Help Wanted: A New Breed of Republicans
By Roger Koopman
The answer to politics is not more politics. It’s not making eloquent excuses for comprising fundamental principles. Freedom is what it is. It doesn’t change, it doesn’t mutate, and it doesn’t hybridize with tyranny. Breed one with the other, and the offspring is a two-headed carnivore with an insatiable appetite. Feed it morsels of our liberties and it will only grow larger and demand more, until it’s swallowed up our Constitution for dinner.
In these times of pragmatic politics and pandering politicians, Republican lawmakers wear the moniker “conservative” like a cheap tin badge won at a carnival game. But they soon forget that freedom is not a game. It is a fight to the finish. Because with so many of our elected officials, politics triumphs over claimed principles, and compromise triumphs over claimed courage, the fight for liberty is becoming a lost cause.
The gradual usurpations are no longer gradual, and we quickly blame the Democrats for that. But we stand at the brink of tyranny not because Democrats act like Democrats, but because so many Republicans do also. As candidates, they roar with the rhetoric of freedom, but cower like kittens when called upon to defend it. In Montana and nationally, Republicans have increasingly marched to the drum of pragmatism over principle. They act as though freedom is a quaint relic, no longer worth fighting for. They have lost their will and lost their way.
Republicans have also lost their memory. To honor their oath of office, all lawmakers must serve with a memory. A memory of the Constitution. A memory of what America was, and was eternally meant to be. Democrats’ memory extends as far as the last entitlement, and their vision no farther than the next one. Their philosophy is a rejection of the very essence of historical America, an assault on the very things that make us distinct as a nation. The bricks and mortar of a free society. The sweat and the spirit of a free people.
But Republicans have no excuse. Our platforms and public pronouncements lay claim to the memory. To the things of liberty. Less government. Lower taxes. Free markets. Personal sovereignty. Individual responsibility. Freedom of choice. Government – at all levels – staying out of our pockets and out of our lives. These are the words people want to hear, and the reasons they send Republicans to Helena and Washington. Why then does government continue to grow when the Republicans are in charge?
What happens to these Republican office holders after they have raised their hands and sworn to uphold the Constitution? Could the voters be sending off to fight for freedom, people who really don’t believe in the ideas that got them elected? After serving two terms in the Montana House of Representatives and two terms on the Public Service Commission, I was no closer to answering that question than ever. Democrats hold fast to their Old World philosophy. They believe there is a government solution for everything, and they work daily to bring that about. They are remarkably consistent, and rarely does a single Democrat break ranks with their party’s big government philosophy. Voting records don’t lie.
So why can Democrats stand firm on the things that people don’t want, while Republicans cannot stand firm on the things that people do want? Is the GOP so lacking in the courage of their convictions, or are they simply lacking in conviction? Certainly, the constant pressure to be a “team player”, bury your personal beliefs and to “go with the flow” leads many legislators to vote for all kinds of interventionist schemes they say they don’t believe in. The “flow” is always toward more spending and bigger government because the Democrats – anchored in their ideology and reinforced by the special interests – set the agenda, even while in the numerical minority. But it is also obvious that many Republicans running for office are only fashionably conservative. Their conservatism is at best a preference, not a conviction. Because they have done precious little reading on conservative ideas and free market economics, they are grounded in quicksand. The media and the culture have shaped their thinking more than they realize. Peel away the onion skin of party label, and their voting records quickly betray them.
Taxpayer Advisory Bulletin (TAB), compiled by Montana Conservatives for the 2007 through 2013 legislative sessions, using over 100 recorded votes, demonstrated that while Democrat legislators as a group, have an average conservative rating of under 10% (all fall in the “liberal” category), Republican legislators are spread across the entire spectrum, with an average conservative rating in the low 40s. Approximately 25% of Republicans scoring firmly in the liberal Democrat camp.
This situation not only corrupts the two-party system (leaving voters in many districts with no real choice), but it guarantees that every session of the legislature will move Montana toward bigger and bigger government. Indeed, this government growth has continued unabated for many decades, even with Republican governors and Republican legislatures. The formula for our gradual destruction remains the same: all Democrats + moderate and liberal Republicans = the defeat of the conservative philosophy that most Montanans support. Big Government rules the legislative process every session, and hundreds of government-expanding bills get passed – always with Republican support. They could pass no other way.
The media then applauds the “bi-partisan spirit” of the legislature in wanting to “get things done.” Never mind that what they are getting done is robbing our family incomes and burying our liberties in massive new government programs, bureaucracies and controls. The media never seems to notice that the only “bi-partisanship” that occurs is when Republicans cross over to support liberal legislation. There is no example of Democrats crossing the aisle to support conservative measures that would reduce the size and power of government. All bi-partisanship is a one-way street.
So what is the solution, for those of us who still believe freedom is worth fighting for? Answer: stop hiring cowards and moral relativists to do a patriot’s job. Stop electing skillful, smooth-talking politicians who, as C.S. Lewis once put it, are “men without chests.” If we want to put true champions of freedom to work in our legislature and federal congress, then we must judge them not so much by the intellect, as by the heart. What do we find there? Do we find true courage, pure faith and virtue-born conviction? Do we find rock-solid integrity and uncompromising moral character? Do we find that same steely-eyed warrior spirit that existed at the founding of our nation? If we settle for less, we get exactly what we deserve. For too long, we have settled for less.
We need men whose hearts beat to the rhythm of liberty. Men like these:
“God, give me men! A time like these demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honor; men who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue and damn
His treacherous flatteries without winking!
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty and in private thinking.”
— Josiah Gilbert Holland