29 November 2010

Why we rip Republicans

I'm a conservative. I believe Ronald Reagan was the greatest president since Lincoln. I believe Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson were two of the worst. I believe that President Obama deserved the rebuke he received at the ballot box several weeks ago.

My frequent, often searing, critiques of the Republican Party are much different than that which might be found at liberal blogs like the Daily Kos or Huffington Post. Rather, I agree with the fundamental underpinnings of conservatism as espoused by Edmund Burke, William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan -- limited government, individual liberty and the importance of existing institutions in providing stability and order.

My issues with the Republican Party, therefore, are not ideological in nature, but rather rhetoric- and policy-based. My criticisms often arise out of things that I believe the GOP does, or stands for, that are fundamentally un-conservative. For instance:

The Gang of 14. In 2005, the Senate was poised for a monumental showdown over a handful of President Bush's judicial nominees whom the Democrats had threatened to filibuster. Senate Democrats threatened the filibuster; Senate Republicans (the majority party at the time) threatened to change the rules and thereby eliminate the 200-year-old filibuster in its entirety. This made no sense and was as fundamentally abhorrent to ideological conservatism as anything one can imagine. Thankfully, a bipartisan group of 14 senators, led by John McCain and Robert Byrd, struck an agreement whereby the Democrats would vote to invoke cloture on three of the 11 nominees, and the Republicans would vote against the rule change. Crisis averted. McCain, et al. were slammed hysterically by right-wing bloggers and talk radio hosts for being insufficiently partisan. Never mind that engineering a rule change for purely political gain is one of the most fundamentally radical things a Senate could ever think to do.

Neoconservatism. As Pat Buchanan pointed out in his excellent book, Where the Right Went Wrong (published in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq), conservatism historically eschewed a radical, interventionist foreign policy. While Ronald Reagan was a strident anti-communist, the Reagan White House believed in containment and only intervened militarily when democratic governments were in danger of falling to pro-communist forces (e.g., Nicaragua). By contrast, the 21st century neoconservative cabal -- Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, et al. -- views the American military as the world's policeman, with many prominent "conservative" leaders now pushing for attacks on Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities. Neoconservatives have adopted the dogma of the Bush Doctrine, a silly black-and-white post-9/11 enunciation that the United States has the authority to attack any country that isn't fully and completely compliant with the anti-terrorism dictates of the imperial American presidency. In many cases -- especially with respect to the American Enterprise Institute and AIPAC -- the unabashedly pro-Israel bent of many American think tanks inform their foreign policy stances, arguably, to the detriment of the United States abroad.

Tort reform. In 2004, President Bush came to my backyard in Madison County, Illinois, and argued for a federal tort reform bill that would place caps on damages in medical malpractice suits. This policy is supported by virtually every Republican at the national level and, shockingly, by many Democrats. Despite the fact that 28 states now have some form of "tort reform" on the books, and despite the fact that verdicts and settlements have gone down over the past 20 years, malpractice premiums continue to rise. Instead of regulating the fundamentally corrupt malpractice insurance industry, Republicans would rather shut legitimate litigants out of court. By passing federal tort reform statutes that would make it more difficult to sue, or would artificially cap damages in personal injury suits, Republicans would likely run afoul of the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of a jury trial. Additionally, and more fundamentally, federal Republicans completely ignore the guiding principles of federalism as espoused by none other than Reagan himself.

Civil liberties. While Republicans shriek about "death panels" and socialism, they turn a blind eye to rank civil liberties abuses that have taken place at the hands of the very federal government they profess to mistrust. President Bush claimed that his wartime powers were unlimited by the Constitution, claimed the ability to imprison and torture American citizens without access a lawyer, a jury trial or even a formal criminal charge, and overtly broke federal wiretapping laws in the name of "national security." Republicans didn't bat an eye. As a result, President Obama has been emboldened, ordering the assassinations of American citizens abroad by pure executive fiat, attempting to gain unfettered access to citizens' unopened emails, and blocking entire lawsuits challenging his overreaching federal programs under a laughably broad, fundamentally abhorrent conception of the state secrets privilege. The same conservatives who claim that the government will pull the plug on "Granny" are seemingly willing to give a blank check to the government when it comes to tapping their phones, breaking federal laws and making their fellow citizens disappear.

Budget issues: The Bush administration's profligate, out-of-control spending has been well-documented in virtually every corner of the internet. It's no secret that George W. Bush inherited a $200 billion surplus and blew it nearly immediately -- and again, the budget numbers never included the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, which were considered "off-budget." In 2010, conservatives -- who blindly followed Bush for 8 years -- have suddenly recalled their commitment to limited government and fiscal responsibility once a Democrat returned to the White House. These conservatives seem to think that repealing Obamacare, banning earmarks and eliminating "waste and fraud" will balance the budget and solve our fiscal crisis. Nothing is further from the truth. Obamacare was scored as deficit-neutral by the CBO and earmarks make up less than $20 billion a year. Conservatives who believe defense and entitlement programs are off-limits from budget cuts are only kidding themselves and are clearly not serious about fiscal responsibility. Furthermore, and more critically, conservatives seem unwilling to reconcile the inherent contradictions between their desire for a balanced budget on one hand, and tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and a blank check from the Pentagon on the other. Again, fiscal responsibility is the hallmark of conservatism, a fact that has sadly been erased from the Republican platform since Bush came to town.

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