By Ronald Glenn
America’s Right has spent a great deal of time recently discussing the state of the Republican Party, most notably in some of Jeff Schreiber’s recent essays concerning the need for the GOP to emphasize its economic philosophy at this time (one that sticks out is Stop the Madness!, from May 8). When looking at how the GOP can come together in time for 2010, two aspects of the issue need discussion, as it doesn’t look as though the battle within the party will end any time soon.
First of all, the Democrat and Republican parties are not “pure” in some elevated, grand philosophical way. Each party is a coalition of interests that have found it agreeable and beneficial to exist under one banner. The Democrat party has more groups in its coalition, the most important of which are labor unions, civil rights advocates, pro-choice advocates, feminists, anti-war activists, ecologists, gay rights activists, and children’s activists. (I am certain there are categories I have missed.)
Within the last few months, it has become apparent the Republican party consists of two major wings: the religious/social wing (Mike Huckabee) and the economic/defense wing (Dick Cheney). These two factions have often tangled to see which would have the upper hand, but the current economic crisis has left their co-existence in doubt. The social conservatives believe they are the most important because religious morality is the basis of a great society. The economic conservatives believe they are the most important because they facilitate prosperity and advance capitalism, historically perhaps the most important gift the West has provided humanity.
Because of the banking crisis and the collapse of the stock market,the social conservatives believe the economic wing has lost its moral imperative. The social conservatives want to establish themselves as the dominant force in the Republican party in the face of the corruption and immorality of the business sector. They are calling this a “return” to conservatism.
The logic behind the economic wing of the Republican party to dominate is based on the premise that the economy is precisely where the Democratic party is the weakest. Spending the nation into hyperinflation and bankruptcy is not going to be a winning tandem of issues, and the failure of the Democrats’ policies will affect every American in ways that social issues such as teen pregnancy simply cannot. Also, fiscal Republicans insist that the social wing of the GOP will not currently draw moderate Democrats to the Republican party. Fiscal conservatism, they say, is the true “return” to conservatism. [I happen to agree. Polls are showing that we don't need to woo the center and center-left. -- Jeff]
However, the Republican coalition could collapse if the social wing of the party is unable to accept a secondary role. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is already strongly suggesting that the coalition will be under severe strain all the way through 2012. Personally, I do not believe social conservative voters will stay away from the polls, but there is a good chance they will be hostile to the economic wing, producing antagonisms within the Republican Party that could be destructive to its chances in the coming elections. Nothing pleases the Democrat Party more than watching conservatives bash each other, especially when the social conservatives go after the economic conservatives with the same zeal as they would a true liberal. For the sake of electoral majority conservatism, this coalition must survive and not divide the party into irreconcilable camps, spending more time fighting each other than their opponents all the way across the aisle.
Second of all, there is a powerful movement afoot that is drawing conservatives away from political party structures. The leading voice of this movement is radio commentator and filmmaker Alex Jones, who persuasively argues that the two-party system is a demonic hoax. Their disagreements are a sideshow, he maintains, because they represent the same international corporate and banking interests, they both passed the Patriot Act, and they are both spending us into oblivion. The only solution, Jones insists, is outside of the usual politics of conservative and liberal.
When I was young, my father told me numerous times that the most powerful corporations in America would donate the same amount of money to both parties in every election. Alex Jones particularly appeals to those who feel that the government does not listen to them and that the government is, in fact, outright hostile to individual liberties. Despite his somewhat outrageous stance on other issues, many conservatives have been listening to his point of view simply because they feel so betrayed by the eight years of former President George W. Bush, who just a few months ago admitted to abandoning his free-market principles at the tail end of his presidency. The problem is that, if too many conservatives adopt the anti-party stance, they will become shrill, angry voices largely unable to influence the majority of Americans for the better.
At this time in our history, conservatives do indeed feel disenfranchised, leading me to the conclusion that whether Alex Jones and folks like him are correct or not in their assessment, the Republicans will lose the most support in the short run if people lose faith in the two-party system. Yes, specialty parties like the Libertarian Party or Constitution Party may seem warm and fuzzy in times of GOP upheaval, but it’s important to remember that, at least for the moment, the Democrat Party faithful are not going anywhere.
In conclusion, conservatives must not despair. They must keep in mind that all coalitions have conflicting interests. The Democrat Party claims to support labor unions while advocating immigration policies that support non-union labor. The Republican Party sells itself as the Patriot Party, while permitting corporations to move the economy overseas. The point has to be emphasized that the Republican Party does not have to be abandoned. It needs to be fixed.
This can be done by emphasizing the interrelationship between morality and capitalism, emphasizing the common good and emphasizing what needs to be done to remain free. Keeping the Ron Paul movement in the Republican ranks, for example, will help tremendously. Religion will always have a great role to play in a great society — Wall Street needs prayer, too. But without a political party to give common voice and common direction to the future, conservatives may not only lose an election, they may lose their country.
Ronald Glenn has worked in real estate and law for more than twenty years. He now works in Philadelphia, and lives outside the city with his wife. Ron has been writing for America’s Right since January 2009.