The Trouble With Republicans

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by Paul Gottfried by Paul Gottfried

Those who have never met a Republican candidate they couldn’t support respond to my insults against the party of used-car dealers, coddling public administrators, by insisting, "We have no choice." Presumably Republicans mean it when they say they’re against big government, the same way neoconservatives do when they call for a more efficient democratic welfare state. The trouble, I am told, is not Republicans or neocons but the "culture," the popular addiction to entitlements, Hollywood film-writers, and NBC News, all of which are the real culprits in our lunge toward the left. And if we don’t stop being ideologues, as explained by the Beltway Boys on FOX last Saturday, and nominate a "Republican moderate" for president, we might land up two years hence with Hillary Clinton in the White House. We were supposedly lucky the last time around to get such a sterling conservative president; nonetheless, according a FOX poll, the Republicans who now seem most likely to beat Hillary are the "moderates," Giuliani, McCain, and of course (FOX’s fav) Condoleezza Rice. The Republicans therefore have no choice but to practice damage control, while equivocating on racial preferences and immigration reform, and expanding social programs at least as eagerly as the other side. Admittedly Republicans don’t look particularly bold when they act in this way, but by being in national politics and by occasionally throwing a bone to the Religious Right, they can keep the Dems off our backs.

There is of course not the slightest trace of truth in any of this, and it might be an interesting but futile exercise to point out why. If the federal government has grown in its scope and intrusiveness at least as much under Republican presidential administrations as it has under the Democrats, a point exhaustively documented by Robert Higgs, Tom Woods and Tom DiLorenzo, why depict Republicans as a restraining force? Republicans combine the bad habits of their putative opposition with inexcusable mendacity. There is familiar defense of such dubious behavior that should be stated not because it is true but because it is widely believed, namely that the "democratic center right" is reacting to a political culture that it did not create and can influence only minimally. But one has to look beyond this excuse. The center-right has gradually embraced most of the Left’s historical positions but has merely restated them with apparent moderation, for example, by rallying to the original, less radicalized form of feminism, by advocating an extensive welfare state with lower marginal tax rates, and by praising Martin Luther King while lying about his endorsement of racial quotas. Those who talk like this are not Taft Republicans but often advocates of what the American Right once opposed. And by now they are the preferred advisors of the Republican Party, in a match made between opportunists and mislabeled leftists.

Equally important, if the "conservative movement" were as concerned about small-government as it is about waging global democratic wars, it might be influencing public opinion accordingly. Movement conservative leaders and the Republican Party have opted for big government and leftist missionary wars but not because of public demand. Rather they have worked long and hard to manufacture a demand for their interests.

The center right’s willingness to accommodate the Left and even occasionally to go beyond it in exhibiting "outreach," has probably affected our political culture as much as anything the official Left has done. The Republicans and their neocon visionaries have influenced the American future but not in ways that classical liberals or traditionalists might approve of. They have chosen the public issues they like, while rejecting others that might resonate with readers of this website. Republicans do not invest energy in certain causes because they do not believe they would profit from them or because they turn off their neocon handlers, e.g., repealing the Americans with Disability Act, Title Nine of Jimmy Carter’s extension of the Civil Rights Act, or the No Child Left Behind Act. Neither Bush nor his neoconservative-cheering gallery is shielding us from any Zeitgeist. They go into high gear for things that they want, whether or not the public is behind it. Their propagandists only start yammering about how the Left has put Republican politicians in a bind, if it’s not what the RNC or Karl Rove feels any pressure or inspiration to do. And Republicans don’t shun costly federal social programs, as noted in The New Republic by Noam Scheiber (October 10, 2005), if it means getting a leg up on the opposition. Thus they promise the sun and the moon to retirees, a group they can woo without seeming to be politically incorrect. Here Republicans have shamelessly used tax dollars from younger, hardworking citizens to feather their nest. If Hans-Hermann Hoppe considers democracy the "god that has failed," then the Republican Party is the guardrail that continues to collapse.

February 17, 2006

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and author of Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt and The Strange Death of Marxism.

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