The Needed Political Realignment

My son is now five months old. I worry about the country he will grow up in, considering the deep problems of modern American politics. What we need—and what I intend to do my part to help achieve—is a political realignment that will move back to the political forefront the deepest American values of liberty and prosperity.

The main political problem today is that the Democratic Party increasingly is driven by the deeply statist ideologies of egalitarianism and environmentalism, while the Republican Party increasingly is driven by the equally statist ideologies of theocratic religion and nativism. Political room is diminishing for those of us—I think the majority of Americans—who advocate a broadly rights-respecting government that promotes a free-market economy, national security against foreign threats, the separation of church and state, and individual liberties as articulated most prominently by the Bill of Rights.

Start with the Democrats. Remember the days of free trader, welfare reformer, “the era of big government is over” Bill Clinton? He has been replaced by Hillary Clinton, whose litmus test for Supreme Court nominees is that they agree to weaken the First Amendment’s protection of political speech; who suggests the federal government consider confiscating guns from peaceable Americans; who panders to the worst eat-the-rich elements of her party; and who wishes to use “climate change” as a pretext to establish massive command-and-control bureaucracies to micromanage industry and siphon wealth to eco-cronies. It is not without reason that liberty advocate (and lifelong Democrat) Dave Kopel calls Clinton (along with Donald Trump) a proto-fascist.

Continue with the Republicans. No sensible person could claim that Donald Trump promotes free markets or civil liberties without erupting in sardonic laughter. He and Ted Cruz, currently leading the Republican field in the presidential race, draw much of their support from nativist xenophobic protectionists. Even the relatively market-friendly Cruz sounds like a market-hating union thug when it comes to immigration. Then there is the religion, with Republicans debating whether to criminalize all abortion or to permit an exception for women who are raped. Although Cruz is the worst of the bunch when it comes to pandering to theocrats, on the plus side he does sometimes support free markets, and he does outline a foreign policy alternative to the destructive “nation-building” neoconservatism of George W. Bush as well as to the “blame America first” inclinations of Rand Paul.

One notable feature of the political scene is that candidates largely seek to define themselves as alternatives to their opponents. When recently I criticized Cruz’s open alliance with theocrats, the most common response I got was, “But surely you couldn’t support Hillary!” To a large degree, Democrats run against the the faith-based statism of Republicans, while Republicans run against the egalitarian statism of Democrats.

Before we consider what is to be done (at the level of practical politics), we need to reflect a bit on the coalitions of interest groups that currently drive the two major parties. The Republicans have the nativists, the evangelicals, the more-rural gun owners, the security-firsters, and (at times) the capitalists and libertarians. The Democrats have the egalitarians and multiculturalists, the environmentalists (so called), the unionists, the central planners and “nudger” busy-bodies, the secularists, the cosmopolites (who are more open to immigration), and the urbanites (who tend to be anti-gun). Both parties are overrun with protectionists and cronies.

Neither party offers a welcoming home to a pro-capitalist, gay marriage promoting, gun toting, immigrant friendly, defense conscious atheist such as me.

The coalitions that comprise the two major parties are marriages of convenience and historical accident, not of love. If I could reassemble the factions as on a chess board, I would create a freedom party and a statist party, and assign each faction its appropriate slot. But obviously that is not possible.

What, then, can we do? To my mind, the best way forward is to expunge from the Republican Party (or at least to marginalize within it) the nativists and theocracy-leaning evangelicals. That would make a lot more room within the party for secularists, champions of church-state separation, gays and immigrants and their supporters, women who don’t think they should be charged with murder for getting an early-term abortion, and liberty-minded urbanites.

To help pursue this goal, I am registering Republican at my earliest convenience. I was Republican long ago, then (foolishly) Libertarian, then unaffiliated. Part of my reason for registering unaffiliated is that I did not want to get drawn into time-sucking party activism. But at this point I see no other feasible way forward, other than to work within the Republican Party (here addressing only the level of on-the-ground politics, not other sorts of activism).

I urge capitalists, libertarians, Objectivists, and liberty-minded secularists to also register as Republican voters and to participate, at least to some extent, in the Republican primary system. It is time to right the Republican ship, to save it from the rocky shores toward which it is careening dangerously.

Very briefly, here is the main constellation of positions I’d like to see the Republican Party come to take:

Free Markets: Producers should be praised, not demonized and looted. At least presumptively, consumer choice and reasonable torts, not bureaucratic regulations, should hold businesses accountable. Government spending should be tightly constrained. Business subsidies and rent-seeking regulations should be eliminated. Taxes generally should be low, and corporate taxes should be reduced at least to make them globally competitive. Presumptively, the welfare state should be simplified and at least reduced, although (within the bounds of the party) we can debate its proper size and scope.

Free Speech: Freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment is a bedrock principle of our free society. If a person or group wants to finance and create a film or other work about Hillary Clinton or anyone else during a political season, such is that person or group’s right. Government’s proper role in this field is to consistently protect the right to freedom of speech–especially when some find that speech offensive. If you don’t consistently defend the right to freedom of speech, you don’t belong in this party.

Self-Defense: The Founders included the Second Amendment for a reason, and it wasn’t just for duck hunting or for arming a standing military. In general, government should take action against those who, through their actions or explicit threats, pose an objective danger to others; government should not punish peaceable Americans for the crimes of others. We can debate with our new skeptical friends what are the outer limits of the right to keep and bear arms, but we’re not going to entertain (within the confines of the party) nonsensical proposals such as gun confiscation or sales bans based on cosmetic features.

National Defense: The twin errors are “nation building” without a clear and direct advantage to Americans, and failing to take decisive action against those who attack or threaten to attack America and Americans. We want a strong military, narrowly focused on the task of defending Americans from objective threats. Within that general framework, of course there is much room for reasonable discussion and disagreement.

Religion: We welcome people of all religions. We oppose efforts to use government force to institute the sectarian beliefs of any particular religion.

Gay Rights: Gay people have a civil right to get married. Get over it. Government must not discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation. However, private business owners also have rights, including the freedom of contract and association.

Abortion: The notion that a just-fertilized zygote is the moral and properly the legal equivalent of a born infant is faith-based fantasy. We can, within the party, argue about certain possible restrictions on abortions in the later stages. But the ideas that abortion should be treated as murder from the moment of conception, that birth control methods should be banned if they might prevent a zygote from implanting in the uterus, and similar absurdities have no place in a modern political party.

Immigration: Yes to peaceable immigrants, yes to free markets, yes to freedom of association; no to demonstrably dangerous immigrants; no to automatically giving immigrants the ability to vote. At least presumptively, Americans should be able to invite onto their property and into their businesses people of their choosing. Our goal is to normalize the lives of peaceable people currently in the country illegally, not to send out squads of armed men to round up those people and forcibly remove them. We should loosen immigration restrictions, not tighten them, at least by expanding worker visas. Our country was built by immigrants, and every one of us is an immigrant or the progeny of immigrants.

Climate: We all agree that carbon dioxide emissions affect the climate; the important questions are, what will be the long-term consequences, and what should government do about them? Government should protect the rights of producers to develop energy, including nuclear energy. Government should not arbitrarily regulate energy producers, nor confiscate people’s wealth to subsidize cronies at home or corrupt governments abroad. We can debate whether government should take other legal actions as consistent with a rights-respecting society.

The Republican Party I envision will rightly and proudly bear the mantles of reason, of science, of progress, of prosperity, of common sense, of decency, of optimism, above all of individual rights.

Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican politician of consequence. I think it is no stretch to say that Lincoln would be ashamed of what his party has become. I say it is once again time to make the Republican Party the proud party of rights and of reason.