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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    GOP must return to its roots to survive

    With more than 300 electoral votes in the bag for Barack Obama, it’s safe to say that the presidential race is essentially over. What remains to be seen is not what will become of John McCain, but what will become of his party.

    Saddled with the single most unpopular president in history and a reckless panderer of uncertain temper as their candidate, Republicans are bereft of leadership for the first time in decades.

    Without strong, unifying leadership – the kind provided in the past by Ronald Reagan and, for the first two years of his presidency, George W. Bush – the party’s various constituencies have virtually nothing that binds them together. A neoconservative longing to bring democracy to the world’s “”backward”” nations has virtually no goals in common with a libertarian or a fundamentalist.

    What united those groups in the past was not ideology but a common opponent: the Democratic Party. With the Democrats likely to take over both Congress and the presidency, observers are already predicting 20 years in the wilderness for the GOP.

    The Republicans now have two options. They can rebuild themselves as a loose coalition of uneasy alliances in the interest of seeking power, like the coalition that raised Bush to power and protected him for years. This isn’t likely to work for years, however, since Bush has been so thoroughly discredited.

    The other option will be much more difficult, but it could well be the only thing that could bring the Republicans back to power in a country that has rejected virtually every cherished issue in their platform.

    Their other option is to reinvent themselves as a genuine republican alternative to the Democrats. That is, the Republicans can return to their long-lost roots as the party of liberty and equality, the party that fought for local democracy and the government of the Founding Fathers.

    This was the Republican Party that fought first to prevent the extension of slavery, then for its destruction. This was the Republican Party whose greatest leaders – from Abraham Lincoln to Sen. Robert La Follette – opposed imperialist warfare from the Mexican War to World War I and fought bravely for the rights of black people.

    In order to become a true party of the people, the Republicans will have to return to long-forgotten principles. They must return to the republic’s old distrust of foreign wars, which neocons and liberals alike dismiss as “”isolationism.””

    But republican thinkers – like John Quincy Adams, who said that America “”goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy”” – were not isolationists: they believed that foreign wars would be used by leaders to destroy liberty at home. They were right.

    For years, Republican leaders from Robert Taft to Bob Dole firmly opposed reckless foreign interventions. Most of America’s unnecessary wars were launched by scheming Democrats, from Woodrow Wilson to Lyndon Johnson. When Bush himself ran for office in 2000, he won the hearts of old-time Republicans by promising a “”modest”” foreign policy. Bush’s betrayal of that cause is part of the reason Americans have abandoned him in droves.

    Even today, many Republican talking points carry an echo of old republican principles. Liberals usually dismiss Republicans’ distrust of “”bureaucracy”” as anti-government posturing. But excessive government bureaucracies are indeed dangerous to democracy. They rule by caprice, and make arbitrary decisions out of the reach of the voters.

    It’s far from clear that Democrats understand this. As a story observed Oct. 14, “”Come next year, the new administration and the new Congress may be able to build an entire new bureaucracy to govern the economy for decades.””

    The Republicans can embrace the principle of local democracy as a genuine alternative to the Democrats’ reliance on the federal government. What too many liberals have forgotten is that local government is the core of republican self-government.

    Local initiatives and town hall meetings, not national elections, are the beginning of democracy in a republic. Without the active and unceasing participation of the people in government, James Madison wrote, democracy will be “”a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both.””

    The Republicans, ironically, have proven far more adept than the Democrats at populist appeals to the people. But too often they have been contented to merely call for the abolition of government, to call for crackpot schemes like the dissolution of the public school system or the repeal of all regulations on business.

    Schemes like these might reduce the size of government, but they also reduce the authority of the people. As Lincoln put it, “”Give all of the people an equal voice in the government, and that and that alone is self-government.””

    Most importantly, the Republicans will have to ditch their demagogic reliance on moral issues and recognize that if “”small government”” means anything, it surely means refusing to legislate private behavior.

    The Republicans may have to give up a lot of their current platform in order to recapture the voters, but they will not have to abandon their principles. They will simply have to start living up to them.

    – Justyn Dillingham is the opinions editor of the Daily Wildcat. He can be reached at

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