by Rod D. Martin
April 19, 2006
A lot of folks are upset at the Republican Congressional leadership these days, as we surely are too. Here’s a representative letter and my response.
I am tired of settling for the lesser of two evils. From now on as a Christian, I will consider myself to be a Recovering Republican. I cannot stomach any more compromise. It is time for principle over pragmatism. I will continue to read your materials but am suspicious of all Christians who support the non-Christian practices of the current leading Republicans.
Professor of Philosophy
Not knowing exactly what policies are bothering you, I’m not sure how specifically I can address your concerns. However, let me throw something out there kind of broadly and see what you think of it.
We aren’t happy with the Republican Congressional leadership at all. On the other hand, we’re very happy on most issues with most of the Republicans in Congress, because every year most of their voting records get better, and the number who can be considered truly conservative increases. These are good trends; and for every un-conservative thing you (or we) can name which the President has done, we can easily name 10 pretty major things he’s done that are groundbreakingly conservative, things his critics never quite remember, and things we’ve all been agitating for for a quarter century.
So the problem is mostly bad communications (the President) and bad leadership (Congress), all in an environment in which the major influencing institutions of our society actively attack everything any of them do (personally or professionally) — regardless of the truth — and in which the small number of liberal (mostly northeastern) Republicans can, in combination with the large Democrat minority, easily form a majority on many, if not most, issues. (A bigger Senate majority, by the way, would solve most of these problems, because the newer Senators we’re electing come from the south and west and all vote very solidly conservative; therefore, just a few more would render the leftist Republican swing votes powerless, and the whole climate would change. But alas, that’s probably a solution for 2008 or beyond, because it’s not too likely to happen this year.)
We have a lot of very specific problems with our guys — more than I have time to write in this letter — but we’re also very well aware of the problems they’re facing and the progress they’re making, on many fronts.
Now having said that, here’s what I was getting at in the first paragraph, and something very few folks I’ve ever met have systematically considered. Has it ever occurred to you that our system is designed, from the ground up, to force compromise as the default position nearly all the time? Two houses of Congress, a President with a veto pen (one this President jolly well hasn’t used, but never mind that for the moment), the ability to override those vetoes, a Supreme Court which can trump the other two branches (and, under several circumstances, be trumped itself by either or both of the other two).
And within those Houses: single-member districts elected on the principle of first-past-the-post in the lower chamber, making for a radically greater diversity of opinion ranging from Bernie Sanders to Ron Paul and making state boundaries irrelevant; statewide elections in the other, greatly containing the likely range of opinion in the upper chamber and factoring out any thought of popular representation in the strict sense (the delegation from Rhode Island has the same power as the delegation from California); a complicated committee and procedural system in each chamber which is significantly different from the one in the other House; and all of this having to be reconciled before any bill may pass.
Oh, and the parties. They’re not European parties. They have no power or means to enforce party discipline, and most of the tools available to do so in other countries are expressly illegal here. They have to raise their own money, but so does each individual candidate. Any candidate may run without the party’s approval, and usually does. He doesn’t owe his office to them, and frequently owes it in part to running against them. And yet at the same time, without the party’s infrastructure and brand name, he cannot be elected in virtually all cases.
What I’m asking you to think about is this: accusing a political party (or more precisely, its members, because a “party” in the American context is virtually meaningless for this discussion’s purposes) of acting pragmatically or of compromising is like accusing you or me of breathing. Our Constitution requires it. It is not possible for them to do otherwise. In fact, it is not wise for us to want them to do otherwise: it is that multilayered built-in necessity for constant compromise which is the bulwark of our freedom, and keeps the passions of a temporary majority from taking us off the cliff, as when Britain nationalized all its industry after World War II, or as when Germany elected Hitler.
But of course, that’s not quite your point. I just want to remind you of it. Frequently, when we get upset about how things are going, we forget these things and throw the baby out with the bath.
But the truth is this: on 90% of all issues, 90% of all Republican voters in this country are solidly conservative. And that percentage holds up pretty well even in Congress most of the time. But the party leadership (because conservatives have not systematically run for and won those offices, as groups like the NFRA – http://www.RepublicanAssemblies.org – advocate) remains in the northeastern liberal establishment’s hands, the Congressional leadership is frequently scared of its shadow and bad at its job, and the temptations of power affect everyone.
So yes, we agree a shakeup is needed. President Bush is giving his staff a pretty decent one this week, which so far is looking good. We’re pushing Congress hard on a number of reforms, and if they don’t get their house in order, they’ll pay, in part because of our members.
But don’t throw out the baby with the bath. America has a two-party system because our Constitution makes that a virtual inevitability. Our founders wanted a system of coalition and compromise. This produces some annoying results. But looking globally, I’d rather face the unending problem of organizing our ranks to lead our coalition than be captive to the unending backroom deals of the parliamentary multiparty systems abroad. Its a messy system, but we can win. And I believe we will.
Keep the faith,
Rod D. Martin
Executive Vice President
National Federation of Republican Assemblies