A GOP civic and political culture reformation is required

From the archive–originally posted March 18, 2008:

The downward trajectory of the GOP as shown in the recent loss of Illinois’ 14th congressional district can only be reversed through a reformation in the civic and political culture of the Republican Party both in Illinois and nationally.

Author Alan Pell Crawford, in a recent interview with reason.tv, had this to say:

The system is completely whacked at this point. The only way to get out of this ‘American Idol’ approach to American politics, I think, is to somehow engage the people not just as citizens on election day but every day.

[Thomas] Jefferson’s ideas about the individual citizens at the local level administering their schools, running their police departments, administering justice—all of this kind of stuff—in a daily kind of way strikes me as the only way those habits of mind and character can be maintained in a way that makes self government possible.

Republicans are supposed to believe in personal responsibility, so they better stop waiting for someone to ride in on a white horse and rescue them from Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, other Democrats, or ineffective, liberal, or corrupt Republicans at any level of government.

Just as the financial markets are now forcing behavioral changes from coast to coast, GOP-leaning voters had better make dramatic adjustments when it comes to their approach to the civic and political arena.

If someone has a simpler way than what I suggest here, as Ross Perot once said, I’m all ears. Engaging more good people in the process might seem wildly idealistic, but it is going to be required if we’re ever going to restore some balance to American political life. Right now, those who profit from tax dollars or seek to advance a big-government dream dominate the arena.

Since the government that has been constructed is unsustainable, the only way to avoid a complete Europeanization of the American economy is to activate more citizens who are committed to limited government and free markets. Without such a force, expect European-like dismal economic growth and unemployment rates, as well as a falling standard of living. Don’t be surprised to see, as well, social experiments taking place that won’t work any better here than they do in the Netherlands.

What would this counter force look like? How would it be organized? There’s no one-size-fits-all, but the outline is obvious. It will involve quality leadership, a compelling message, and a political party at the national, state and local level that once again serves a purpose beyond aiding the selfish ambition of a few.

Is it even possible? It certainly won’t be if more platform supporting Republicans don’t get up off the couch and help throw out the corrupt and the un-indicted co-conspirators from within their ranks. Republicans must put a stop to the myriad scandals like those that plagued the House GOP during the Dennis Hastert Speakership. Professionalism is required, as is a return to principles. Those two themes dominate much of what we write about on this website.

This reformation process will be a war much like the struggle involving the social issues that has been waged in earnest since the 1960s. Morality has always been a topic of debate throughout American history, whether it concerned slavery, the consequences of the industrial revolution, or prohibition.

Founding father John Adams gave his opinion on this conflict when he said:

Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.

Similarly, another “war” has to be fought: an intramural fight within the GOP. The reformation needed involves the day to day civic and political operations of those who support GOP principles. Consider this list:

  • We need higher caliber candidates.
  • We have to improve the manner in which we elect them.
  • The Party once again has to play a substantive role, as people won’t volunteer their time for what are now too often meaningless activities.
  • There has to be a standard set for what we require from our elected officials.
  • We need to increase and improve information flowing to voters year-round (in case you haven’t noticed, campaign mail isn’t enough).

The civic and political culture is where things get hashed out and decisions get made. There’s more than enough evidence that our side hasn’t been doing a very good job of attracting supporters.

Can we all agree that building think tanks and talk radio show audiences isn’t enough?

We have come a long way from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “the less government we have the better-the fewer laws and the less confided power,” and Henry David Thoreau’s “That government is best which governs least.” We’ve come a long way in the wrong direction. Those sentiments are almost from another world.

Steven Malagna’s book “The New New Left – How American Politics Works Today” did a great job outlining the clash between those who have discovered how to live off the state and those who fund the state (the taxeaters v. the taxpayers).

The challenge going forward is to devise a strategy for countering this behemoth. What makes it particularly difficult is that hardworking Americans have willingly been delegating more and more power over their lives to the state during the past seven or eight decades, and the monster that has been created is now enormous.

Worse, the rugged individualism that characterized much of American has, as Alexis de Tocqueville predicted, given way to a point were self-reliance maybe isn’t completely shattered, but it has been “softened” and “bent.”

Failed leadership has also sapped energy, and as a result more people have chosen to ignore their civic responsibilities. In the vacuum, the taxeating hordes have been happy to take more territory.

Now, for example, taxpayers find themselves up against their own tax dollars which fund public sector unions through mandatory dues. Tax dollar funded contracts have built-in provisions to cover the cost of lobbying for future projects. It’s a self-perpetuating problem funded ironically through tax dollars of those who oppose it.

We’ve come a long way since Thomas Jefferson said that “the sum of good government” is having—

 —a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.

This reformation is a must, but it can’t happen without the right kind of leaders.

Up next: Republican failures make a renaissance necessary.