Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Grand Old Party of Angry White Men

One of the saddest developments on the national scene is the deterioration of the Republican Party from being the party of principled conservatives to the party of the lunatic fringe.

To be sure, there are many conservative principles which are of demonstrated value. 

One such principle is support for the free enterprise system.  We have ample evidence that the free enterprise system is the world’s best generator of prosperity.  Consider how China just a few decades after introducing free enterprise went from being one of the poorest countries in the world to the country with the second largest gross domestic product. 

Another conservative principle is constraining government expenditures and balancing budgets.  At present, we have daily evidence from Europe that governments amassing huge levels of debt can lead to catastrophic economic consequences.  When governments tax and spend they remove resources from the private economy which is the ultimate engine of economic growth.  The current and future levels of US national debt are certainly of concern.

A third conservative principle is limiting government interference in individual citizens’ lives.  In general, the government should not interfere with private individual behavior that does not impinge on the rights of others.

A fourth conservative principle is being skeptical of the benefit of government initiatives until they have been adequately tested.  Many well intentioned government initiatives have led to unintended consequences which were worse than the original problems they sought to address.

The current leadership of the Republican Party however seems to have largely ignored these principles and focused instead on the so called “social agenda”.   The social agenda involves attacks on disfavored groups such as gays and women. 

In terms of gay rights, the principled conservative position ought to be that the government should not interfere with private relationships between consenting adults.  The government should let individuals decide whether they marry someone of the same or opposite gender.  Instead Republican Presidential candidates Romney, Santorum and Gingrich all call for a U.S. Constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage – the ultimate in government interference in individuals’ private lives and civil rights.  Such an amendment would also be the ultimate in anti-family initiatives – attempting to prevent adults who love each other from marrying and raising a family.

In terms of women’s rights, not only do Republicans want to ban abortion, they have now declared a virtual war on contraception.  Many Republicans desire to pass a Constitutional amendment to declare that life starts at conception.  Such an amendment would not only criminalize all abortion, it would also criminalize hormonal forms of birth control and IUDs because such birth control methods inhibit implantation of a fertilized egg into the uterus.  Such an amendment would also warrant criminal investigation of every miscarriage to determine if the miscarriage was intentionally induced or may have been precipitated by the woman’s behavior (dancing, athletic activity, alcohol ingestion, etc).  Women’s ability to control their reproduction has been one of the great contributions of science - enabling women to manage their own lives and their own health.  There might be a range of views about whether a fetus at a late stage of pregnancy has rights separate from those of the mother.  However, it is not reasonable to assign rights to a fertilized egg, or a small collection of embryonic cells, without any nervous system to the detriment of the rights of a sentient woman who does not wish to carry a pregnancy.  One would think that conservative principles would dictate that the government should not intervene in the private reproductive decisions of a woman, particularly prior to the time a fetus is independently viable.  Instead, the angry white men of the Republican Party are hell bent on having the government enforce their will to control women’s bodies. 

I would point out that in this country we do not compel individuals to provide the use of their organs and tissues to save the lives of even closest family members who have already been born and have a fully intact nervous system.  Would the angry white men of the Republican Party be in favor of the government being able to coerce them to donate their blood, bone marrow, a kidney, or a liver lobe to keep alive another individual who is a close tissue-type match? Apparently, according to them, the government should control the internal organs only of women.

The unreasoned doctrinal positions of the current Republican Party was showcased last summer when House Republicans refused to raise the national debt ceiling to enable the government to honor its obligations for expenses it had already incurred.  Who would have thought that one of the two main US political parties would push the government to the edge of default?

The Republicans have also declared a virtual war on science.  The fact that burning of fossil fuels has induced climate change is accepted by virtually all scientists engaged in this field.  The Republicans don’t like the policy implications of this reality, so they attack the scientists.

Many Republicans also don’t accept one of the best documented and accepted of all scientific theories – the theory of evolution – because it does not conform with the Biblical narrative. So they attempt either to introduce “creation science” into school science curricula or to excise any discussion of evolution (the latter effort has been largely successful, to the marked detriment of the education of US school children).

Republicans similarly unthinkingly support unfettered proliferation of firearms despite the evidence that such proliferation promotes gun violence.

Any rational theory of government recognizes that a certain amount of government regulation is necessary.  The collapse of our financial system, during a Republican administration, as a result of some of the most egregious of financial behaviors would suggest that some reasonable regulation was needed in this sphere. 

The great theorist of free markets, Milton Friedman, recognized that in cases of market failure – for example, when economic transactions are not mutually agreed to by those involved – government intervention may be indicated.  Milton Friedman identified industrial pollution to be one of those cases: the polluter benefits but the adverse consequences are suffered by the citizenry.  Milton Friedman suggested that taxing of pollution would be the appropriate response in this case.

The angry white men of the Republican Party, however, robotically denounce all regulation rather than trying to design intelligent regulation that does not unnecessarily interfere with the private market place.

One would think that principled conservatives would want to have a clean separation of church and state – with the state neither promoting nor inhibiting religious observance as mandated by the Constitution.  In contrast, the Republican leadership can’t wait to impose fundamentalist Christian doctrines on every aspect of government and public policy.  To them, separation of church and state has become the “War on Religion.”

The recent meeting of American Conservative Union’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) - attended by Presidential candidates Romney, Gingrich and Santorum - included such guests as Peter Brimelow, founder of VDARE, an organization identified as a white nationalist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

One of the Republican candidates, Newt Gingrich, has gone so far as to have issued a position paper with his plans to arrest noncompliant judges and to close courts should they oppose his dictates when he becomes President.

The Republican Party has degenerated into the party of intolerant, homophobic, misogynistic, anti-science, megalomaniac white men.  These individuals laud the ideal of a small non-interfering government, but in fact want to insert the government, along with a Christian Bible, into every citizen’s bedroom and into every woman’s uterus.

I hope that the extreme positions adopted by the Republican Party will be soundly rejected in the upcoming November elections.  Perhaps such a defeat would lead the party to reject its current leadership and rebuild a party which is based on reasoned principles and where positions are determined by examination of evidence and not based upon doctrinal absurdities.  Until then we will not have a viable two party system which provides the US citizenry with a rational choice of political representation.

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