Should conservatives criticize Republican Party leaders or stand silent in the face of their repeated betrayal of principles?
I have received a number of notes from people complaining that by criticizing President Bush on occasion, I was aiding and abetting the other side. I'm not offended by the charge, but think it cries out for a response. So here goes.
Let's start with a few principles. 1) We have no kings in America -- all are subject to the law and to criticism, even from their friends. 2) Political parties should not become ends in themselves, but exist to advance core principles. 3) To the extent that a party's ego and drive for power swallows its primary purpose of advancing its principles, it has lost its proper course. 4) When the two main political parties begin to sound more and more alike on fundamental issues, at least one of them has lost its proper course.
Now, what should an otherwise loyal party member do when his party's president or other leaders stray from the course? Should he remain mute, so as not to embolden the enemy? Should he abandon the party, seeking purer alternatives? Or should he seek to affect change within the party -- through various means, including blunt criticism?
Well, I think it depends on how far off course the party strays. If the GOP changed its platform to endorse a Marxian vision for America, it would clearly be time to bolt. But how about when it just takes some positions -- among others -- that amount to watered-down versions of the Democratic vision?
I respectfully suggest that those of you who think your party's leaders should be immune from criticism ought to reconsider. I could understand your advocacy of a moratorium on strong criticism of party leaders in the midst of a partisan election. But what about the rest of the time?
Are members of the electorate and commentators supposed to just sit around and say nothing while their representatives betray their principles? I think not. The better course is to try to steer the party (and its officials) back on course, especially considering the lack of a viable alternative.
If party members don't hold their party accountable, then who's going to do it? Criticism should make the party better, not harm it. Iron sharpens iron. Besides, we're talking about the best interests of the nation and its people here, not the party.
I'm not just talking about certain disappointing policies of President Bush, but those of GOP congressmen and the actions of the party itself. For example, the L.A. Times reported that the GOP was preparing a 30-minute infomercial in Spanish to run on Spanish-language airwaves in six cities around the country. It's one thing to be smart politically, but it's another to abandon your principles in the process.
I abhor the Democratic Party's constant pandering to minorities and exploiting them for political gain. But Republicans have no business doing it either. The GOP should stand for the principle -- if it doesn't already -- that non-English-speaking voters should be encouraged to assimilate into our culture and learn the English language. We should strive for racial and ethnic blindness and non-preferential opportunity for all -- not further balkanization.
Another story, in Roll Call, reported that Democrats and Republicans are trying to position themselves as the party of education -- that's hard to stomach when we know that the federal government has no business in this area at all.
And then I came across Ronald Utt's column for the
Heritage Foundation detailing how Congress is setting records for pork-barrel spending this year, despite the fiscal drain caused by the war on terrorism. Among the items: 1) a tattoo-removal program in San Luis Obispo County, Calif. ($50,000); The Center on Obesity at West Virginia University ($2 million); and an effort to combat "goth culture" in Blue Springs, Mo. ($270,000).
It is disgusting that politicians of both parties talk about the corruption in campaign monies when they completely ignore the infinitely more corrupting phenomenon of pork-barrel spending.
Where is the outrage? Should we just let these things slide without comment?
Now let me be clear. There are many conservative members of the GOP who deserve great credit for their efforts. They can't help it if many in the party lack the courage of their convictions -- or lack the convictions themselves. This criticism is not aimed at them. I'm sure they welcome our help.
Nor have I, by any means, given up on President Bush (who has also done many good things) or the GOP. But if I ever forfeit my right to criticize them, you'll know that I have.