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Republican Party Politics
Plus Ca Change – The Center still Holds!

Written February 17, 1977 after Ford lost to Carter
Re-Written November 2007

The 2007 election, just like the 1976 election, has left many progressive Republicans in a state of shock, concerned about the future of the two-party system, and questioning whether their wing of the GOP can survive, and indeed whether there is any point to continue fruitlessly laboring in the Republican vineyard, infested as it is.  Conservatives have already signaled another effort at party domination, and many observers, pointing to the fact that Republican registration has dropped to new lows across the nation, expect the Republicans to convert into a Conservative minority, ideologically pure according to the doctrines of the right, but unable to win.

I still hope and believe otherwise.  In fact, I believe our opportunity to rebuild first the moderate wing, and then the whole of the Republican Party, will never be greater.

I wrote what follows in 1977 and I still believe what I said.

In the first place, the people have clearly signaled their confidence in the moderates’ approach to solving the problems of this country.  As a matter of fact, the Republican blood baths of 1974 and 1976 have actually increased quite substantially the power of the moderate and progressive wings of the party- -even though they are still only bigger frogs in a smaller pond. Good, moderate Republican candidates can win, despite registration figures, as both elections show.

But more importantly, could progressive Republicans ever feel at home with the dominant liberal wing of the Democratic Party?  I, for one, cannot foresee ever emulating John Lindsay and Ogden Reid -- whether the GOP likes it or not, I shall stay in it and work within it for my point of view.  My personal credo and political beliefs just don’t seem to jibe with those of the other side.

I consider myself a civil libertarian and at the same time an economic conservative.  I believe that government is basically inefficient and that bureaucracies tend to be concerned more with protecting themselves and increasing their power than with doing their job.  It follows that the less government, the better, and equally that the layer of government that tackles the problem at hand should be the lowest possible, and the closest to the people.

Big government based in Washington basically cannot be as efficient in solving local problems as it is in handling national defense, and we ought to stop hollering for Uncle Sam to bail us out at every turn.  To paraphrase Lincoln, government should only do for people what people cannot do themselves, and government should not do for people what they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves.

I believe in the profit motive.  I believe that it is good, not bad, to make money, and that the forces of the market place are much more efficient and delicate than any bureaucratic apparatus, and that whenever we distort the results of free enterprise conducted freely we will pay a penalty - - ultimately both in inefficiency and loss of freedom. Our present gas energy “crisis” is in large part due to misregulation.

I believe in a democratic form of government -- but one organized along republican principles.  The people are the basic source of sovereignty, and their voice must ultimately prevail.  But the people cannot be expected to reach right judgments on every issue all the time -- one cannot have a referendum on each of the many great issues of the day.  Thus, we must have a representative form of government which produces good, qualified elected public officials who can keep and deserve the public trust.

It follows, again, that we must have a strong two-party system that offers a clear choice at all levels of government -- national, state and local.  Both major parties must be composed of persons of differing views, offering different ideas and different solutions to our nation’s problems.  There is no Republican -- or Democratic -- set of Commandments engraved on stone to which one must adhere, as there are in so many of the European or ideologically-based political parties to be found in other countries.

A multi-party system leads either to inefficiency or to inability to govern.  There must be a mechanism to decide questions, and to adopt firm programs, if government is to function at all.  It is the genius of the American two-party system, which is really embodied in the practical effect of the federal laws and those of the fifty states, that ultimately responsibility is fixed somewhere, and actions can be taken backed by a general consensus of national opinion.

Equally odious would be a one-party system.  Where the people are offered only one choice, it is a fraud and a delusion; they are being offered no choice at all.  The beginning of democracy in the Soviet Union will be when the first primary election is held for the Communist Party’s candidates.

I believe in a political form of government -- as Churchill said, democracy is a terrible form of government, but all others are worse.  Either you allow the political process to work or you have a dictatorship of one kind or another, for the political process by its very nature allows, and indeed encourages, disputation, the formation of factions, the need for agreement and compromise, and the acceptance of the other fellow’s right to disagree with you, no matter how right you feel you are.  In a political system, you cannot force others to agree with you or do exactly what you say; you must achieve a consensus before you can get anything done.

And yet, to be an economic conservative does not mean ignoring the fact that we have inequalities, inefficiencies, and real needs and wants in this country.  All too often, a “conservative” wants to change nothing, and would inhibit action by government to resolve peoples’ problems.  If government does not exist to help and protect people, it has no reason to exist at all.

We Republicans have been the party of pragmatism.  We pride ourselves on providing reasoned, efficient government. We must also provide Republican solutions to those problems that are perceived by the people of the country to be important to them.

There is no reason why the housing stock of the nation should be as deteriorated and dilapidated as it is.  Our criminal justice system is not working well, and in our cities, it is not working at all.  We have an energy crisis and an environmental crisis at the same time.  Our drug problem is horrible, and growing worse.  None of these problems are irresolvable.

But, the Democratic Party’s solutions to inflation, recession, energy, the environment, the housing and drug problems, and indeed most other problems, seem to be the same: more governmental involvement; more money; more controls or taxes on wages, profits, salaries, rents and dividends-- The New York Times’ fabled ‘incomes policy” which sounds like something dreamed up by the editorial board of the New Statesman.  Controls did not work the last time, and they will not again. Taxes are not only unfair but punitive, as written by the Democratically controlled Congress.  Can you imagine the bureaucracy required to do what the Democrats apparently envision?  A whole new way of employing many of the party faithful would be the inevitable result.

There ought to be Republican solutions to the present ills of our society; solutions that fit with our principles and yet work.

Tax reform is needed, for example.  But, do we need tax reforms that are confiscatory?  What is the purpose of taxation anyway?  Is it to raise needed revenues for government, or to “redistribute the wealth”?

There ought to be a floor provided for the weak, poor, and elderly.  If they do not have enough for a reasonably decent life, the society should make up the difference.  Those of us more fortunate should be taxed in a way that is generally considered fair, but not confiscatory.  And, one of the first Republican efforts ought to be tax simplification as well as tax reform-- too many lawyers and accountants make too much money out of our internal revenue code.

The Democrats talk much about rights, but tend to forget that for every “right,” there is imposed somewhere, upon someone, an equivalent duty.  We who consider ourselves civil libertarians are not only concerned with civil rights, but with the growth of big government, the invasions of privacy, and the denials of personal liberty and freedom that have accompanied our headlong rush to dump all problems in Washington’s lap.

And yet, although we all seem to feel this way, it is most difficult to persuade the average person that the Republican philosophy is for real.  Our Party is exclusive--not inclusive.  We do not attract new voters; women, minorities, young professionals.  We are, rather, a series of very smug and self-satisfied country clubs--very happy with minority patronage, at most local levels of political organization.

We have got to change our image and there is no way to do that without changing ourselves.  We have got to reach out, to youth, to women, to the young professional, to minorities, to ethnics.  We have to say to them, “come and work with us, and you will get a fair share of the power and advancement that comes with victory.”

The opportunity to participate effectively in the political process is the chief reward for getting involved in politics.  Not jobs, but a sense of power, of the ability to get things done and to improve conditions, and to help our fellow countrymen.   Republican political organizations have to share the power with all corners, to welcome them, to court them.  Without that, we will continue to dry up and our impotency as a national political party and our lack of new ideas and programs will lead to our disappearance as a political force, just as the Whig Party died in the 1850s.

We now have a second chance – can we now recapture the Center?

Constantine Sidamon-Eristoff
Tuesday, May 15, 2007