The Commonwealth of Virginia's Ultimate Blog

Monday, March 27, 2006

What is a Republican?

Any discussion about the state and direction of our Party must start with this essential question. As I said yesterday, I do not claim to have the answer to this question. The point is that it must be asked and each of us who call ourselves Republicans must be the ones to answer it.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a Republican as someone who is a member of the Republican party. Though largely unhelpful for our purposes, it is also facially correct. Yet, how do we even define a member of the Republican Party? Is it someone who simply votes for Republican candidates? Is it someone who has officially joined the party at either the national, state, or local level? Is it anyone who calls themselves a Republican? As you can see, even at that broadest level of abstraction, it remains difficult to define a Republican.

Instead of becoming frustrated by this difficulty, let us instead set some parameters for the discussion. Of course, these are again my own suggestions and anyone is free to disagree with them.

First, we should know that the Republican party is a coalition of ideas. That means that there will never be a single set of ideas that is altogether sufficient for defining what a Republican is. In some ways, this is a cop-out, yet in other ways it is something that we must fundamentally accept if we are ever to succeed as a Party. Different groups of people join the Republican Party for different reasons. Sometimes the interests of these different groups will conflict, yet in most cases compromises are reached for the benefit of all factions. Compromise is necessary to a functioning Party.

Last week at NRO, Ramesh Ponurru commented on this very issue saying:
Social conservatives are always complaining that they're not in the driver's seat of the Republican party. So are economic conservatives. They're both right. Neither group alone is large enough to form an electoral majority, and thus have to participate in a coalition that gives them some of what they want but leaves them dissatisfied on other issues.
Remembering this is absolutely vital to having a successful Party. Each of us join the Party for different reasons, and not everyone cares about the same things as you do as strongly as you do. That doesn’t make them “bad Republicans.”

That said, however, it is part of the role of the Party to come to a consensus about what the guiding ideas of the Party should be. For example, it is safe to say that Republicans have a generally economic conservative philosophy that favors free markets, low taxes, and limited regulation. Certainly, not all Republicans believe in these ideas. However, those that don’t are probably members of the Party because they care more about some other part of the platform than those particular economic planks. As a result, it is up to each individual to decide which issues are most important to them and then decide whether the Republican Party is the appropriate forum for advancing those ideas.

That brings me to my second point, which is that we must recognize that participation in the Party is voluntary. No person is forced to participate in the Republican Party. Those who do participate are here because they want to advance ideas that matter to them and which they have determined are best advanced by this Party. This does not mean that they will necessarily get their way. In fact, there may be many Republicans who are frustrated that their concerns are not adequately represented. For example, if you are against gun control, you may sometimes be frustrated that the Party or a particular candidate is not taking as strong a stand on that issue as you would like. Your positive options are two-fold. One, is to attempt to persuade the party or the candidate to take a stronger stand. Two, is to go to the other Party if you believe that they will be more willing to accommodate your position.

Two other options are available, but both would likely have a negative effect on your ability to advance the ideas you hold dear. One would be to remove yourself from any involvement and support no Party or candidate. The other would be to attack the Party or the candidate of your identified Party. I do not see either approach as being helpful to the cause.

I encourage Republicans of all stripes to support individuals in Republican primaries whom they find themselves most in agreement with. Intra-party contests contribute greatly to Party strength by honing campaign skills, forcing candidates to make clear their positions, and exposing potential weaknesses. Once these contests are decided, however, we Republicans should remain united and remain active. Even if your candidate doesn’t win an intra-party contest, it is important to stay involved in the party process. In so doing, a mutual level of respect develops between candidate and constituent. Despite areas of disagreement, both individuals can see that the other is committed to the Party’s success and communication is made easier as a result. Name-calling, rumor-mongering, casting aspersions on fellow Republicans and similar activities do not foster a mutual level of respect. The result of these activities is that your efforts to advocate for issues you care about will likely be frustrated rather than given due consideration.

Let me be clear that I am not advocating being “wishy-washy” in your positions, but rather I am arguing that we Republicans must come to the table with two mutual understandings: first, that we all want to succeed, and second, that we will sometimes disagree about how to succeed or which ideas should succeed. Be firm in your principles, but also don’t be discouraged if your ideas are not at the forefront of every discussion.

Further, If you think I’m trying to say that anyone who calls themselves a Republican is a Republican, you’d be wrong. As I have said before, it does the Party no good to have members who refuse to recognize or participate in the activities of the Party that have been agreed upon. It does no good for a Party to accept as a member an individual who does not share the goals of electing Republican candidates. It does no good to have as members individuals whose primary interest is building the Party in their own image, not in fostering open debate and participation of the individuals who make up the Party. Any person is free to call themselves a Republican, but that doesn’t mean that the Party apparatus to which Party members have consented must recognize them as such.

Third, we must understand that the Republican party is a political entity. The GOP is not a religious organization, it is not an ideology-based group and it is not even necessarily a policy-making group. The role of the Republican Party is to elect Republicans. The role of the Party is also to bring together as large a coalition as is possible to ensure victory and effective governance. Too small of a coalition makes victory impossible, while too large makes governance impossible. As a political entity, the Republican party functions in a way that uses democratic (small “d”) and republican (small “r”) principles to guide Party activity.

These Party activities will often return results that will upset some party members. Sometimes, the Republican party will lose elections. It is important that each of us understands that the Party is made up of individuals and it is these individuals who make the Party what it is. It is also necessary for those individuals to understand that having an active, competitive Party necessitates some apparatus. RPV and State Central are not “The Man” trying to keep the rest of us down and squash out any voices of dissent. They are trying to bring together a workable coalition of ideas for the purpose of electing Republican candidates. These efforts might look different in different parts of the state, but the ultimate goals are the same.

So if we accept that the Republican Party is a coalition, that particpation is voluntary, and that it operates as a political entity, then where does that leave us? What is a Republican? Better yet, why are YOU a Republican?

The floor is open.

15 Comments:

Anonymous NoVA Scout said...

This is a very thoughtful, mature post. I'm surprised it has received so little comment. It may be that you put enough care into it that you have summed it up beyond quibble from any quarter. A key point is your paragraph that in the American system, the two political parties are not ideologies or religions (or surrogates for religion). They are political enablers. One of America's strengths is that it is not an ideological polity. there are, of course some core principles. But there is no overriding system of ideological political beliefs. Trying to get the frigging potholes filled is not an ideological activity. It's more like running a business.

The attraction of ideology for extreme elements of both parties is that, if accepted, it conveys a great deal of control and stifles debate. We don't really have to know what a candidate is like at the core if he says the ideologically correct things. We can whip up the voters with phrases without having to get down into the details of how we make the government work efficiently.

Whether in Virginia or nationally, keep individual liberty squarely in your sights and look for intelligent, honest, capable men and women to run for office. The rest will take care of itself.

11:09 PM

 
Blogger James Atticus Bowden said...

I'm in CA again - my response didn't make it. Try again.

The apolitical governance of fixing potholes is more local. The classical definition of politics (Lasswell) is 'who gets what'. In every issue there are winners and losers.

Ideology counts because words have meaning.

The definition of the Republican Party isn't difficult - if the coalitions in the big tent agree to the rules.

Namely, issue by issue the simple majority rules.

Issue by issue the Party builds a winning coalition of Republicans, Libertarians, Independents and, occassionally, Democrats to win elections. The failure to do so - loses.

Furthermore, the Republican Party's side of those issues can be labeled as more Conservative while the Dems are more Liberal.

The problem is that politicians elected to office as Republicans have gone against the majority in the Party from the House of Delegates to POTUS.

Where that leaves us is deliberating what our majority is - issue by issue - and finding candidates who represent us, rather than other special interests.

NOVA Scout: Efficiency in government is only one aspect of governance. There is a culture war going on. Civilizations grow from one, and only one, culture at a time. two opposing worldviews can not co-exist. The cultural consensus from 1776 to about 1962 is fractured - thus so is the polity. Individual liberty is a concept for one side of the polity, while group identity and rights is for the other.

1:06 AM

 
Blogger James Atticus Bowden said...

Ans to Q2. Why am I a Republican?

I'm a homecoming Republican. Being a Republican meant coming home to being a Conservative after flirting with other options.

Born and raised an Army Brat in a Southern family - home was Arlington, VA more than not. Parents lived in Leesburg until they died. Ancestors from Virginia. Family full of Democrats except for paternal grandfather who was one of maybe 5 Republicans in his county.

Went to West Point in that crack in time - 1968 - when the Democrats became the Party that hated the war their leaders started and lacked the will to win. They widened their hysteria to hate the warriors too. Read a lot about religion, political philosophy, etc. Thought the world was more ying-yang than right/wrong.

Served in the Army with a head and heart for politics - domestic and foreign, history etc but with the blinders of duty, honor, country in our apolitical military. Voted Republican because the Dems were weak on defense.

Saw the Dems as goofy when Carter ran - and he validated it.

Went to one of the liberal bastion grad schools in 79-81. Met a lot of super liberals. Found them to be great hearted people - very caring. But, clueless on what the world was like outside the US. Limited grasp of history. I spent a lot of time in the library - reading about our country - studied Am Government (and some econ and international affairs). Became a hard core conservative and improved my Christian apologetics. Wanted to consider being Dem and Lib, but found liberalism to be a lie built upon untruths.

While teaching at West Point started daily Bible reading and went to another great liberal grad school 82-85. Continued on the path of becoming more conservative and Christian - based on ideas.

The week after I retired from the Army I went to my first GOP meeting to volunteer. I am a Republican because I am an ideological Conservative and believing Christian.

If the Republican Party walks away from my ideas, then I will leave. Until then I am in the marketplace of ideas - and our ideas sell well. The Party is the last of my vertical hierarchy of loyalties. I'm elected to party posts at the city, district and state level because I represent the Republican majority.

10:28 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why am I a Republican?

Simple. Because we have to keep down the queers or they will take over.

2:22 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The infighting in the party has to stop before we can turn these voting trends around in NOVA and beyond. Please feed whatever you ate this morning to fellow VA Republicans.

7:57 PM

 
Blogger Politicl.Animal said...

The funny this is, if you take out "Republican" and put "Democratic," and flip the ideologies, I've said the same thing to Democrats.

There are simply too many "happy warriors" in terms of ideological conflict.

9:02 PM

 
Anonymous Anton Traversa said...

Am I a Republican? Whenever anyone asks me what party I am in, I always tell them I am an independent. And it's true, I'm a registered independent. I didn't register independent to make a statement about being more 'free thinking' than anyone else, but simply because I didn't feel comfortable with wedding myself to any party, even if I knew that I would more likely than not vote Republican.

But I sometimes do it with a heavy heart. The logic of the two-party system is that it keeps both parties generally moderate. Even in our uber-partisan moments, US-style political parties never seem to approach Vlaams Belang or National Front type extremism. While there are certainly types in this country who might, in an alternative universe, be attracted to more strict interpretations of the right or left-wing ideologies, the 'big tent' of both parties disallows it from gaining any real traction.

While I recognize that, I also find it unfortunate that there really is no room for other political parties in our system. In parliamentary systems, the prevalence of coalitions and issue-caucusing is something that fascinates me. I think the big tent idea in America, while certainly effective in the role it plays, minimizes the role of minority opinion. This isn't always a bad thing, but I often feel that my cocktail of ideas and ideologies are imperfectly stuffed into a binary label. Even though most diligent observers understand the variance that occurs within each party, the casual onlooker so easily assumes something when they think Democrat or Republican. In truth, though the sum of my opinions may make me being a Democrat impossible, none of my opinions individually are ideas that are not found in that party.

To me, I think the Republican Party would be wise to be more accomodating to the interests of its members/voters. While I do think that the party is a 'big tent' in every sense of the word, I often feel that discussion and debate in the party is difficult and that instead of jeffersonian, grassroots-type organization, the party (equally tru for the Dem Party) line is decided by various mandarins and their factions. The party should allow and encourage the formation of semi-formal, discrete, units within the party so that ideas become better vocalized and are transmitted more rapidly. In effect, decentralization.

12:56 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the republicans are absent on the homosexual agenda. they need to repledge to stop the homosexuals at all costs. if we need to jail them all, then so be it.

9:38 AM

 
Anonymous Anton Traversa said...

hey anonymous, go get a life.

10:23 PM

 
Anonymous I said...

Hey anton, you're a nigger

4:11 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nigger or homo; who cares, i thought this was about a party

5:05 PM

 
Anonymous Vandervert said...

A Republican is a person who goes to Home Depot on the weekend--and likes it. The person is there to improve, by their own initiative and hands, the property on which they live. This do-it-yourself movement has been growing for at least 30 or 40 years; a new Republican spirit is thereby born every minute. As Lincoln said, "In anything the people can do for themselves, the government should not interfere." More and more, people today are wanting to take this credo to the maximum.
The Democrat might say, "Oh, but I go to Home Depot on the weekend too and like it." Well, that person is simply admitting that they are really a Republican and just don't know it yet.

9:40 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Core Principles and Practice of the Republican Party of the United States of America

To: Enrich the Wealthy

To: Empower the Powerful

To: Gratify the Greedy

To: Comfort the Comfortable

To: Impoverish the Disenfranchised

And To: Afflict the Afflicted

7:48 PM

 
Anonymous Kirbyone said...

I like Vandervert's example except he is incomplete with the present Democrat: They like Home Depot as well, although they have no idea what to do with all the stuff they purchased on YOUR credit card so they will give it to Homes For Humanity or the Salvation Army.

10:26 PM

 
Blogger Rick said...

Dear Anonymous, don't be afraid to leave your name you are not threatened.
Dear Everyone else, Republicans stand for things and those things are not fungible. Our founders were all conservatives. Protection of Life, Liberty and Property is the reason for the Constitution. We are a Conservative country. Anonymous is confused. They believe that "The Law" is a system to break our covenant with our fellow Americans. If we want Justice to be blind, then we must write blind laws not laws that target some Americans for the enrichment of others. Welfare and all of its cousins are laws that target the working class. These laws are by default unconstitutional as they target some Americans and can't be for the General Welfare as only some benefit.

Anonymous your last post is really quite Fascist. You want the State to steal from the rich to give to the poor. How is it that if a poor man goes into a rich man's house and takes some stuff that is called Theft. But when Anonymous gets elected by promising his fellow Liberals to vote for him and then he writes laws that accomplish the same thing as the poor guy's actions that is called benevolence. And that the rich guy doesn't even get a thank you for allowing the government to plunder his property. The Anonymous'es of the world take bows for their generosity. They are the patterns of the poor. Really?

I hope this blog wakes up. Republican principles are NOT fungible! If you can't stand with our cause of freedom for all then be a Democrat. We blindly believe in FREEDOM. Anytime a law is written that diverges from that we go further down the drain of confusion and we cannot lead.

3:15 PM

 

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