I’m fascinatingly dismayed by the GOP primaries. As one who stands on the left side of the political spectrum (OK, I don’t mind being called a liberal), one would think that watching the circular firing squad that has become the GOP primaries would be my delight. But, it actually makes me cringe.
The four remaining candidates are too far to the right for me to even consider any of them seriously for president. And yet, they each try to move further to the right with almost every utterance while accusing the others of being too liberal for the GOP. Positions articulated by conservatives not long ago such as cap and trade for emissions and a health care program that strongly resembles the Affordable Health Care Act (also known as Obamneycare) are now too liberal. I find this all pretty mind-boggling.
Their positions have moved so far to the right that they have almost become a cartoon depiction of traditional conservatism. Despite overwhelming evidence that climate change is real, none of the candidates will publicly embrace that position. They still want to reduce taxes dramatically as their solution to economic prosperity for all, despite consistent historical evidence that it doesn’t work. (And despite campaigning against debt, their plans don’t articulate how the loss of tax revenue will be offset other than the vague response, economic growth and stopping fraud and abuse.) They want to dismantle the one program that could get this nation to something resembling universal health care without proposing any alternative. Although they want to reduce entitlement programs, they haven’t put forward any honest way to help those most affected by those reductions. And they still want to increase military spending.
Unquestionably the GOP has been steadily moving to the right. They have moved that way as over the years candidates have questioned each other’s conservative credentials. Although the standard is the sainted President Reagan, who today would be too left of the current party, they have been pushing a sort of litmus test for years. Raising taxes is a non-starter. Marriage equality should be banned. Labor unions are bad. As for abortion … it’s not a question of choice; it’s become so much about unborn life that the living life (mom) is not even a factor. Over the years they have lambasted GOP moderates – such as New England Republicans (OK so Scott Brown is my senator – which wouldn’t have happened if Coakley ran a decent campaign, but what does it say when Olympia Snowe is leaving the Senate). They have savaged the positions of their moderates; dismissively dubbing them RINOs. So to stay in “the club” their political leadership has steadily moved to the right.
Rather than present ideas and then dissect them and ask voters to decide, they have taken positions by self-righteousness — who is the true conservative? Who deserves to be the party leader? Dogmatic purity, not willingness to govern, has become the requirement to lead the party. By seeking purity, the party narrows its positions and winnows out voices that could open new avenues for problem resolution. Making purity the yardstick leads to an extreme case whereby the party becomes a party of one – he/she defines everyone out because everyone else is impure.
Just to check, I did a search across three Bible translations (I love electronic Bibles) and found none of them had the phrase “self-righteous.” (I looked in the NRSV, NIV, and the New American Bible.) The self-righteous implicitly set themselves up as judges and, arguably, as god (not God, or Yahweh, just god).
The Democratic Party needs a credible opposition party in order to forge legislation to address this nation’s problems. Despite my general preference for the positions of the Democrats (I’m actually an independent), I don’t think they always get things right, and they also have own problems with their dogma. However, today’s GOP is so far to the right and having an overwhelming sense of self-righteousness, compromise becomes virtually impossible.
A democracy opens the opportunity for multiple voices to contribute to solving the problems of the nation. Each perspective helps to identify the shape of the problem and a solution that, while not necessarily to everyone’s liking, would be reasonably acceptable to a substantial majority. But this means having governing parties that are interested in seeking common ground through compromise and are willing to accept that their positions are not locked by some ideological identity and purity. Furthermore in our political system which is organized as a two-party system, ideological purity makes for polarization and sloppy governance.
When a governing partner becomes self-righteous, it’s become irresponsible in its governing role. It has no credibility to govern.