woman’s body - but a life. And therefore it has legitimate protections from the government.
I understand all too well that many people disagree on multiple grounds. That is fine. I’m used to it. But please understand - I think murder is serious. I think murdering unborn children on-demand as a form of contraception is genocidal. So please excuse me when I say I cannot possibly vote for Democrats who embrace abortion-on-demand as contraception as a fundamental and innocuous right. One of the largest slaughters of human life is happening right under our noses and going by a different name. It is not okay and I cannot support a party that embraces it so passionately.