I have been a life-long Republican (I first voted in 1968), but lately I seem to have lost my party, and I’m hoping you can help me find it. Let me describe it for you.
I am looking for a Republican party that has the intelligence to know the difference between the firm foundation of a political philosophy and the straitjacket of a rigid ideology.
I am looking for a Republican party that has enough humility to recognize that good ideas sometimes come from others (Democrats!). We used to work across the aisle and craft useful bipartisan legislation. Yet what we hear on the campaign trail this year is that nearly everything that President Obama has done or proposed is seriously misguided, if not fundamentally wrong.
I am looking for a Republican party that understands the true meaning of our federalist system of government. While the federal government should not be an intrusive leviathan, and should be streamlined to be as efficient as possible, it has an important role to play in providing the infrastructure necessary for economic growth. (Think Abraham Lincoln and the transcontinental railroad or the land grant colleges).
Equally important, it has a role in creating the social infrastructure that enables people to prosper. One may debate the depth and breadth of that role, and what that social infrastructure should look like, but no matter how you slice it, government still has a that role to play.
I am looking for a Republican party that is fiscally conservative, not fiscally irresponsible. The economic straits we are in now are the result of a combination of factors (some being poor policy decisions by the previous, Republican administration), and the situation will take a multi-pronged approach to solve.
The short-term focus must be on providing sufficient liquidity (via expansionary economic and fiscal policies) to enable the economy to grow. Long-term, we must drastically reduce the deficit. This should be done primarily, but not exclusively, through reduced spending. I am dismayed by the widespread acceptance of pledges to never ever, under any circumstances whatsoever (even after Democratic concessions to cut entitlements), raise taxes (see rigid ideology above).
Spending cuts in entitlement programs should make up most of the solution for cutting the debt and deficit, but an important component should also come from a simplified tax code with no loopholes for special interests that does, in fact, raise additional revenue.
I am looking for a Republican party that balances individual initiative and accountability with a sense of community. Each of us is ultimately responsible for his or her success or failure, but we have a collective responsibility to provide the tools and opportunity, through various programs, to help the community at large succeed. This also means that in difficult economic times such as these we all must share equitably in the sacrifices.
I am looking for a Republican party that is not consumed by self-righteousness on social issues (see humility, above). Questions such as abortion and same-sex marriage are essentially religious ones, and we all should live according to our highest moral understanding. But political rhetoric that openly condemns others for their choice, in essence, attempts to impose one set of religious opinions on society as a whole.
I am looking for a Republican party that can craft a sensible immigration policy. While we should not encourage illegal immigration, and our borders should be secure, we must deal realistically with the undocumented immigrants already in the country through a rigorous process for obtaining legal residency; it is not practical to simply deport them all. Furthermore, we are desperately short of skilled scientific and technical people and should be encouraging the immigration of those with critical skills.
I am looking for a Republican party that is internationalist in its outlook. The United States, by virtue of its economic and military power, will continue to be the leading voice in world affairs for some time, but it is not the only one (see, again, humility, above). Our interests will never perfectly align with those of our allies, but we must forge a broad consensus that will forward our shared interest in freedom, stability, and economic prosperity.
I could go on, but this should give you a pretty good idea of what the party I lost looks like. If you see it, please let me know: I’d love to get it back.
And I suspect there are lifelong Democrats out there looking for their party, too, so keep an eye out for it as well.
Steven K. Brierley is a senior research physicist at a major defense electronics company. He enjoys the give and take of responsible politics.