The Idiotic Conservative Purity Pledge
Reagan would likely fail the purity test
It's quite fitting that in the mindset of some Republicans today, Ronald Reagan would fail a test of conservative values that he supposedly helped to invent.
A 10-point test of "conservatives principles" was floated in November by Indiana attorney James Bopp Jr., the vice-chairman of the Republican National Committee. Taking a line from Reagan, that "a person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor," Bopp devised a list of ideological requirements a candidate needs to meet in order to receive funding from the national party. Miss three of the 10 points -- a mixture of social and fiscal policy positions -- and you're out of luck when it comes to money this election year.
Demanding ideological orthodoxy to a set of ideas that has shrunk party membership over the last decade will only further the Republican decline. At a time when a growing number of voters find themselves disenchanted with the Democratic Party's vision, straitjacketing conservative candidates to a rigid set of policy positions that have failed in the past is no way for the GOP to reinvent itself for 2010 or in subsequent elections.
Take the example of Rob Simmons, a former Congressman running for Christopher Dodd's soon-to-be-vacated seat in the Senate. While Simmons has a shot of defeating current Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to capture a Senate seat in one of the bluest of blue states, he's a miserable failture when it comes to Bopps' purity test. As a Congressman, Simmons voted in favor of cap-and-trade climate change legislation and card-check voting to form a union. He's also pro-choice and pro-gay marriage.
According to some conservatives, Simmons is nothing a but a RINO (Republican in Name Only) and no better than his Democratic challenger. (My favorite candidate in that race, Peter Schiff, also fails the purity test for opposing the invasion of Iraq.)
This kind of thinking is exactly what's left the Republican Party in the sad state it's in today. Consider how Reagan himself would have done on this test: He signed the Immigration Reform Control Act in 1986, which gave amnesty to about 2.5 million illegal immigrants. In 1978, when the Briggs Initiative, (familiar to anyone who saw Milk) tried to ban homosexuals from teaching in California public schools, Reagan penned an op-ed opposing the measure and campaigned publicly against it. As far as deficit spending goes, the national debt rose to $3 trillion during his eight-year presidency largely due to military spending that helped bring down the Soviet Union and end the Cold War.
A revival of the Republican Party will come when Republican candidates start moving back to their roots as the party of individual liberties and free markets. It's hard to attract Latino voters in key Western swing-states when the party is known for Tom Tancredo-esque hysterics whenever the topic of immigration reform is brought up. It's equally hard to attract younger voters when some Republicans equate conservatism with spewing homophobic bile to appease the religious right. Growing the party means offering up credible policy proposals on key issues such as health-care and climate change rather than reverting to obstructionism.
If Republicans want a quote that will take them to victory in 2010 and 2012, then they should look no further than their own Representative from Wisconsin, Paul Ryan.
"If you believe in freedom, liberty, self-determination, free enterprise, I don't care if you're a Muslim, Jewish, Agnostic, Christian, gay, straight, Latino, black, white, Irish, whatever. Join us," Ryan said in an interview last year.
There's good news and bad news for Republicans in coming elections. The good news is that Obama's presidency is shaping up to be a repeat of the Carter administration. The bad news is that to seize on this, the GOP will need another Ronald Reagan.
Stan Oklobdzija is a first year Masters student in the School of Policy, Planning and Development.