The Bankrupcy of the Republican Party
The Democrats are steamrolling over all opposition, putting bad idea after bad idea into practice. The Republican Party is in no position to stop them, and their impotence has everything to do with their ideological bankruptcy during the Bush years.
At its heart, the Republican Party was dominated by mercantilists, people who believe in big business supported by big government. This philosophy was at its heart, Henry Clay’s American System, which had the following elements:
- High, protectionist, tarrifs to support American industry.
- Infrastructure to support big business such as canals, railroads, and later an interstate highway system.
- A central bank to bail out insolvent banks.
- Federal bailouts of indebted states.
- A strong army and navy to force open foreign markets via gun-boat diplomacy.
- Federal control of state militias.
This philosophy has consistently been advocated for by the Republican Party. Additionally, the Republican Party has attracted political factions that could support this philosophy while advocating for their own causes, namely:
- Social Conservatives
- ‘Christian’ Statists
- Moderate Libertarians
For the most part, these factions tolerated each other; the Party needed the voters that supported these factions to win elections. And these voters voted for the Party since staying home meant that Democrats would win the elections, and the Democratic Party was largely antithetical to each of these factions.
While Ronald Reagan was able to successfully create a coalition that had some ideological coherence, in the years since he left office, the Republican Party has completely abandoned any semblance of having a positive ideology. This decline started during the Clinton presidency, and reached its apotheosis during the Bush II era.
Bush II ran for office on a Reagan-like platform, promising to reform Clinton’s corruption, promising governance according to the following principles:
- Humbler foreign-policy: “No Nation Building”
- Fiscal Prudence
- And end to corrupt collusion with rent-seekers
These promises were barely sufficient to keep the Republicans competitive in elections. And, once in office, he proceeded to betray every one of them. Once in office, the Republican Party’s ideology could be summarized with one sentence: focused on power – the getting of it; the keeping of it.
The Republicans sought to deny the Democrats access to funding by coopting their largest source of funding: rent seekers seeking to curry favor from government officials. The Abramoff K Street project sought to ensure a permanent Republican majority in Congress by ensuring that people donated only to the Republican Party and not to the Democrats. To do this, they had a carrot and stick approach. The stick was a threat to have the legistlation desired by a special interest killed if the special interest made any attempt to work with Democrats. The carrot was, in effect, a willingness to give almost any special interest whatever favor it desired. In other words, the Republicans cared nothing for ideology. They had become legistlative whores. At this point they had abandoned any hint of principle except forsupport of Cheney’s strategy for waging the war on a tactic known as terrorism when it is practiced by people who are not U.S. government allies.
As a strategy, it seemed to work, initially. The negatives; the balooning growth of big government, the betrayal of campaign promises for a few elections seemed not to be a problem. Then the backlash started; the major players in the K Street Project were indicted. The wars began going badly. Then the most painful hit of all; the Federal Reserve slowed the printing presses, and the inflationary boom that had proped up the economy came to an end, and the financial system began a slow motion collapse.
In the most recent election, the Republican Party’s economic platform was incoherent. They had no positive message on any front. Having abandoned any recognizable principle to differentiate themselves from the Democrats, they were reduced to hysterical jingoism: chanting “Country First” in rallies and ranting about gay marriage.
The Republicans have painted themselves into a corner. The mercantile economic system they are championing is on the verge of collapse; either they back off on the state interventions on the economy, or they push their policies to their logical conclusion and embrace a variant of the economic fascism promoted by the Democrats. Every bad thing the Democrats are doing – violating the principles of the rule of law, destructive economic interventionism, runaway deficit spending, crony capitalism – was blatantly done by the Republicans within the past few years.
If the Republicans want to be a significant political party again, they are going to have to be for something positive and not merely against gay marriage; rule of law; economic freedom. They won’t; the apparatchniks running the Republican Party through combinations of stupidity or corruption have at every turn chosen badly.
We libertarians have long recognized the slow convergence of the Democrats and the Republicans toward totalitarian policies. There are many different roads to totalitarianism, they may meander in different directions at first, but ultimately they all converge on the same destination, a boot stamping on a face, forever.
So, I don’t mourn the fall of the Republican party. The vast majority of Republican voters, politicians and party officers have chosen badly, and done so consistently. It’s not sufficient to have a countervailing force in place The Democrats will discredit themselves too. I predict that in eight years, Obama, Pelosi and Biden will be as loathed as George Bush; they will do to the U.S. economy what Bush did to the reputation of Americans overseas.
And once Americans begin loathing their government, then repairing the damage of the last century can really begin.