Saturday, November 22, 2008

Crafting New Positions for the GOP

Having mulled it over the last few days as I bike to and from school, I have decided that I quite agree with Lexington’s recent column in The Economist, “Ship of Fools” (13 November 2008): the future of the Republican Party and conservative politics cannot rest on ignorance and prejudice. If they are to have a future, it will be found in The Wall Street Journal and the Claremont Review of Books, not on Fox News. With the number of college graduates rising, the GOP cannot afford a declining percentage of this section of the electorate. Moreover, it is generally far easier to turn a complex policy position into a handy slogan, than to work the process the other way, teasing policy details out of mindless bumper sticker.

Some people, of course, might be happy to watch the Republican Party die. Let me suggest that a healthy two-party system is better for all Americans, on the left and on the right. The competition forces parties to make compelling arguments and win people over, rather than taking votes for granted.

So following Lexington’s lead, what kind of positions should the GOP begin articulating? Here are a few ideas:

On stem cell research: The Republican Party should fully support, and even happily fund, stem cell research. Just do it with adult stem cells; is that too much to ask?

On energy: The Republican Party should support diversification and fiscal environmentalism. Yes, we should drill in certain domestic locations. Yes, we should allow for the construction of new nuclear facilities (something that has been held up for decades for more political than regulatory reasons). And, yes, we should support low energy use and sustainability. Why? Because it is not only good for the environment, but it is also good business. Walmart is building some of the most energy efficient stores right now, for that very reason. Energy efficiency is not a bad thing.

On global warming: The Republican Party, following Bjørn Lomborg, should argue that trying to fix global warming is a sink hole for money; there are better ways to spend our funds. This does not mean global warming is - or is not - caused by human beings nor that it will – or will not – continue. The real question is what do we do with our scarce resources? Providing micronutrients to the Third World, liberalizing trade and fighting malaria are all likely to yield more gains than fighting global warming. If we undertake carbon emission reductions, it should be tied to business incentives, like the energy efficiency mentioned above.

On torture: The US should not torture. Period. It is contrary to human dignity and generally yields poor results anyway. Some will want to define what is, or is not, torture, and there is a real discussion to be had here. But the GOP should unmistakably underline that it opposes torture. There is nothing conservative about it. Dictatorship torture; the US does not.

On immigration: The multi-pronged approach that John McCain advocated – and then generally ignored or failed to articulate – is generally popular with the American people and is quite sensible. We need to be able to control our borders, know who comes and goes, and have some sort of minimum standards for people coming to work or study here (much less become citizens). But the process for coming here legally is a nightmare and surely needs to be reformed and speeded up. And we cannot kick out the 10 or 12 million illegal immigrants here, even if we wanted to; shy of having a police state, it is just not possible. Some sort of normalization process for them is in order.

On race: The Republican party opposed the Democrats on the question of slavery and fought a war to end it. There should be no room in the GOP for racial prejudice, explicit or implicit. Martin Luther King Jr. said that a man should be judged on the content of his character, not the color of his skin. On those ground, no form of racial discrimination, whatever its purpose, should be sanctioned by the government, including affirmative action.

On homosexuality: This is a tricky question for conservatives, and divides the movement’s libertarian wing from its traditionalist social conservative wing. Indeed, I sometimes find myself torn on what we ought to do politically with homosexuality. (The moral issues are fairly clear in my mind. Just pick up your copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.) Should gay marriage be legal? It seems to me the word “marriage” itself is what traditionalists are most eager to defend, that is, some notion of the sacrament in question. While there are gay activists on the far left who will not rest until they too can be legally married, it is my impression that most gay couples are more interested in matters of benefits, visitation rights and other legal issues. If they want the imprimatur of some person in authority administering vows, let them find a minister of their liking who will do the deed. But if the state is delivering equal legal benefits, I see no reason it has to recognize those vows. A tricky compromise, perhaps, but I have not yet seen a better suggestion.

With regards to the particular question of gay adoption, it seems to me that, so long as we allow single-parent adoption, adoption by gay couples must also logically follow. (What do they lack that a single parent has?) Thus, we should give priority to - if not outright require - adopting couples composed of both a man and a woman. From a legalistic perspective, this is not a matter of sexual orientation, per se; instead, it is an effort to secure the well-rounded development of children, who need both a father and a mother.

On evolution: Frankly, I have been disappointed by the discussion – or lack there of – on this point. There are generally two schools of thought: either Genesis is literal and, if it comes down to it, science be damned; or evolution occurred over billions of years and you can keep your Genesis account as a metaphor (which is a polite way of saying “irrelevancy”) but that is all. Some of this has to do with the breakdown of our ability to really think about myths and their meanings. I feel like there is a conversation that needs to happen here before we can have a sensible, conservative position we can pitch to the American people.

Coupled with a few cornerstones of contemporary conservative politics - low taxes, free trade, right to work (open shops), opposition to abortion, local control of education and strong national defense - I think the positions outlined above might not only be able to create an electoral majority, but might even produce some good policy.
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