The future of the Republican Party is much in the news. Should the GOP (a) become more supportive of “open and avowed” homosexuals and homosexual “marriage,” and/or (b) appeal more thoughtfully and articulately to racial minorities, and/or (c) place social issues in some near-invisible tier of irrelevance and focus, instead, on economic growth? These are but three of the options under discussion by a gleeful commentariat and furrow-browed Republican “strategists” (a Republican “strategist” often is someone who had a good idea in about 1985, got a reputation for it, and has lived off it without saying anything compelling or doing anything noteworthy since). Demographics, ideological shifts, public perceptions, how much money is raised and how much is spent, and the like are all important questions. But the most salient question should be: Why does a political party exist in the first place?
The Republican Party was founded on the basis of three principles: Free men (the abolition of slavery), free soil (the opening of the vast western regions to homesteaders who could own the property they farmed), and free labor (work as a dignified enterprise engaged upon by individuals bringing their own merit to the marketplace). Those convictions clashed with the then-Democratic Party, whose allegiance to slavery, anarchic state sovereignty, and social class as a means of rigid civic differentiation could not have been more distinct.
A political party exists as a means of developing and enacting policies commensurate with the shared principles of a group of people. While it is not a denomination whose membership demands include exhaustive catechism about the obscure or debatable (how much of Bangladesh’s debt should the World Bank forgive?), it should be about fixed and essential beliefs concerning human dignity, liberty, economic opportunity, and mutual security. Unanimity in politics is neither possible nor desirable; agreement on every point only means the absence of intellectual creativity and the imposition of “group think.” However, a shared worldview and common set of basic convictions form the core of any political entity.
The issue for the Republican Party is less about marketing (how can we appeal to second-generation Latinos in the border states?) than about beliefs: What does the GOP stand for? How these beliefs are applied to public policy and communicated to the electorate and its various components are follow-up questions.
Those who would reduce the debate about the future of the Republican Party to matters of electoral appeal, public relations, focus groups, etc., seemingly view politics as a sports contest: You pick (pretty arbitrarily) your favorite team and hope it wins. This view is premised on an understanding of national political structures as being morally equivalent: Team A (the GOP) sometimes beats Team B (the Dems), and sometimes not. But we’re all Americans and, after all, politics is just politics.
When the lives of the unborn and the well being of their mothers are at stake; when marriage as a viable relational covenant is at risk; when personal virtue is demeaned as little more than comic; when religious liberty is trivialized into privatized faith; and when national security is measured less by the robustness of our military than our international likeability, it should be evident that not all political options are, in ethical content or practical effect, the same.
Let’s grant that the Republican Party needs to communicate more effectively, articulate its principles with greater care, change the way it speaks to our fellow citizens of Latino, African, and Asian heritage, and deflate the mythical conservative “war on women” used so artfully (and dishonestly) by the Left. First, though, the GOP needs to confirm what it is for and stay with it. The current party platform is a pretty good starting place with its call for social conservatism, economic growth, personal opportunity, and military strength.
This confirmation will fulfill the charge of the greatest Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. “Let us have faith that might makes right,” said Lincoln, “and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.” Standing, fighting, and, if need be, losing for what’s right is just where the GOP needs to be.
Rob Schwarzwalder is senior vice president of the Family Research Council. A presidential appointee in the George W. Bush administration, he also served as chief-of-staff to two members of Congress.