For years now, the Republican Party has kept to a pretty consistent script. "We're tough on crime, low on taxes and better overall for the American people." President Ronald Reagan famously insisted that "government is not the solution; government is the problem" and that has been the platform of the GOP ever since. I know a lot of conservatives are tired of hearing folks dump on their heroes and party. This isn't intended to be another of those diatribes, but rather a sincere questioning of whether the Republican party is actually representing the views, values and interests of their conservative constituents.
A little context, first. When Mr. Reagan ran for office, he was challenging a terribly ineffective Carter White House. I have tremendous admiration for Jimmy Carter's post-presidency, but it's hard to say his term in the Oval Office was a success by any standards. Inflation was up, morale was down and it seemed that the message from our nation's capitol was, "The good times are over." Reagan rejected that defeatism, believing instead that the only thing keeping us mired in the muck was an unwillingness to change the way we did business. He was right.
Back to 2010. The greatest microcosm for discussing the modern Republican party is the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We've known for decades that it's in our interests to create--and execute--an energy policy that does not perpetuate our slavery to oil. Environmentalists had cautioned for ages against how disastrous offshore drilling could become, and were dismissed as Chicken Little. During the George W. Bush years, the federal government deregulated as many industries as they could. The result? BP was legally permitted to continue increasingly unsafe and dangerous practices aboard their rig until the Earth violently objected.
What has been the reaction from the GOP since? First, they tried to sell the public on calling this "Obama's Katrina," trying to suggest that President Barack Obama was as indifferent to this catastrophe as his predecessor was to the hurricane that decimated the Gulf coast in 2005. Of course, there were several differences. Firstly, Hurricane Katrina had been forecast ahead of time enough that there was no excuse for the failure to organize a proper evacuation of New Orleans; the only people who would have suspected BP's oil rig would rupture were in the employ of BP. Secondly, despite occurring on his watch, President Obama was not responsible for authorizing the changes in regulatory policy that permitted BP to operate such an unsafe rig.
House Minority Leader John Boehner vocally opposed any effort on the part of the Obama administration to hold BP financially liable for the damage. Think about that for a minute. The leader of the GOP in the House of Representatives, a member of the "tough on crime" party, effectively said that he does not believe in holding BP responsible for its actions. Imagine, if you will, a Republican rushing to say that Charles Manson not be held accountable for his heinous acts. For some reason, when it comes to individuals, the GOP is all about throwing the book at 'em but when it's a large business capable of making campaign contributions, then that's the time to forgive and forget.
The prevailing doctrine of the GOP insists that if people are left to their own devices, they will do the right thing. Funny, I thought it was the liberals who worshiped at the altar of Utopia. If this disaster isn't the proof in the pudding, I don't know what would be. I'm an optimist by nature, but I'm not a fool. I trust in God, but I lock my door. The BP oil spill, as well as the economic meltdown, are clear demonstrations that greed begets greed. They say those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it, and right now we don't even have to wait for these failures to teach us something. Sensible regulations are necessary because people aren't the self-governing do-gooders the GOP likes to tell us we all are.
President Reagan was right to insist that government shouldn't micro-manage the daily affairs of citizens, that we are more likely to flourish when we are free to experiment with our businesses and pursue happiness as we define it. But somewhere along the line, his anti-paternalism vision was co-opted into an anti-government doctrine. You can let the inmates run the asylum, but you can't expect the asylum to function properly. I have a difficult time believing that he would recognize his intended sentiment in the actions of his political heirs as they stumble over themselves to defend the indefensible. They owe the American people--or, at least, their own constituents--better than the kind of hypocritical anarchy.
There's a great moment in the movie Tombstone where Billy (played by Jason Priestly) sees the kind of destruction caused by the gang of outlaws he's been running with and decides he's had enough. "I'm sorry, but we got to have some kind of law," he says as he turns around his horse and heads back to town, abandoning the cowboys. I urge conservatives to have that kind of fortitude. Stand up to the extremists in the Republican party and demand that they either return to the kind of vision that you have, or turn in your GOP card. You don't have to become a Democrat in defiance; there are plenty of independent parties that you might find fit your values much more closely and would love to have you join. When the Republicans ask you, just tell them, "I didn't leave my party. My party left me."