Aug. 2, 2013
“Political parties are a marvelous mechanism…If one were to entrust the organization of public life to the devil, he could not invent a more clever device.”
~ Simone Weil
I used to think I was a Democrat. Lately I think not, I think I am a democrat. That lower case ‘d’ is important. I am a firm believer in a polity founded in difference, dissent and debate —reasonable and constructive debate where the goal isn’t to ‘win’ and at the same time defeat the opponent, but rather that both parties challenge and contend by informing and considering. There’s a truth none of us owns completely.
I woke up this morning thinking on this as I’ve been coming across various articles and opinion pieces on the subject of the current state of the Republican Party. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz calling Chris Christie names. John Boehner and Eric Cantor and the intricacies of herding cat. The projection is collapse from certain observers and their glee is barely concealed. I’ve got to admit to sharing in that sentiment to certain degree, I wouldn’t mind seeing Mitch McConnell et al chagrined in their continuous and comprehensive obstructionism. But at the same time I am also mindful of the old adage about being careful about what you wish for. We here in Massachusetts have pretty good sense of the political dynamic that comes of one party reduced to the role of meek powerless critique. We may have our moments of lofty progressive rhetoric, but we also end up with the insult of a budget process where most all of the debate and negotiation is conducted in closeted caucus (if it’s ever had at all).
So it is I find myself wondering about how to build a better Republican.
I think maybe there’s some clue in the history, even in the name itself. It harkens to the ‘The Republic’ after all and not necessarily the right wing or even conservatism. The Republic, back in the days of Fremont and Lincoln harkening to the Republic —as opposed to the democracy of Democrats— was to appeal to something larger and nobler than simply served self interest. We were about government “of an by the people” but that notion of people was of something larger than ourselves alone or constituent parts of various demographic groups. This larger concept of the Republic as something capable of ennobling the individual to something more than self was worthy of sacrifice. It demanded it. It wasn’t a politics for the short term and it wasn’t a politics about grievance. It was a politics of what was right and just as opposed to what was expedient and popular.
Where did that Republican Party go? It’s tempting to point to bogeymen like Joe McCarthy or Richard Nixon —the cynical politics of ‘The Southern Strategy’ —maybe we can have some discussion along those lines. I tend to think there are larger tendencies in the way we conduct our politics as a whole —the supposed science and strategy of it that has driven Republicans to forget The Republic and settle for a rightist populism —crabbing about immigrants and taxes —that leaves it so at odds with its founding principles that they literally don’t know what to say.
It could be that the problem is with political parties in general. I offered the Weil quote upfront here as allowance that this just might be the case. She was of the mind that political parties simply served as a means of escaping the responsibilities of individual reflection. And there really is no escape after all.