Monday, June 25, 2007

My June 9th 2007 Speech to the 3rd Annual Ireland Inter-Faith Roundtable Conference


Please allow me to welcome all of you who are attending this year’s Inter-Faith Roundtable Conference and to thank you for allowing me to participate in it. I would also like to thank Sheikh Shaheed Satardien in particular for asking me to address this Conference and express my views on the subject of Faith, Education and Integration. It is indeed an honour for me to do so.

I would like to begin by providing you with some background information, which may prove helpful in terms of understanding how I have come by a few of the beliefs which I will be discussing with you today. I was raised as a Roman Catholic but I disagree with many aspects of the Catholic religion. While I am still a Catholic, currently I would have to characterize myself as being more spiritual than religious.

Some of you are no doubt familiar with the weekly opinion column which I write for Ireland’s multi-cultural newspaper, Metro Eireann. As such you are probably already acquainted with my political views regarding US politics as well as the US’s domestic and foreign policies. But it was a combination of personal experiences, family background, upbringing and education, which helped form most of my perspectives on politics and on the importance of religious issues and spiritual values.

My mother’s great grandfather, Michael Lynch, immigrated to the United States from County Cork here in Ireland. My father’s great grandfather, Peter Laffiteau moved to the US from the Bordeaux region in southern France. As a result, I am a fourth generation American descendant of European immigrants from different cultures with different native languages. Indeed the United States of America is a nation made up primarily of immigrants and a mixture of their descendants.

The story of most Americans is the story of immigrants. More than 75 percent of all people who ever moved from their homeland have settled in the United States, the country that has welcomed more immigrants than any other in the world. Among the first American immigrants were Puritans fleeing religious persecution in England.. They were later joined by French Protestants fleeing religious persecution in France and by Jews trying to escape the clutches of 16th century Europe’s Holy Inquisition. Other immigrants came to the US because of political repression or a lack of economic opportunities in their homelands.

The United States’ ability to absorb wave after wave of immigration over the last 350 years is the central theme of its very existence not to mention its subsequent rise to become the most economically powerful nation in the world. Immigrants from around the world were and still are drawn to the US because of the wealth of economic opportunities there in contrast to the lack of such opportunities in their home countries. But not all of these immigrants were absorbed and integrated into US society as successfully as those immigrants who originally came from Europe.

You see, I was born and raised in Atlanta Georgia, deep in the heart of the southern United States. For over 200 years the states in the southern US were home to millions of African slaves and their descendants, who were bought and sold by the Caucasian settlers who lived there. These natives of Africa didn’t have the same skin pigmentation as the European immigrants and they didn’t leave their native lands and come to the US voluntarily. After they were finally freed from slavery over 150 years ago, there still remained a considerable residue of prejudice against them on the part of many Caucasians, a certain level of which still persists today.

However, I was extremely fortunate to have been raised by parents who did not share the same prejudices as many other Caucasians in the southern United States. The “n” word was never said in my home or in the Catholic schools where I was educated, (although I heard it a lot outside of these two spheres of influence). While there were no African American families in my neighbourhood, I did go to school with African Americans and regarded them as no better or worse as people or students than myself and my fellow Caucasian classmates.

Even though I attended a Catholic military high school, many of my classmates were neither Caucasians nor Catholics. All of us were educated about the history and basic tenets of many different religions in the classroom. My home life and religious education also heavily emphasized the fact that the differences between us were only minor physical or cultural distinctions. That we were very much the same in all other respects. This same philosophy was later applied to all other ethnic minorities that we might one day come in contact with.

Before returning to college to obtain my undergraduate and post graduate degrees, I spent over 10 years as a sales executive in the telecommunications industry. Many of my clients were engineers who had emigrated from countries like Iran, Pakistan, India and China for economic and or political reasons. Thanks to these relationships I was fortunate enough to be able to learn a great deal about their respective cultures as well as their different religious beliefs and social values. I received a wonderful education about their native countries without ever having travelled there to visit them in person.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, immigrants from Asia and their descendants were another group that experienced difficulty integrating with US society because of some minor physical differences. Only in the last 50 years has this prejudice begun to evaporate, thus allowing Asian Americans to become accepted as members of American society despite their difference in facial features.

More recently an increase in illegal immigration by Hispanics from Mexico and Latin America has been the cause of heated political debate in the US. This has been largely due to popular misconceptions that these immigrants are taking jobs away from native citizens and taking advantage of government services without paying their fair share of taxes for them.

Hispanic immigrants and their descendants have had less difficulty integrating into US society because they share the same physical characteristics and religious backgrounds of most Caucasian Americans. Like many European immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries (including my own great, great grandfather), the main distinction between them and Caucasian Americans is in terms of their native language. Thanks largely to their ability to more easily immigrate and assimilate into US society; Latinos have now replaced African Americans as the single largest ethnic minority group in the country.

Over the past 40 years the US has also witnessed an increase in immigration from countries in Africa and from nations in the Middle East where Islam is the dominant form of religious worship. However, unlike most of their Hispanic counterparts, language is not as much of a barrier for these immigrants because most of them already speak English as their second language. What distinguishes many of these immigrants from other African or Caucasian Americans is their use of the traditional dress of their native lands. Hijabs, robes, saris and turbans which were once rarely seen in the US outside of New York City and the United Nations, have now become commonplace in many cities and towns throughout the country.

I believe the recent bans on the wearing of hijabs by Muslim women in the cities of Antwerp and Berlin are very discriminatory and not conducive to the integration of Muslims into European civil society. I wonder how Christians would react if those same city councils were to ban the wearing of crosses as well? I believe actions such as these, to coerce people from other countries to “fit in” to the dominant culture of the country where they are living, only serve to arouse resentment and act as a barrier to integration with that nation’s civil society.

Based on my personal experiences dealing with people from other countries and cultures, I believe we should not only respect cultural and ethnic differences but that we should actually celebrate them. I have learned something which has benefited me personally, from every culture and ethnic group I have ever had the pleasure of coming into contact with. I also believe that ethnic homogeneity weakens the fabric of a country’s society in much the same way that a lack of genetic diversity weakens biological species. Societies and biological species which lack diversity evolve in ways which emphasize their flaws and weaknesses, leaving them more vulnerable to unexpected changes in their external environment.

Cultural diversity allows a society to draw on the strengths of various different cultures leaving it in a better position to cope with political and social changes in its external and internal environment. The United States was originally a group of British colonies so it isn’t surprising that English is the un-official language and that the US legal system is based on English Law. Yet according to the latest US census figures, more than 60 million Americans trace their ancestry to Germany and over 40 million to Ireland while only 35 million claim to be of English descent. 25 million Americans are of African descent and over 15 million have their roots in Italy. More than 12 million legal US citizens are from Mexico while over 10 million trace their heritage to France with another 9 million claiming Poland as their ancestral homeland.

For the first time in its history, non-Irish immigrants now comprise more than 10 percent of Ireland’s population, thanks largely to the recent economic boom often referred to as the “Celtic Tiger”. Like most US immigrants these non-Irish citizens are hard workers performing tasks which are essential to the economic health and well being of Ireland. The key to helping them become a part of Irish society is education on a number of levels. Religion has a vital role to play in this educational process.

I wish that the national governments of all nations would mandate that school children be taught not only about the history of their own country, but also about the history of the many different religions and cultures which exist throughout the rest of the world. I think that a better appreciation and understanding of why differences exist would go a long way towards preventing violence stemming from cultural, ethnic and religious misunderstandings and conflicts.

Ireland has already experienced first hand the violence which resulted from political conflict rooted in the religious differences between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Similar conflicts are being played out around the world between Jews and Moslems in Israel and Palestine, between Shiite and Sunni Moslems in Iraq as well as Christians and Moslems in other parts of the world.

I find it ironic that so many adherents of Islam, Christianity and Judaism either can not or will not acknowledge the many religious, geographic, historic and cultural similarities ( i.e. monotheistic, Middle East roots and birthplaces, descendants of Abraham etc.) shared by these religions. I like to refer to these religions as the “Abrahamic faiths” in an effort to emphasize our common heritage and shared values.

However, the “Abrahamic faiths” (as well as other religions) also share a history of using violence to advance their political goals in the name of religious beliefs. The Muslim conquests of parts of the Roman and Persian Empires in North Africa, Spain and the Middle East in the 7th and 8th centuries were followed by the Christian crusades in the Middle East during the 10th and 11th centuries.

Nor are militant Muslims the first religious extremists to use terrorism to advance their political goals. The first known use of terrorism was over 2000 years ago by Jewish Zealots, who terrorized Romans and citizens suspected of aiding them by murdering them in crowded marketplaces. Just 60 years ago Jewish Zionists used terrorist bombings against the British and other civilians in Palestine. Christian extremists were responsible for terrorist bombings in India and the murders of abortion providers in the US during the past 15 years as well.

All of the world’s major faiths have members who consider themselves to be “fundamentalists” but not all “fundamentalists” are “militants” who advocate the use of violence. Jehovah’s Witnesses are resolutely pacifist Christian fundamentalists who completely reject violence or militancy and refuse to serve in the armed forces of any country.

On the other hand there are currently religious militants perpetrating violence against non-believers in Sri Lanka and Myanmar (by Buddhists), Kashmir and India (by Hindus), Uganda and India (by Christians), Indonesia, Sudan, Somalia and the Philippines (by Muslims), Iraq (by Shiite and Sunni Muslims) and Palestine (by Jews).

So much media attention is focused on the negative views of militant religious extremists and violent clashes between the Judeo-Christian and Muslim worlds, that informed discussion of the many similarities and positive influences they have (in the past) and could have (in the future) on each other is lost in the debate over the positions of a few militant religious extremists. This has given members of religious faiths who wish to return to the practice of the fundamentals of their faith a bad name.

The basic principles of Islam involve, praying, fasting, and giving to the poor. Islam provides clear guidance for all of a person’s life, and its teachings reference care for the family, concern for the welfare of parents and the aged, and concern for learning and work. Proscriptions against racial discrimination are also included in Islam’s teachings.

Christianity and Judaism embrace these same principles as do most other religious faiths. It is therefore difficult for me to understand why we have allowed religious extremists of many different religious persuasions to hijack their respective religions and use their religious fundamentalism as an excuse for violence. Such violence is contrary to the basic teachings of all religions.

The ongoing conflict between Israeli’s and Palestinians is a prime example of the futility of using violence to achieve ones pseudo-religious political goals. In an existential conflict driven by memory, identity, religion and national trauma, the Israeli and Palestinian capacities to absorb and inflict pain are limitless. Osama bin Laden has hijacked Muslim sympathies for the plight of Palestinians and used these sentiments to wage a violent war against western governments and what he believes to be western cultural pollution, which has heightened tensions between non-Muslim natives and Muslim minorities in many western countries.

If meaningful alliances are to be made among societies that have recently clashed or harbor historic resentments, religion - like it or not - must play a central role. Since Muslims and Roman Catholics comprise the two largest religious communities in the world, each with more than a billion followers, it thus follows that they are both essential elements in resolving the current conflicts between Western and Middle Eastern societies within an increasingly globalized and secular world.

Both religions are currently struggling to reconcile the ways in which they interact with one another as well as the so-called secular world due to the effects of globalisation. Thus, building long-term professional, personal, and institutional relationships between Muslim and Roman Catholic scholars, public intellectuals and religious leaders constitutes a difficult but necessary task. I fervently believe that such a dialog is possible and will support efforts by those who promote such dialog and seek to emphasize our many religious and cultural similarities while also celebrating our differences.

I hope that all religious leaders will begin to solicit the support of their congregations to promote more cultural exchanges involving the citizens of other countries, particularly those from whom their immigrant populations are drawn.

A World History or Ethics & Humanism course which also explores the formation of most of the world’s current ethnic identities and religious denominations could highlight their similar moral and or ethical values and allow students to better relate to their counterparts from other countries. Over time, these students could then help educate their parents and the general populace about those members of society who appear to be different from them. I believe these measures are essential to achieving the goal of successfully integrating “new” Irish immigrants into an “old” Irish society, while also allowing these immigrants to retain the culture and customs of their native homelands. I hope you will find my suggestions helpful and I want to thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to discuss them with you here today.

Bush administration Conflicts of Interest continued

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on June 28th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In addition to the convictions I cited in last week’s column, there exist numerous other examples of Bush administration political appointees abusing their positions of government power.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will probably lose his job eventually, but will never be charged regarding the politically motivated firings of 8-9 US Attorneys last December. Likewise, Bush’s former Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has admitted to conflicts of interest in arranging for a huge raise for his girlfriend (and may yet be forced out as head of the World Bank) but will never face any charges.
Monica Goodling, the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) White House liaison officer, ‘took the fifth’ and invoked her right to avoid giving ‘self incriminating’ testimony, in response to subpoenas to testify before Congressional panels investigating the aforementioned US Attorney firings. This must be construed as an admission of guilt on her part or else why does one need to invoke your Fifth Amendment rights?
A US federal judge recently granted Goodling ‘limited immunity from prosecution’ so she can tell the House Judiciary Committee what she knows about White House involvement in the firings of the aforementioned 8-9 US Attorneys. The grant of immunity wasn’t meant to apply to Goodling’s hiring, promotions and firing practices at the DOJ, but was to compel her to talk about what she knows about the firings of those 8-9 specific US Attorneys last December. Unless she commits perjury, whatever Goodling says to Congress cannot be used in the future to prosecute her.
That grant of immunity was necessitated by the fact that Monica is also under investigation by her former employers at the DOJ in a separate case involving her violating Federal laws governing US Civil Service hiring practices. It is against Federal law and DOJ regulations to consider a person’s political affiliation when hiring them for Civil Service positions. However, Monica did subsequently testify about her hiring practices, admitting she had crossed the line in questioning job candidates’ political affiliations but didn’t know that doing this was illegal.
Numerous DOJ employees have stepped forward as witnesses to Goodling’s blatant disregard of these laws and regulations in both refusing to hire anyone she considered to be a Democrat (or that she thought was disloyal to conservative Republican Party social ‘values’) and by denying promotions and or firing any existing DOJ attorneys she felt were guilty of the same ‘offences’.
Monica Goodling’s practice was to review all hiring of assistant United States attorneys and to hire less qualified or experienced lawyers who graduated from conservative Christian law schools like her own alma mater Regent University School of Law, which was founded by conservative Christian TV evangelist Pat Robertson.
She would also hire less qualified members of the conservative Federalist Society and reject more qualified and competent applicants who had interned for Democratic legislators or worked on behalf of ‘liberal’ causes. Goodling’s reviews resulted in delaying hiring decisions for weeks or months, creating problems for busy US Attorney offices around the country.
I must agree with what former Republican US Attorney for Eastern Arkansas Bud Cummins said about Goodling's hiring practices at the Justice Department; “A more experienced person would understand you don’t help the party by trying to put political people in there. You put the best people you can find in there.”
Monica Goodling is representative of the scores of other ideologically correct Bush appointees who were placed in positions of power despite their dreadful lack of experience and in many cases, their total ignorance or lack of knowledge much less any prior demonstration of managerial competence.
Monica Goodling's Justice Department hiring methods were either consciously illegal (despite her assertions to the contrary), but she figured she wouldn't be caught, or reflect her complete ignorance of US laws and regulations (as she claimed in her testimony before Congress). Either way she was a totally inappropriate choice for her respective positions of power in the US federal government.
Philip Cooney, an oil industry lobbyist before he became White House Chief of Staff for the Council on Environmental Quality, has admitted changing government reports to eliminate or downplay links between greenhouse gases and global warming before he resigned to go to work for Exxon Mobil in 2005. Likewise, the Interior Department Inspector General accused Julie MacDonald of changing recommendations of Fish and Wildlife Service scientists regarding endangered species and improperly leaking internal information to industry lawyers and lobbyists. She finally resigned on May1st. Conflicts of interest yes, but legal charges? I doubt it.
Bush appointees currently under investigation include Robert W. Cobb, NASA's Inspector General, who is under investigation for ignoring safety violations and tipping off space agency officials about internal investigations. Matteo Fontana is a Department of Education official who is now under investigation for conflicts of interest involving the student loan industry. Dr.Eric Keroack abruptly resigned as the head of the US family planning program, after the Massachusetts Medicaid office launched a fraud investigation of his private practice last month. Lurita Doan, head of the General Services Administration, is now under investigation for violating a federal law that restricts Bush appointees from using their positions for political purposes.
Last but not least we have the convicted J. Steven Griles’ girlfriend, Sue Ellen Wooldridge. First, she, Griles and ConocoPhillips oil lobbyist Donald R. Duncan bought a million dollar beach house on Kiawah Island. Then 9 months later in her capacity as the top Justice Department prosecutor in the environmental division, she approved a deal giving ConocoPhillips 3 additional years to install a half a billion dollars worth of pollution control equipment at one of its refineries just days before she resigned from the Justice Department. Hopefully she will soon get to join her boyfriend in prison, only not for conjugal visitations.
Speaking as a lifelong Republican, let me now apologize for Monica Goodling and the scores of others like her, such as Philip Cooney, Julie MacDonald, Lurita Doan, Steven Griles and Sue Ellen Wooldridge, who the current Republican administration appointed to important government positions. Their actions as government officials have disgraced a great political party and I hope that they will all get what they deserve, jail time and a permanent bar against them ever working for or holding a position in US, state or even local government. These people are a disgrace to the government, themselves and the Republican Party they claim to serve.

Bush administration Criminal Convictions and Conflicts of Interest

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on June 21st 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In a previous column I discussed “Scooter” Libby’s convictions for obstruction of justice and perjury as being the first felony convictions of a high ranking White House official since the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980’s.
Bush’s top political advisor, Karl Rove, and his Vice President, Dick Cheney, were also implicated at Libby’s trial for their roles in a “whispering” campaign to discredit former US Ambassador Joe Wilson. Ambassador Wilson had angered them by exposing the Bush administration’s use of discredited intelligence about Iraq’s WMD capabilities to help justify their decision to invade Iraq. Libby incidentally, was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison for those felony convictions.
It says something about the White House and particularly Vice President Cheney that, according to Cheney, he has not had a single conversation with “Scooter” Libby since his conviction almost three months ago. Cheney was, after all, referring to a man who was once his best friend, had served as his right hand and chief political advisor for many years, as well as his (Cheney’s) White House chief of staff since he first took office in 2001.
The crimes Libby committed were part of an unsuccessful attempt by Libby to do Cheney and Rove’s bidding, and then lying about it to avoid having them implicated for their roles in disclosing Ambassador Wilson’s wife’s identity as a covert CIA operative. Hmmm. One has to wonder; with friends like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, who needs enemies?
Or is there some reason why Cheney isn’t talking to a man he has spent more time with over the years than anyone else, including his own wife? Could it be that there is a Presidential pardon in the wind before Bush leaves office in January 2009? Soon to announce (potential) Republican Presidential candidate Fred Thompson has already flatly stated that he would pardon Libby if he was President. Stay tuned.
A reader recently asked me if any other Bush administration officials had been similarly accused of crimes or conflicts of interest. The short answer is yes, so I will now attempt to provide a summary of the charges and accusations against various Bush appointees. But first I want to note that the Bush administration has probably been no better, but possibly a bit worse in this regard, relatively speaking, than previous Republican and Democratic Presidential administrations.
Worse in that the current Bush administration has shown a knack for appointing other Republicans to positions of Federal government power who are either ill equipped or ill suited for their positions. Some of them came into government directly from their previous jobs as lobbyists on behalf of the industries they were then supposed to regulate. This is kind of like ‘putting the fox in charge of the hen house’ if you ask me.
Others lacked experience, any prior track record of managerial competence or even worse, they were ignorant of what their respective government job responsibilities entailed. The former head of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), Michael Brown, who led the US Government’s disastrous emergency response to Hurricane Katrina, is one of the more egregious examples of this lack of experience and managerial incompetence.
Worse yet were those with prior records of ignoring government ‘conflict of interest’ rules who then consciously acted in an illegal manner, thinking that they could avoid being caught doing so.
Unfortunately for me as a member of the Republican Party, it will take this and another follow-up column just to give you a brief overview of some of those Bush appointees who have either been convicted of illegal actions while in government or accused and investigated for ‘conflicts of interest.’
Those who have already plead or been found guilty include Darleen Druyun. She was a Defence Department procurement officer who recently served nine months in prison for violating federal conflict of interest rules. She approved a 23 billion dollar deal with Boeing to lease tankers for the Air Force to use for refuelling planes in the air and then quit her job and took a position with Boeing.
J. Steven Griles was the Deputy Interior Secretary who is now the highest-ranking Bush administration official convicted in lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s influence peddling scandal. Griles was a coal, oil and gas industry lobbyist before Bush appointed him as Deputy Interior Secretary. He was forced to resign that position in 2005 after an 18 month investigation by the Department of Interior’s Inspector General of his violations of rules pertaining to conflicts of interest.
While he was never charged in that case, Griles recently pleaded guilty to obstructing justice by lying to a Senate committee about his relationship with Jack Abramoff and his actions as the chief operating officer of the Interior Department on behalf of Abramoff’s Indian tribe clients. He is currently awaiting sentencing.
David H. Safavian was the powerful Chief of Staff of the General Services Administration convicted of lying to investigators about his relationship with Abramoff and is also awaiting sentencing. Safavian was convicted of lying and obstruction of justice regarding his efforts to support Abramoff’s purchase of two properties controlled by the GSA. He also lied about the expensive golf trip he took with Abramoff to Scotland and London.
Roger Stillwell was an Interior Department official who worked in the Insular Affairs Office, which handled issues involving the Northern Mariana Islands. Abramoff was the lobbyist for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands who plied Stillwell with hundreds of dollars in face value (but thousands of dollars in market value) tickets to football games and concerts. He pleaded guilty and was fined and sentenced to two years probation for refusing to report these “gifts.”
Also, Bush's domestic policy adviser, Claude Allen pleaded guilty to theft charges involving fraudulent merchandise returns while he was working at the White house. He was fined and sentenced to two years probation for these thefts.
Next week I will summarize other cases in which high ranking Bush administration political appointees have been accused or are still under investigation, involving their ‘conflicts of interest.’

The Future of the Republican Party

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on June 14th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

What does the future hold for my Republican Party and its chief political opponent the Democratic Party? As things currently stand, I am afraid that the Republican Party may be about to check into an extended stay hotel that lacks many of the amenities we have grown accustomed to since President Nixon won the 1968 Presidential election.
During that time the Republican Party has either been in control of the Congress, the Presidency or both for all but six of those thirty eight years. Before that the Democrats controlled Congress for thirty six years and the Presidency for all but eight (thank you General Eisenhower) of those same thirty six years. I foresee at least six and possibly eight to twelve years for the Grand Old Party (GOP) to be out of government and that is my best case scenario. Worst case, we could be facing another long drought like the thirty six years we experienced in the middle of the 20th century.
I wish I could blame all of this on President Bush and his disastrous decision to invade Iraq, but the problems my party is now experiencing run much deeper than just the Iraq war. I for one believe that many other elected representatives of the party have lost sight of the Republican values that I believe the party once stood for. As a college student I became a Republican because of the Party’s commitment to defend US citizen’s economic and individual freedoms.
At their core, Republicans had a strong belief in personal responsibility, limited government and minimal regulation. Republicans favored free-market economic policies supporting capitalism, and this belief was reflected, in part, by the party’s long-term advocacy of tax cuts (a major Republican theme since the 1920s) and its fight to balance the federal budget by controlling government spending. Republicans were also wary of laws which impinged on individual freedoms (such as the right to privacy and the right to bear arms) as set forth in the US Constitution.
Abraham Lincoln led Republicans in the civil war to free slaves from their Democratic Party owners in the South. Teddy Roosevelt had established national parks and wildlife refuges to protect and conserve the country’s natural resources. Republicans were foreign policy realists who sought to negotiate with authoritarian regimes in Russia and China and reduce the potential for world wide conflict.
But when we took control of Congress and the Presidency in 2000, instead of being watch dogs over government spending, Republican legislators became champions of giving tax breaks to their favored business supporters and feathering their nests with lobbyist gifts and campaign contributions. Republicans took the same pork barrel policies they used to decry Democrats for using to new heights of fiscal irresponsibility. We cut taxes for wealthier Americans but did little to help the middle class families struggling to put their children through college.
Balancing the budget ceased to be a priority for Republicans when doing so meant angering particular voter or business constituencies. Rather than rescind recent tax cuts to pay for the war in Iraq, Republicans allowed the federal budget deficit to balloon to record levels instead. Contrary to the concept of free markets and capitalist competition, the Republicans also rubber stamped Bush administration decisions to give multi-billion dollar contracts to corporations with no bidding and little oversight. Republicans also supported Bush administration proposals to ignore citizens constitutional rights to privacy by wiretapping phone calls and accessing records without judicial court approvals.
The GOP ignored its anti-slavery roots dating to Abraham Lincoln and began to court voters who were opposed to civil and voting rights for the African-American descendants of slaves, particularly in the southern states of the US. The Party of Teddy Roosevelt also began to cater to voters in the western US who were opposed to restrictions on the use of natural resources contained in the countries national parks and wildlife refuges. Instead of working to reduce tensions in the Middle East by pushing Isreal to accommodate Palestinian interests, the conservative Republican majority decided to use the war on terror as an excuse to invade Iraq and depose a dictator it had once supported. It justified this behavior by stating that spreading democracy throughout the Middle East was the solution to the problems in the region.
The end result of this retreat from long held Republican Party values is that the Republican Party I joined over 25 years ago is now just a shadow of its former self. Over the next two years, internal disagreements over Democratic majority proposals will increasingly fragment the Republican congressional caucus. Republicans with "safe seats" in staunchly Republican districts or states will still support the Bush administration, but those with more divided constituencies will face strong pressures to stake out positions opposing the Iraq war and subject other policies to oversight.
The U.S. news media, which has frequently focused on disagreements and disorganization within the Democratic Party, will now portray the Republican Party as being increasingly divided and in disarray. President Bush's low approval ratings and the unpopular Iraq war have eroded support for the party among independent voters. While the Democrats currently hold a slim one seat majority in the US Senate, Republicans face a difficult task regaining control of the Senate in 2008, when 21 of their Senate seats will be up for re-election versus only 12 Democratic seats. Thus it is much more likely that the Democrats will capture additional Senate and House seats in 2008 and strengthen their control over Congress.
Beyond 2008 Republicans face another worrisome trend among new voters. Young people and immigrants who have recently gained the right to vote are largely identifying themselves as either Democrats or independents, affiliations which history has shown are likely to remain entrenched for most of these voters lifetimes. The resurgence by Democrats at the state level (which began in 2006) in terms of control of Governorships and legislatures will result in redistricting changes following the 2010 census which will favour the creation of more Democratic majority congressional districts. This is likely to cement control of Congress in the hands of the Democratic Party until at least the next census in 2020.
Maybe the prospect of spending 12 or more years out of government power will be just the medicine the Republican Party needs to treat what currently ails it. My party needs to do some serious soul-searching and decide if it wants to reclaim the values of economic conservatism (balanced budgets), protection of the individual’s constitutional rights and realist foreign policy strategies. I intend to be a part of this debate and push Republicans to abandon the divisive fear tactics they have used to get their representatives elected over the past 12 years. We must also stop catering to the narrow interests of religious and social conservatives if we ever hope to reclaim a position of power in the US Federal Government. A painful period lies ahead for the Republican Party, but I hope that from this pain Republicans will gain a new sense of what our party could and should stand for. Only time will tell if this is a realistic hope