Snell: Is the GOP dead?

Barry Snell

Being a conservative isn’t easy these days.

It used to be that conservatives only had liberals and the occasional radical to argue with. Conservatives and liberals used to get a long a lot better as well. After World War II and into the Cold War years, there was an overriding feeling that being American was more important than ideology. Our shared heritage was a glue binding us together. There were disagreements, sure, but conservatives and liberals alike felt that the other side had good ideas for the most part, though their respective side’s ideas were simply better.

Then, something happened.

Radicalism rose and the balkanization of our political process set in. If you opposed the Vietnam War, you were a dirty hippy. In the early 1980s, Republicans claimed the rights to the American Dream with the so-called Reagan Revolution, and if you disagreed with it, you were a damned pinko. In the 1990s, many Democrats wanted to send the ATF to get you if you were a gun owner, and just having an AR-15 was enough to label you as some dangerous, government-hating, militia nut job. More recently, if you didn’t want to vote for Barack Obama, you were a racist.

Throughout history, radical positions on issues typically weren’t much to get worked up about. Through the old political process, which focused on plurality instead of the herd mentality seen today, radicalism was usually watered down and weeded out. Nowadays, however, radicalism is becoming an entrenched problem. And as a conservative, I’m embarrassed to say that we seem to be the problem now.

As I’ve paid attention to the Republican race and went to caucus, I have been astounded and dismayed by our field of candidates. With only an exception or two, our choices are limited to closet liberals, religious fundamentalists, philanderers, gay haters and chicken-hawk war drummers, and most of the candidates are more than one. God help us. What’s worse is Iowa chose two of the worst of them to share the first- and second-place spots. It makes me seriously consider others’ warnings that the Iowa caucuses have become obsolete.

If a divisive crazy like Rick Santorum can darn near win the Iowa caucuses, frankly, we’re screwed.

Radical liberals in the Democratic party were gotten rid of or settled down after the purge in the mid-1990s, and the party justifiably moved to the center. Now, much to their credit, it’s not at all uncommon to find, for example, pro-gun Democrats. Whereas the gun issue used to be the exclusive domain of the Republicans, now you’ll find many Democrats supporting the Second Amendment. Obama’s support of concealed carry in national parks, as well as Iowa’s own concealed carry laws, are evidence of this shift.

But what has happened to the Republican Party?

Why do we continue the shift to neo-conservatism, forsaking many of the values that have served us so well in the decades and centuries past? The majority of Americans do not want a theocracy. They do not want to go to war with everyone based on suspicions and half-truths. Americans are mostly ambivalent or in favor of laws asserting homosexual equality. Most of us want our government to stop spending money faster than they can print it.

I was encouraged by the tea party before it became the tea party. It was exciting when the loose-knit, disorganized group focused simply on sound monetary policies and civil rights issues. However, the tea party has morphed into something terrible since being infiltrated by the religious right. Now they seem more interested in “God’s message” for America or keeping those pesky homosexuals in line. This arrogance and desire to run everyone’s lives baffles me as much as it did when I was just worried about big government liberals.

If there’s any hope left, it lies within the libertarian wing. I know the libertarians have their own set of problems, but I can’t be too upset with a group of people who support everyone’s civil rights, regardless of race, creed or sexual preferences. Nor can I be upset with people who reject theocracy just as much as they reject statism. At least I can talk to a libertarian without being insulted and called a dangerous subversive just because I’m against more endless wars.

Neo-conservatism will be the destruction of the Republican Party if we conservatives don’t work together to root it out of our ranks.

Here’s a hint GOP: Our old roots, our classical liberal values, are appealing to conservatives and modern liberals alike. If we get back to them, we can get a whole lot more done. Remember equal justice under law? Remember life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Remember “We The People”? Remember that old thing called the Constitution?

Let’s try that stuff again, can we?