Can’t Republicans Just Get Along?

Reviewing a March 27 forum in Denver, I sounded a pessimistic note regarding the alliance between fiscal conservatives and the religious right. Now various other writers have weighed in on the matter. (Jon Caldara, one of the speakers at the forum, noted all of the following sources in a recent e-mail, except an article by Reason.)

Ryan Sager, a New Yorker who also spoke in Denver, reviewed the politics of the Interior West in his book, The Elephant in the Room. In a March 28 column for the New York Post, Sager explained why Democrats are likely to continue to find success in the Interior West. Sager writes:

The GOP is already well on its way to losing the West. …

It’s been clear for years the interior West, once reliably Republican, was becoming a swing region. … In 2000, none of these eight states [Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming] had a Democratic governor. Now five do, including Colorado. …

In fact, Colorado now looks bluer than a half-drowned Smurf. It’s got a Democratic governor, House, Senate and high court. The GOP lost both houses of the Legislature in 2004 after spending a session on such issues as gay marriage, the Pledge of Allegiance and the liberal biases of college professors — while the state faced a massive fiscal crisis. …

As Caldara put it: “Colorado is, in fact, the test tube of how to export liberal expansion to the Western states.” A moderately conservative state has been turned Blue, Caldara says, because of “the absolute demolishing of what the Right stood for, how the Republican Party turned into something it was never meant to be and went away from Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan ideas.”

Of course, Democrats have worked hard to capitalize on the Republicans’ carelessness. Liberal groups funded by folks like billionaire Quark founder Tim Gill have turned discontent into votes. And now they have a model to use in the rest of the region.

It’s no coincidence that Democrats chose Denver for their convention. When they converge on the Mile High City in five months, they’ll be staking their claim to what was once a solidly Red region.

Sager gets one point wrong: the state was not facing a “massive fiscal crisis.” We were facing a crisis of political leadership. As I have reviewed, various Republicans, including Governor Bill Owens, were in fact leading the charge to declare a “crisis” and increase net taxes. While the Democrats were more than happy to support the plan, it gained its momentum precisely because much of the Republican leadership pushed it. Indeed, Bill Owens could be considered the most successful Democratic governor in recent Colorado history.

The Republicans’ problem in Colorado is two-fold. One large faction of the GOP is an extension of the religion right. The top two priorities for this faction are to ban abortions and disparage homosexuals. While Coloradans on the whole have not expressed sympathy for gay marriage, neither are they particularly intolerant toward homosexuals, as is the religious right. Having received numerous mailers beating up Republicans over abortion, it’s clear to me that the religious right has alienated a great many independent voters.

The other faction of the GOP consists of the pragmatists, the “me-tooers” who approve of the Democratic agenda with “moderate” restraint. What Sager and others fail to see is the connection between the religious right and the pragmatists. By Sager’s analysis, the two groups are distinct factions within the GOP competing for dominance and struggling to “fuse.” But, in reality, the big-government pragmatists gain intellectual and practical support from the religious right. As I noted in my last article on this matter, the religious right is increasingly supportive of the welfare state, and it is also picking up environmentalist themes. The religious right is slowly merging with — and morphing into — the religious left. That is because the redistribution of wealth is a Christian theme. It is but a short hop to the political redistribution of wealth. The pragmatist wing of the GOP, though it distances itself from the religious right rhetorically, in fact builds upon a partially secularized version of the Christian ethos. In this sense, the religious right establishes the foundation for the big-government right. It is no coincidence that Bush massively expanded the federal government in the name of Christian “compassion.”

Matt Welch, the new editor of Reason, indirectly lends support to this thesis in his recent article, “When Coalitions Dissolve.” Welch is even more pessimistic than Sager:

In Comeback, one of several new whither-the-party books by traumatized Republicans, former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum points out that the very Bush policies that fiscal conservatives like him despise — the prescription drug entitlement, the No Child Left Behind Act, campaign finance reform — were overwhelmingly popular among the American people. “On issues from Social Security to healthcare to environmental protection, conservatives find themselves on the less popular side of the great issues of the day,” Frum writes.

The solution? Surrender: “There are things only government can do, and if we conservatives wish to be entrusted with the management of the government, we must prove that we care about government enough to manage it well.” Republicans should cave on new spending and regulations, says Frum, in exchange for tax cuts. “This is not 1964,” he writes. “The ideal under threat today is not the nation’s liberty, but the nation’s security, its unity, its effectiveness, and… its equality and beauty.”

As Sasha Issenberg wrote in a perceptive Boston Globe story last November, “With Republicans no longer preaching suspicion of Washington, a new consensus has emerged, as both parties have come in their ways to stand today for a more robust, aggressive federal government. As a result, Goldwaterism is without a natural home in the two-party system.”

As far as these Republicans are concerned, we’re all welfare-statists now.

The Republican party, then, has actively alienated those who advocate free markets, voluntarism and individual rights, restrained political spending, and personal freedom within the context of rights.

Yet some continue to hope for a renewal of “fusionism” between the fiscal conservatives and the religious right.

Jessica Peck Corry writes:

A leading conservative sat down with a libertarian Republican to begin building a bridge toward a united future.

The duo, Jim Pfaff and Sean Duffy, represented opposite ends of the debate on one of 2006’s most contentious ballot issues — the ill-fated Referendum I that sought to strengthen legal rights and protections for same-sex partners. Duffy was the public relations guru behind the campaign… Pfaff, president and CEO of the Colorado Family Institute, served as the effort’s lead opponent. …

And Pfaff, while frequently identified by his ties to Focus On The Family’s Dr. James Dobson and his commitment to “life” issues, says he wants to work with Duffy and other libertarian Republicans to begin rebuilding the Republican Party in the West after years of Democratic gains. …

Over pints of Guinness, the two tell the story of the mutual admiration for each other. If this was your snapshot of the Republican Party’s two leading ideological factions, you’d have to wonder: What’s the problem?

The problem is huge. Republicans are facing an identity crisis of immense proportions. And social issues like gay rights and abortion are only the beginning. With George W. Bush at the helm, the federal government has maxed out our collective credit cards to continue funding the expansion of entitlement programs and an unpopular — but difficult to end — war. …

Bob Schaffer, a former Republican Congressman from Fort Collins, is taking on sitting U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs. … [Schaffer] fought consistently for a balanced budget, introducing a constitutional amendment to require such. Also a strong supporter of innovative education reform, Schaffer had the courage to vote against the unfunded mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act…

Conservatives and libertarians should follow the lead of Pfaff and Duffy, putting aside their differences on social issues to elect viable candidates dedicated to protecting the working families and small business owners who suffer most when government spending expands.

Yet, as much as I appreciate Duffy’s commitment to personal freedoms, the religious right is not simply going to “put aside” its political support for banning abortion, restricting homosexuals, imposing censorship, and controlling personal behaviors. Indeed, much of the religious right is currently trying to define a fertilized egg as a a person.

And as much as I appreciate Schaffer’s commitment to restrained federal power in some areas, the fact remains that even in these areas he’s fighting against the Republican current. Moreover, while Udall has clearly endorsed the separation of church and state, Schaffer has failed to do so.

Indeed, as the Rocky Mountain News summarizes, “Schaffer regularly voted to restrict abortion rights and gay rights, and promote religious themes…” lists a number of Schaffer’s congressional votes, including the following:

* Voted YES on banning partial-birth abortions. (Apr 2000)
* Voted YES on barring transporting minors to get an abortion. (Jun 1999)
* Voted YES on banning gay adoptions in DC. (Jul 1999)
* Supports anti-flag desecration amendment. (Mar 2001)
* Voted NO on… medical marijuana in DC. (Oct 1999)
* Supports requiring schools to allow prayer. (Jan 2001)
* Supports a Constitutional Amendment for school prayer. (May 1997)

I do not see how these issues can simply be set aside.

Writing for Backbone America, John Andrews’s conservative forum, Krista Kafer writes:

[Caldara observed] that big-government Republicans… are the real enemy of conservatism, not social conservatives. I hope other libertarians were listening. …

[O]n our differences (gay marriage and drug legalization just to pick two), I actually have some logical reasons for my beliefs. We could discuss them and possibly find common ground or at least an appreciation for each other’s reasons. Calling me a bigot who wants to deprive people of civil rights isn’t exactly a thoughtful response to my concerns about the impact of gay marriage. My primary objection to same-sex marriage is a libertarian one -– it suppresses dissenting views. The state of Massachusetts shut down a Catholic adoption agency because it did not adopt to same-sex couples (the agency does not even receive government money). The same thing has happened in England. In Colorado, gay couples are free to call themselves “married,” live together, have children, etc. Their status is recognized by those who agree with their lifestyle. State intervention in favor of these unions would force anyone who does not agree to shut down their business or organization. That doesn’t sound like freedom to me.

On drug legalization, I sympathize with cancer victims and believe strongly that if marijuana helps them they should have as much of it as they need. … The average pot smoker is… the guy who is unemployed or underemployed who uses me, the taxpayer, as his health insurance provider. … How much of my taxpayer money goes to health care, food, housing, treatment programs, and other services for potheads, meth addicts, junkies and crackheads?

… We need each other. If we only want to work with people with whom we agree 100% of the time, it’s going to be a small crowd, powerless against the proponents of big government control.

The Cato Institute speaker that night predicted a mass of libertarians going over to Obama. Great idea if you want to work with people who are diametrically opposed to everything you’ve worked for all your life. National health care, high taxes, adding a gazillion more government programs to an already behemoth federal government –- yep, that’s compatible with libertarian thought.

If you want to jump ship out of spite, you might end up in the water with the sharks. Or, we can work together. Your call.

Yet Kafer offers no solid grounds for fusionism.

While some on the religious right sincerely advocate limited federal power, most do not. The overlap between “big-government Republicans” and the religious right is huge.

On the issue of gay marriage, I am not familiar with the details of the role of the Catholic church in adoption. If we’re talking about parents who entrust the care of their children to the Catholic church, then the church should indeed have the ability to set adoption policy for those children, as agents of the parents. That issue is entirely separable from the matter of gay marriage (and domestic partnership). However, Sager was not merely referring to the religious right’s opposition to gay marriage when he applied the term bigotry to the religious right; he was referring to the unceasing condemnations of homosexuality by the religious right.

It is telling that Kafer endorses the drug war on welfare-statist grounds. Her claims about the drug war are the opposite of the truth — it is the drug war itself that exacerbates social harms — but even if she were correct in her factual claims she would, if committed to liberty, advocate the repeal of welfare, not the expansion of political controls because of the collectivized costs of welfare.

Finally, Kafer’s comments about “national health care” and “high taxes” hardly justify support for the GOP. It is true that many Republicans are marginally better than many Democrats regarding health policy. However, various Republicans, including Mitt Romney and Bob Beauprez, endorse mandated insurance. Republican George Bush massively expanded medical entitlements. And Republican Bill Owens instituted the Colorado Healthcare Commission, which rejected a free-market proposal in favor of plans to massively expand the state’s role in medicine. The Republicans merely offer a slower road to socialized medicine. So far as taxes go, the Republicans are the ones who handed us Referendum C, and “President Bush has presided over the largest overall increase in inflation-adjusted federal spending since Lyndon B. Johnson.”

The problem is not jumping ship to face the sharks. The problem is that the sharks are already in the boat. At least Democratic socialist sharks don’t bait the waters with the rhetoric of liberty. And, in a few key areas, some Democrats are actually serious about liberty. The GOP increasingly offers the worst of both worlds: economic controls combined with restrictions of individual liberty. For the time being, I’ll take my chances in the open waters, unaffiliated, until the U.S. Liberty sails again.