Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Party of Me

In the wake of Senator Arlen Specter changing political parties, and growing dissatisfaction with the perceived inability of politicians to simply "get along" with each other, the question again arises of how far a party should go to protect its own principles. Why shouldn't a political party be "pure"? Why shouldn't a group, any group, set its own rules and boot anyone who doesn't adhere to them exactly?

There are more than 200 million adults in this country. Is it even possible to have everyone's philosophies represented perfectly by specific political parties? Perhaps in theory; but in practice, there's only one way to ensure that your party represents you perfectly. It's the old adage: "If you want something done right, then you must do it yourself". A party that represents all of your views and your views only will be a party of one.

The Republican Party, many say, is at a crossroads now. They can choose to become ideologically "pure", purging itself of moderates and liberals and embracing an entirely conservative agenda; or they can be more inclusive, embracing more moderate stances on certain social, economic, and security issues. There are pros and cons of each choice, of course. The more moderate stances a party espouses, the higher its membership will likely be. The trade off is that the party potentially must abandon some of its defining issues in the process. Imagine, for example, if the Democratic Party abandoned the issue of gun control entirely so they could win the support of the National Rifle Association. How much support from those who believe in gun control would they lose?

What is the solution, then? To compromise? Conservatives deserve to have their values represented, as I've posted before, just as liberals do. If the Republican Party were to become more moderate, then they could rightly anticipate having more conservatives leave the party, possibly in favor of another. Surely, that would please certain Democrats to no end. Not only would the GOP be less conservative, but it would also be less powerful.

Those who have read my earlier posts know that I have never thought much of political parties. The country faces so many challenging issues today that are only hindered, not helped, by politicians playing politics. Some are perennial social issues, like abortion, gay rights, immigration, education, and crime and poverty. Others are seemingly recent and yet hauntingly familiar, such as terrorism, the right to privacy, and war in the Middle East. More still, including the economy, entitlements, energy production, and the environment, are always on our minds, but no two people seem to agree on the "right" way to address all of them. The problem with joining a political party is that you will almost always find yourself at odds with one plank or another in the party's platform. When that time comes, you are forced to choose between disloyalty to party or disloyalty to self.

Eric Cantor, the House Republican Whip, along with a number of GOP "stars" have begun the National Council for a New America, a nationwide effort to "remake" the image of the Republican Party. Branded recently as the party of no, they're working to present their ideas to the American public and receive ideas from the public in return; not just ideas on how to benefit the nation, but to revamp the GOP at the same time. Trying to expand the Republican Party to cover all of the people that the Democratic Party doesn't represent would be futile, not to mention foolish. Abandoning its core principles would be even more foolish. I don't believe the NCNA is doing either; they just want to talk to ordinary Americans about solutions to American problems. Where does that leave conservatives, though, who may feel that the "new" Republican Party represents them less and less? In the same place every American is left on election day: with only their conscience to guide them.

Democrats are in roughly the same position. Moderates and even conservatives exist within the Democratic Party. I'm sure they cause headaches for the leadership and vice versa. In recent years, rifts within the party seem to have been closed as Democrats united to first "take back" both houses in Congress and then to win the White House. The first cracks have already begun to reopen, though, as flaring tempers over bailouts and the proposed budgets have prompted hasty action at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

I'll say it again: it is practically impossible to have enough political parties in this country to represent the views of all 200 million Americans. How do you determine which political party or candidate to follow? Make a list of how many issues on which you agree or disagree and just go with the column that holds the most pluses? No; because the number of pluses and minuses will always change. The only permanent solution, I feel, is compromise; the one solution that is completely inconsistent with the ideal behind political parties in the first place.

You have three choices in a republic: support a candidate, become a candidate, or do nothing. Whatever you do, always follow your own conscience. It's your party, after all.

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