I have two older brothers, and I admire them both not only for their encyclopedic knowledge of 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, but because they—more than anyone I know—make respectable the ideas and positions I find silly.
My admiration is sincere. It’s hard for me, and I imagine for most people, to take seriously those who hold positions that I see as so clearly wrong. We’re all familiar with the term “identity politics,” and we think that makes us immune, but we all get absorbed into our own narrow corner, condemning those on the outside. It’s that mentality—of which I am guilty every day—that I want to address in this month’s series. The title, “Being a Good ______,” will drive the discussion as we ask, How can we be the best this-or-that? We’ll start by looking at the political arena, with Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians, and we’ll finish the month by dealing more broadly with conservatives and liberals in religion. It’s gonna be a fun few weeks.
To begin our series, we’re looking at the Grand Ol’ Party. I’m going to structure this post on information gleaned from Wikipedia’s entry on Republicans and on the party’s own website. In each of these discussions, we want to come at least from a neutral ground if not from that side’s presentation of themselves. Krister Stendahl’s rules for understanding apply to our entire discussion this week and for the month, and they deserve repeating at this point:
- When you are trying to understand another position, you should ask the adherents of that position and not its enemies
- Don’t compare your best to their worst
- Leave room for the possibility that their way is better than yours
So let’s talk Republican Party. This political organization dates itself back to 1854 and to its first elected president, Abraham Lincoln. Today the party represents American conservatism contrasted with the liberal or progressive platform of the Democratic party. We’ve discussed before the different motivations and emphases of conservatives and liberals, but as a refresher, conservatives prioritize care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity all fairly equally. Also worth reviewing is our discussion on IQ for conservatives and liberals.
Since the 1990s, the party’s core support has come geographically from the South, the Great Plains, the Mountain States, and rural areas in the North. Religiously, they have found support among Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Mormons, and Evangelicals across the country.
For a lot of people, when they think of the Republican Party, they think foremost of its social concerns and its role as the “Christian political party.” Much of its platform is shaped around conservative religious convictions, upholding traditional values based largely on Judeo-Christian ethics. Republicans largely oppose abortion, embryonic research, and affirmative action and actively pursue conservative stances on marriage and gun ownership rights.
As a Christian, I sympathize with many Republican convictions. Anything that values life and justice should be lauded. Moreover, conservatives take seriously the concept of social capital; no society has ever been able to (or, for the foreseeable future, will be able to) exist without social and moral common-ground. A society only thrives if they agree on what matters.
However, conservative social concerns run the possibility of marginalizing outsiders and newcomers. Of course both sides of the political aisle have problems with name-calling (and we’ll address that in coming weeks), but irresponsible Republicans have a tendency toward attacking sincere and non-hostile positions—calling people “snowflakes,” laughing at the idea of gender ambiguity, engaging in casual racism. Certainly Republicans and Democrats differ on the reality of these claims, but regardless, the need to not attack others is clear. And this obviously includes calling people stupid. It has been mused, “If a person is not a liberal when he is twenty, he has no heart; if he is not a conservative when he is forty, he has no head.” This quip embodies criticisms from both sides, but regarding the attack from conservatives, I think the discussion on IQ linked to above should be enough to suggest that the criticism is unwarranted.
Regarding economics, the GOP is generally anti-interventionist, supporting the free market and reduced government spending. As a consequence of reduced government spending, Republicans can advertise lowered taxes for all citizens, and their advocacy of capitalism pushes them toward deregulation and restrictions on labor unions. The Republic Party is also known for pushing a strong military and increased defense spending.
Again, I like most of these elements of conservative politics. Capitalism has increased the quality of life across the world more than any government or economic system ever has. Privatization has allowed for exponential progress and for more people to pursue their dreams to the benefit of mankind. In these regards, the Republican Party gets full marks.
Yet, there are always weaknesses that need to be addressed. Conservatives, in their crusade for fairness, reduced government spending, and privatization, can often come off as uncaring. Their disregard for the disenfranchised is, in many people’s eyes, their ultimate vice. Regardless of the logic behind their social programs, concern for the impoverished and marginalized must, at least, seem to take priority.
Social issues and the economy are likely what we think of first when considering political parties; they’re the tangible features of any party platform. But what really matters—what we really need to look at—are the intangible features of the party, the ideas and motivations that shape them. For the GOP, that’s going to be things like small government and having fewer people tell you what to do, having a strong military and feeling safe, respecting tradition—particularly of the constitution, and sharing in the bond of patriotism.
These are motivating factors for much of the country; they make sense for a lot of people. And as much as they reflect classical liberal ideals (think John Locke), I like them; as much as they reflect Christianity, I certainly sympathize. Yet, in as much as they stray from these elements, I—and likely many others—take issue. When conservatism advocates a sort of anti-intellectualism—as it has begun to do in recent decades—I take issue. As it shows blatant disregard for the truth and for facts, I take issue. Hopefully, Republicans and Democrats alike do the same.
As different as we are, my brothers have shaped a lot of the ways I think. More than anything, they’ve forced me to see the merits in the ideas I disagree with. Nothing can be more valuable than that; it is the impetus for this entire series.
The Republican Party holds a special position in American politics. It has the task of producing social capital, limiting the reach of government, giving peace of mind to millions. It acts as a balance to the other governmental forces at play. Or at least it ought to. Right now it has the “trifecta plus” (control of the executive branch, both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court), but there are a number of ways in which Republicanism can fail. If Americans are to be “good Republicans,” they have to embrace its virtues—justice, fiscal responsibility, love of country—and shun its vices—bigotry, callousness, willing ignorance. That’s the only way we can all work together and achieve that common good.