Much will be written in the blogosphere and newspapers and discussed on political television about the off-year elections that were held yesterday. It will be a referendum on this and a rebuke of that. The only thing certain is that the commentary will reflect the view of the commentator more than the reality of the situation. That doesn’t have to stop me from jumping in, though.
The most interesting to me was the race in New York’s 23rd Congressional District. It’s interesting because it seems to be a reflection of what is going on nationally with the Republican Party. Redistricting notwithstanding, it has been essentially Republican since the 1800s. The Republican establishment nominated Dede Scozzafava, who received the endorsement of stalwart Republicans Newt Gingrich and House Minority Leader John Boehner. Some conservatives, most notably Sarah Palin, didn’t think she was conservative enough and endorsed Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. There’s no question that Hoffman was conservative enough.
There’s been an undercurrent of this split between traditional conservatives in the Barry Goldwater tradition and what has become the more vocal and influential Christian conservatives in the party. We all know that national parties go though change, always reluctantly, and typically adapt to changing demographics, changing values and changing economic conditions. The most likely outcome is that the Republicans will find their way out of the wilderness, too. There’s one reason why they may not.
Prior to Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, Christian conservatives didn’t play a large role in national politics. The issue of religion would arise at times, like the controversy over the Catholicism of John Kennedy, but it was not a major force. Although not a Christian conservative himself, Reagan saw the political value in that voting bloc and courted them. In the nearly thirty years since, they have gained political power and affected policy at the national level considerably. The problem isn’t so much their political views – although I take issue with most of them. The problem is that many Christian conservatives are also fundamentalist in their thinking. Fundamentalism is characterized by seeing the world in black and white. There are no shades of gray. To the fundamentalist thinker, there is no difference between compromise and capitulation.
There is a strong, motivated and vocal force within the Republican Party that is marked by political fundamentalism. Their goal is to be ideologically “pure”, although from my point-of-view, that ideology is poorly-defined and inconsistent. That fundamentalism is apparent in media figures like Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, but it is also apparent is de facto political leaders like Sarah Palin, Michael Steele and John Boehner, who conceded yesterday that he regrets his support for Scozzafava. I think this pervasive vein of fundamentalism is toxic to the Republican Party. To point, the Democrat won the New York 23rd District election yesterday. While I tend to not be alarmist in my thinking, it seems like the possibility of a permanent split in the Republican Party is more possible now than ever.
I hope it happens. The unfortunate side-effect is that it would empower the Democrats. Right now, they don’t need any more power. Our country works best when we have a balance of power with opposing sides working in good faith toward moderated political policies. If the political fundamentalists can break off into the Conservative Party, along with their man of the moment, Doug Hoffman, that would free up the Republicans to be the reasonable, loyal opposition.
Once the Republicans are free of the Christian conservatives, they can start to court the (small “l”) libertarians. Those libertarians want a smaller government intervention, but realize that some regulation is necessary. Those libertarians are deficit hawks who realize that short-term deficit spending is necessary on occasion, but shouldn’t be the modus operandi of Washington. They will concede that there needs to be a social safety net, but think welfare entitlements should not be a multi-generational way-of-life. Those libertarians realize that a healthy dose of free-market capitalism is the basic reason for America’s wealth, but realize government should endeavor to create policies of regulation that are minimal, but effective.
As soon as the Republicans can accomplish that, then I will start voting Republican.