Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Future of the GOP

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on December 11th in Metro √Čireann By Charles Laffiteau

One of my best friends here in Ireland recently asked me how I could have been such a strong supporter of President-elect Obama from the very beginning of his campaign to be President and yet now still be advocating on behalf of strengthening the Republican Party as a force of opposition to Obama and the Democratic Party.
While I understand why these seemingly conflicting actions may strike others as being somewhat counter-intuitive, there is actually a method to my madness I will now attempt to explain. The Democratic Party and most of its constituents regard America as a center-left liberal democracy, while most Republicans view the United States as a center-right federal republic. Well as far as I am concerned both view points are to some extent accurate, which is precisely why I also believe neither Party has a true handle on how best to govern America’s divergent and often conflicting interests.
Unlike most other democratically elected governments in the world, the United States is a liberal democracy which has a strong federal republic government run by officials appointed by an elected President and approved by a democratically elected legislature. Either or both elected bodies of the legislature must also approve those executive branch appointments, fund all departments of government and decide how much authority those federal government agents will or should have.
The name United States of America is also a reflection of the considerable political governance power that individual states and their respective executive and legislative branches have relative to the nation’s federal government. Last but not least, the US also has a strong and fairly independent state and federal judicial system that arbitrates disputes between the elected state or federal officials and the elected state or federal legislatures. Most of the other governments around the world have either strong state and weak national governments or weak state and strong national governments coupled with either strong national presidents and weak legislative bodies or strong parliamentary legislatures which also control the executive branch of government.
While the federal government’s power in the US has grown over the years at the expense of state governments, the independent federal judicial system and the inherent suspicion with which many American voters regard the federal government have combined to limit both the scale and pace of growth of the US federal government. As a result, it is usually the states which take the lead in devising and implementing new or different ways of dealing with social issues or problems, while the federal government determines how the US will deal with global issues and relations with other countries.
The Republican Party has traditionally been the US political party that sought to keep the power of the federal government in check while it concentrated on defending and or extending America’s political influence and expanding its economic interests in the rest of the world. On the other hand the Democratic Party has traditionally been the political party which has sought to use the federal government to devise and implement changes in US domestic policies to address a wide variety of social ills.
Unfortunately history shows that both parties have a tendency to push their agendas too far to the left or right when they are in control of Congress and the Presidency. While I hope that the Democrats won’t act in a way that reinforces this view over the next few years, I also know that a stronger Republican Party is more likely to prevent this than any amount of wishful thinking on my part.
But the increasing power and influence of predominately white, older and or less educated socially conservative voters in the Republican Party has led it to stray from its traditional values of restraining the growth of the federal government and spending by that government. These socially conservative voters have also sought to enforce their religious views and moral values at a national level on issues like abortion and how to deal with social problems like violent crime, illegal immigration and teenage pregnancy.
Many of these Republican voters don’t like change because it scares them. This explains why they are so prone to follow the lead of demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and Republican politicians who argue against teenage sex education or tout bigger fences and more prison cells as solutions to America’ social problems. They view the scientific evidence on global warming with the same suspicion as fundamentalist ministers who think creationism trumps all of the scientific evidence that supports evolution.
It’s no wonder they rushed to express their support for a former beauty pageant contestant who doesn’t believe global warming is caused by humans, thinks Africa is a country and chants “drill, baby, drill” as a solution to America’s energy woes. But make no mistake; Sarah Palin will be a force to be reckoned with nationally, either as a candidate for the US Senate in 2010 and or the US Presidency in 2012 or 2016. However I’m not losing any sleep over the possibility that Palin might win a higher political office than Governor of Alaska. I say this for two reasons.
First, while Palin may have taken some well deserved lumps from the media during her brief run for Vice President, she has yet to be bloodied by other conservative Republicans like Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney in what’s likely to be a “steel cage” match for the 2012 presidential nomination. The second reason is because America may still be a center-right country on fiscal issues, but it has also become center-left on the environment and social issues.
Fortunately there are some younger Republican leaders who recognize what the social conservative base of the party still denies. I’m keeping an eye on Governor’s Charlie Crist, Jon Huntsman, Bobby Jindal and Senator John Thune. I expect a stronger Republican Party will emerge only after one or more of them has wrested control of the Party and its message from the social conservatives who currently hold the reins of power.

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