Lately, I’m been mulling over a question in my mind. What is a Republican? Having been part of the Republican Party since the age of 15, I thought I knew.
Now, we all know that there is never complete uniformity in any group, but I was under the impression that Republicans stood for a basic set of principles. That they advocated a relatively small government, one that kept taxes low and let individuals more or less live their lives without too much government interference except if he or she sought to injure his or her neighbor.
Here, let me share with you the creed of the Republican Party of Virginia:
“That the free enterprise system is the most productive supplier of human needs and economic justice,
“That all individuals are entitled to equal rights, justice, and opportunities and should assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society,
“That fiscal responsibility and budgetary restraints must be exercised at all levels of government,
“That the Federal Government must preserve individual liberty by observing Constitutional limitations,
“That peace is best preserved through a strong national defense,
“That faith in God, as recognized by our Founding Fathers is essential to the moral fiber of the Nation.”
Several weeks ago, I attended a meeting of the Greene County Republican Party and they opened their meeting by reciting this creed. I must confess, I cannot recall the last time that I had been to a Republican Party gathering where the creed was read or even acknowledged.
But do all Republicans actually adhere to the principles of limited government conservatism as is found in the creed? The answer is clearly no. After all, it was a Republican legislature and Republican Governor McDonnell who passed the 2013 transportation tax bill, dubbed the largest tax increase in Virginia history. And quite a few of those same Republicans helped pass what was previously known as the largest tax increase under the governorship of Democrat Mark Warner. Why is it that whenever Republicans take control of the Virginia Senate they choose a leader who has supported these tax increases? If the GOP was serious about limiting the size of government, don’t you think they would nominate someone other than Senator Norment?
Switching gears to the federal government, which party brought us increased federal government control in education through No Child Left Behind? Republicans. Expanded federal involvement in medicine through Medicare Part D? Again it was Republicans. What about giving us the civil liberties threatening Patriot Act, or the NSA, TSA, or NDAA? The GOP controlled Congress and presidency. And which president got this country embroiled in a Middle East conflict in Iraq which has had lasting repercussions to this day and could result in the formation of a horribly brutal and repressive Islamic state? Why, it is none other than former President George W. Bush, and yes, I’m sure you know that he is a Republican. And neither John McCain with his hyperaggressive militarism and disregard for civil rights or Mitt Romney and his RomneyCare would have been any better.
It seems to me, that in general Republicans are far more interesting in holding power than they are electing people that hold any sort of principle. Personally, I find that sad. And when grassroots Republicans try to stand on principle, as they did in the 6th district when they unanimously insisted that our representative, Bob Goodlatte, not vote for John Boehner as Speaker of the House, they are ignored. Some people thought it tantamount to heresy when I suggested to the 2014 Republican Senate nominee Ed Gillespie that he ought to advocate eliminating unconstitutional federal programs in his platform. In case you are wondering, he isn’t doing so.
Unfortunately, the Republican Party in my home of Harrisonburg is similarly a mess. In recent times they seem to value a blind adherence to the party rather than a common set of political principles. Believe what you want, but support the GOP, even if they nominate candidates to whom you have a moral objection. Is it any wonder then that no Republican has been able to win the city of Harrisonburg when facing a Democratic opponent since 2010?
Although one of the most heavily Republican counties in the state of Virginia, the Augusta County Republican Party seems to be in a continual state of civil war. Certainly there are many factors involved: the struggle for power and personality conflicts. However, I’m wondering if what is happening in Augusta isn’t just a never-ending struggle between those who feel electing Republicans is the party’s most important task, compared to those who believe that Republicans ought to nominate people who hold to a certain set of conservative principles as found in the party creed.
This past week, the GOP had a booth at the Rockingham County Fair. In the past, volunteering there was my absolute favorite political activity, one I looked forward to every year since I was 15. Given that I am running for office as an independent, was booted from the GOP in the early part of this year, and that I have philosophical differences with some of the Republican nominees, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I did not volunteer for them this year.
6th district Republican Chairman Wendell Walker made an appearance and posted this picture on his Facebook page with the following comment: “Spent time in Rockingham at the county fair, campaigning for Ed Gillespie, Bob Goodlatte, and Harrisonburg city’s next councilwoman, Dede Dalton.”
The problem? Well, if you know the woman on the left, can read the shirt she is wearing, or can see the signs behind them, you will note her name is D.D. Dawson, not Dede Dalton. One does have to wonder, does Chairman Walker know anything about Ms. Dawson and her political principles? Or is the party label all that matters? Having had several conversations with her myself, I can say there is more to Ms. Dawson than the fact that she is the Republican Party nominee. I don’t bring this point up to disparage either Ms. Dawson or Mr. Walker, but to further illustrate the dis-functionality of the Republican Party locally, statewide, and nationally.
To tell you a little more about my own circumstances, for over a year I served on the Board of Directors for the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia. I’m glad to say that there have been victories for the moment, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule. But perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is that so many liberty-minded people know what I’m saying to be true and they either can’t admit it, or they feel that there is no other alternative than trying to reform the Republican Party. Unfortunately, that course of action often leaves us feeling ignored or maligned. For one personal example, in late 2012 I submitted a RLC-VA petition to my local committee calling for the resignation of John Boehner. But the group wouldn’t hear of it and it was tabled until the start of the next year and then dismissed. They welcome our help…so long as we keep our views to ourselves. Thus, when liberty-minded folks cast our ballots, we are often faced with the ordeal of having to “hold our noses” to vote for a Republican candidate that is diametrically opposed to our principles.
When I first met former Republican Robert Sarvis in mid 2013, he told me that the Republican Party is hostile to liberty. I didn’t believe him at that time and I have to tell you that it was mainly because I didn’t want to believe him. But as time pressed onward I began to realize that he was unfortunately right. This is one reason why the Libertarian Party is seeing growth. We aren’t leaving the Republican Party so much as we are coming to the realization that the Republican Party has already left us.
I must confess I do have the hope, some may call it a naive hope, that Republicans will stand on shared values, but as long as a sizable segment of the party cares only about power and insists on making participants sign loyalty oaths, not to principle, but rather to the party and her candidates, I know that my hope isn’t really realistic. Although I opposed many positions held by former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA 11), I have to agree with one point he made in 2008, “Members instinctively understand that the Republican brand is in the trash can. I’ve often observed that if we were a dog food, they would take us off the shelf.”
So, how do we answer the question first posed, “What is a Republican?” It is a question that I wrestled with when I wrote “Some Nights With the GOP” after the Republican losses in 2012. All I can say is that I don’t know anymore; there are great Republicans and there are terrible Republicans, but the label itself isn’t particularly meaningful.