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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Modern Republicans

City Pages has an interview with former Senator Dave Durenberger about the state of the Republican party today. It's an interesting read.

Dave Durenberger was before my time, so I don't remember much. I remember his censure, and that he was in general a moderate Republican who was interested in foreign policy. Because he is moderate, he would not fit in today's Republican party.

The interview goes into how that happened a bit, but I don't think it said enough about what it means to be a Republican today, aside from the obvious fact that people like Durenberger and Arne Carlson would not be allowed in. As I thought about it some more, some parallels suddenly emerged.

Everybody knows that there is a strong connection between Republicans and Evangelical Christianity these days, but I don't know if much attention is paid to the fact that the philosophical methods are the same. Not the philosophies themselves (which does get a lot of media attention), but how you arrive at them. We're talking about the metaphysics of Republicanism today, so bear with me.

As I read about how moderates are no longer a part of the Republican party, it struck me that most Republicans these days probably don't even know themselves what being Republican used to stand for. Many Republicans today legislate by slogan, not by any core fundamental beliefs. I spend a good deal of time thinking about issues and what it means to be liberal and conservative on them, but I am not seeing that kind of introspection on the part of many Republicans.

Instead, they believe these slogans simply on faith, not putting them together into some larger framework. Much like those Evangelical Christians today who say that they devote their lives to Jesus but hardly know the Bible from TV Guide. It takes more than just being handed down rules and phrases from on high to be faithful. The unexplored faith isn't very strong. Aside from your Rush Limbaugh-blasted catch phrases ("You are either with us or with the terrorists", "Pro-family", "Personal responsibility"), I don't see a coherent philosophy today, certainly not one strong enough to stand up under scrutiny.

Which brings me to my second thought: the reason why Republicans hate facts. If you have a philosophy that you don't understand well and haven't studied, it is going to be tenuous. Anything facts that contradict the shallow understanding of that philosophy are going to be seen as extremely threatening. It doesn't matter if that philosophy is religious or political. The Republican party today, because its philosophy isn't solid, thus denies facts that contradict their worldview.

Are there liberals that do this too? Sure there are; I've met my share. But these liberals have not taken over the Democratic party by any stretch of the imagination, while the conservatives who argue with basic facts have taken over the Republican party. It is hard to see somebody like Arne Carlson or Dave Durenberger or Elmer Anderson just flat-out deny facts, which is why they just couldn't be a part of the party today.

Kevin Drum over at Political Animal has this example: the effectiveness of needle exchange programs. Studies show that they cut down on the transmission of diseases. The Clinton administration acknowledged this fact but said that they don't believe in the programs anyway. That process is perfectly fine: they are admitting that the facts are accurate, but their politics takes them in a different direction. Republicans, on the other hand, deny the facts outright. They lie and pretend they say the complete opposite. They don't say, "Well, we don't like needle-exchange programs for such-and-such a reason," they pretend they don't work. They have done the same with abstinence-only sex ed as well. The studies show this approach doesn't work, but they say it does. Since the facts get in the way of their worldview, they have to change the facts because they are not strong enough to look at their worldview.

Or, take an example from right here. Governor Pawlenty will not raise taxes, or so he says. Now, everybody knows that his policies have raised taxes. They have raised property taxes, they have raised fees for nursing home residents who pay privately, they have raised tuition for college students, they have raised fees for just about everything. And he is going to keep on doing that. However, in order to keep to his Taxpayer's League-provided worldview, he just denies that this is happening. Instead of admitting that government revenues are going to have to go up somehow, thus providing a starting point for discussions about how this should happen, he just denies it. Nope, not a tax. Go away.

The medical malpractice issue is the same thing. All the studies show that malpractice costs are no more than 5% of health care spending, and that most health care spending comes from prescription drugs and care during the last six months of a person's life. Do they admit this, however? No, they say that the absolute number one issue driving up health care costs is malpractice. They have to deny reality, instead of saying, "You know what? Malpractice isn't a cost driver for health care, but we don't like Democratic trial lawyers and so we want tort reform." At least that would be honest, and a starting point for debate.

Obviously, there are Republicans that take this rejection of reality further than others. But the party as a whole is definitely moving in that direction. Eventually, something's going to give, and since the facts are pretty immutable, that means that it's the worldview that will eventually crack. But how long will that take, and what catastrophe will have to come along to prompt it?

I don't hate Republicans. I do think, however, that when one side of the political spectrum is so uninterested in facts and reality, the debate suffers. It can't even get started. Unfortunately, we all have to live in this reality, not the one concocted in the minds of some of our political leaders. I just hope that something will happen to change these people's minds.

6 Comments:

At 10:25 PM, March 09, 2005, Blogger Robb said...

I interviewed Durenberger some 20 years ago. Sat and had lunch with him at a county fair up north: Nice man-- contemplative, considerate. We talked a lot about health issues and the elderly. He would have fit into the middle of the now "centerist" Democratic Party.

 
At 11:50 AM, March 10, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great post. I think that it brings up some interesting points.

First of all, I am a Republican. I am a Christian. My views lie well right of center.

I think some of your points apply to both sides of the debate. Take, for example, the recent debate on the Defense of Marriage ammendment. Now, many on the left immediately dismiss it as fundamentalist, right-wing, hoo-ha. The left likes to paint its supporters with the wide brush of bigotry and hate. However, the facts state that Minnesotans support this overwhelmingly. (And nationwide, of course, 11 states passed the same ammendment last year). But, because the left simply dismisses it as 1) a non-issue, or 2) hateful and bigoted, means that no meaningful debate will come of it.

Another issue, is the world safer without Sadaam Hussein in power? The left avoids the question, instead deflecting to questioning whether or not the U.S. was correct in its involvement. The right, sometimes too strongly, stands up with a resounding YES (sometimes sounding too much like blind faith), despite the difficult road ahead. I believe that we may not be safer today, but that we will be in 10, 20 years down the line.

I believe there is a natural tendency to dismiss facts that disagree with your belief. Call it blind faith, call it fear of being wrong. It happens on both sides, and I do believe that it stifles debate.

I think that politicians and activists on both sides grossly underestimate the sophistication of the public, especially those who disagree with them. It's easy to dismiss the proposed Academic Bill of Rights as a right-wing plot to stifle freedom, and call the legislators who support it "kooks". But what value does that have to the debate? When we simply toss mud around, name-calling (Wing-nuts, moonbats, etc.) is that really constructive to the debate?

 
At 11:50 AM, March 10, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great post. I think that it brings up some interesting points.

First of all, I am a Republican. I am a Christian. My views lie well right of center.

I think some of your points apply to both sides of the debate. Take, for example, the recent debate on the Defense of Marriage ammendment. Now, many on the left immediately dismiss it as fundamentalist, right-wing, hoo-ha. The left likes to paint its supporters with the wide brush of bigotry and hate. However, the facts state that Minnesotans support this overwhelmingly. (And nationwide, of course, 11 states passed the same ammendment last year). But, because the left simply dismisses it as 1) a non-issue, or 2) hateful and bigoted, means that no meaningful debate will come of it.

Another issue, is the world safer without Sadaam Hussein in power? The left avoids the question, instead deflecting to questioning whether or not the U.S. was correct in its involvement. The right, sometimes too strongly, stands up with a resounding YES (sometimes sounding too much like blind faith), despite the difficult road ahead. I believe that we may not be safer today, but that we will be in 10, 20 years down the line.

I believe there is a natural tendency to dismiss facts that disagree with your belief. Call it blind faith, call it fear of being wrong. It happens on both sides, and I do believe that it stifles debate.

I think that politicians and activists on both sides grossly underestimate the sophistication of the public, especially those who disagree with them. It's easy to dismiss the proposed Academic Bill of Rights as a right-wing plot to stifle freedom, and call the legislators who support it "kooks". But what value does that have to the debate? When we simply toss mud around, name-calling (Wing-nuts, moonbats, etc.) is that really constructive to the debate?

 
At 10:05 PM, March 14, 2005, Blogger Thumb said...

Take, for example, the recent debate on the Defense of Marriage ammendment. Now, many on the left immediately dismiss it as fundamentalist, right-wing, hoo-ha. The left likes to paint its supporters with the wide brush of bigotry and hate. However, the facts state that Minnesotans support this overwhelmingly. (And nationwide, of course, 11 states passed the same ammendment last year).

Yes, let's take this for an example. You see, human rights has been a very slow evolutionary process. So what if the "facts" state that X percentage of Minnesotans support discrimination or that X states have passed amendments. It was no different when it was non-property owners that were the ones disenfranchised. Then after that it was the blacks. Then it was women (who waited 50 years after blacks won the right to vote before they joined the franchise). Then it was the mixed race couples that couldn't marry. All these situations disenfranchising specific sections of the population did so with large numbers of citizen (and thus political) support. Did that make slavery right? Did the "fact" that the majority of people supported laws that blocked women from voting and mixed couples from marrying make them right? Yet you argue that in this case that it does. Strange that.

And then you want to whine about the left* using a broad brush against you when you're aligned with the exact same right-wing fundamentalists that have been pushing for legalized discrimination for the last 200 years. Sorry, but that dog ain't gonna hunt.

And speaking of dogs that won't hunt . . .

Another issue, is the world safer without Saddam Hussein in power? The left avoids the question, instead deflecting to questioning whether or not the U.S. was correct in its involvement.

Were not avoiding the question, you're ignoring what were saying because you're too busy beating us over the head with the flag when we don't snap to attention and click our heals. If your side wasn't so preoccupied with pounding their chests and spraying seed in all directions you'd have a chance to see the forest for the trees, something that sadly your patience levels and binary worldview prevents you from taking in. So, sparing you a dissertation on the folly of unprovoked military occupations of foreign lands by a lone fading empire, suffice to say, no, we are not safer with Saddam removed IN THIS MANNER. And this doesn't even begin to touch on the fact that Saddam was originally backed and supplied by Bush. As was Osama Bin Laden. Ironically so was Hitler (by Prescott Bush - Google it). The difference of course is that Saddam was no Hitler, and Osama is no Japanese Imperial Army, and we managed to defeat both without losing our liberties at home or our integrity abroad (something we gave up when we tore up the Geneva Conventions to pursue serial torture and sexual abuse).

* And though you no doubt want to take the easy binary route and lump me into the "left" for having such blasphemous thoughts, you should know that I was not only a strong supporter of Durenburger, but I also had personal letters on my wall from Rudy Boshowitz (sp? It's been a while), worked with Bill Frenzel (I miss Bill) and fought hard for Arne Carlson. I also have very strong personal religious convictions that don't revolve around either shutting out specific classes of people (God doesn't make mistakes) or greasing the wheels of the wealthest among us with the blood and sweat of the most vulnerable among us. That's not the Christianity I learned.

I was a good Republican. I didn't change; the Republican party changed into a group of fiscal and spiritual charlatans duping the selfish and the fearful while they pick your pocket (oldest con in the book).

(I think I'm starting to have a better understanding of why those on your side have such a fear of evolution though)

 
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