Wednesday, February 6, 2008

I like Dave, but here's why I won't be a Republican

Over on First State Politics, Dave Burris has a lengthy, well-considered post regarding his decision not to run for governor. Like other commentators, I'm sorry we won't get to see him square off in a genuine battle of ideas against Markell or Carney, but I do think he's right: he couldn't win. Not this election. Not this year.

But Dave also presents an outline for the resurrection of the Republican Party in Delaware. It, too, is well-considered, and worth taking a look at. I do have to warn you at the outset, however, that as much as I admire what Dave's attempting, I still think building a pragmatic Libertarian party would be a better option. [Again, with a second however, Libertarians being who and what they are, Dave still has a lot more to work with in the current wreckage of the DE GOP than I'll probably ever see in the LPD.}

Dave says,

These are the issues that we in the Republican Party must carry forward if we are to succeed: limiting the size of our state government, creating an environment conducive to businesses and fixing our education system through competition and choice. It is those things that should bind us together.

While we recognize that which binds us, we also need to allow for varied views on other issues. We need to recognize that people who favor absolute property rights and people who want adequate infrastructure before development can both be considered Republicans. I am as proud to share a party label with my friend Vance Phillips as I am with my friend Eric Buckson. I consider both to be a big part of the GOP’s future.

And we need to accept that people on both sides of the life issue and both sides of the sexual preference issue exist right now in our party. We need to accept that, and accept the fact that we simply can’t move the bar on those issues right now in either direction.


This is as cogent and honest a blueprint for trying to build a coalition of fiscal conservatives, libertarian-minded Republicans, and social moderates as I have ever seen. And for a Republican to write the line, "we need to accept that people on both sides of the life issue and both sides of the sexual preference issue exist right now in our party," is groundbreaking in its own right.

However....

Here's where this Libertarian takes a somewhat different road:

1) Reducing the size of government (and, with Dave, we know this includes changing prevailing wage laws) is an effort I applaud, and will join--so long as it is carefully thought out. Here's what I mean. The only gigantic segment of the Federal government to see massive budget cuts in the recent past was the US military between 1992-2001. Roughly one-third of the US military that took part in Desert Storm disappeared during the Clinton administration. I'm not going to argue about whether or not it should have, but about how the process was mismanaged.

What we did in the US military was draw down in a series of turf wars between the different services and the different defense branches. No one had an overall view of what the final product should look like in terms of America's strategic defense needs, because William Cohen was a miserable failure as SecDef. So every general officer and every bureaucrat dug in and fought for his little piece of the pie, made alliances where necessary, and screwed over anyone he had to in order to save as much of his own empire as possible. This left us with a horribly unbalanced military force in 2001 (and before you hit me: Dubya hasn't really done a damn thing to fix it).

This is not the way to do government reduction, and that's why Libertarians and other "small government" advocates scare the shit out of Liberals and Progressives. They think we want some sort of drastic social darwinian struggle for survival of the fittest to reduce the government.

That's not what I want. I want a thoughtful conversation about what government should and should not be doing, and how much we can afford to pay for each of those services or products in the context of reasonable taxation (which also needs to be hashed out and defined). Then and only then can we start to build a more economic government in rational stages.

2) A better environment for business: that's fine, Dave, but the problem is that pro-business or pro-growth in Delaware has almost always equated to pure unalloyed corporatism. I'm not any happier with our oversized dependence on a few key corporate employers than you are with the large numbers of government workers. If we want to truly make Delaware a place for entrepreneurs and small businesses, then we're going to have to address the idea of corporate liability (I think of it as the ugly twin sister of the more popular tort reform). Simply speaking, from a Libertarian point of view, property rights and contracts are fundamental; but that fundamentality (is that a word? must be, the spellchecker didn't catch it) carries with it a responsibility for harm and predictable externalities.

The lawyers who perverted the civil rights intention of the 14th Amendment into due process protections for the artificial personages of corporations should have been shot, buried, and then dug up and poisoned. We must address the issue of the personal liability of directors, officers, and shareholders in terms of the impact of their actions on their State and its environment. I am sick and tired of watching chemical corporations break the law, let the fines build up, declare bankruptcy to avoid the fines, reincorporate, and then purchase back their old facilities from themselves at the bankruptcy sale, only to have somehow laundered their responsibility for the fines or cleaning up the mess they made.

That's neither capitalism nor the free market.

3) Speaking of environment, and you at least uttered the word, Dave--where is conservation and environmental protection in your scheme of the Republican Party?

4) Schools. We differ on this one greatly, and I have to admit that you're actually more traditionally Libertarian than I am when it comes to choice and charter. My problems are twofold: (a) I think charter schools tend to produce a separate but unequal school system nonetheless funded by the State (I don't advocate their abolition, but I would be considerably more restrictive than you would be); and (b) I don't think choice and charter get us where we need to be in terms of our responsibility as American citizens to universal public education. Specifically, there is not a convincing argument to be made that children like my older daughter or Dana's son will ever become a driving force behind a charter school. These kids with special needs (and many of their special needs are daunting) are too different to be grouped together easily, and their needs are too profound to be met in a competition and choice system.

I'm willing to listen to reason on this, Dave, but to reason with me you'll have to show me one--just one!--example of a State or major metropolitan area that actually serves the needs of the special needs children under its care through a system like you're advocating. I do a lot of education research for a living, and I haven't found it yet; I truly hope you can.

5) Property rights versus infrastructure: I'm pleased you recognize the dynamic, and the need to bring both interests into the same tent. This is one of the strengths of your ideas.

6) Abortion and gay rights. I can't use the euphemisms, Dave, and that's part of the problem. Damn it, it's the abortion issue not the life issue, and when you mention sexual preference you give the game away on gay rights. I don't blame you: Democrats and Libertarians have found the same problem. People who agree on almost everything else often founder on these two issues. Better to declare a truce and do other stuff together....

Except....

Damn it, I can't accept a political party that equivocates on equal rights under the law. Either gays (including the full spectrum of GLTGB) are American citizens with full civil rights and protection from discrimination--or they're not.

And if they're not, then sorry, you can't be my party. (Which tends to rule me out of the Democratic mainstream as well.)

Abortion? I hate it. Wish it didn't exist. Cringe to think about it. Viscerally it rips at me.

But it comes down to the question of who gets to make decisions about what happens in a woman's body--herself or somebody else? (Neither my Church nor my male ego has an excuse--pardon the pun--to stick itself in there and start bossing that womb around.)

Otherwise, plain and simple, we make women our slaves.

I wish we could find some way to put these two issues aside, and in terms of national politics we often do--by saying such decisions ought to be a matter for the States. And that's the problem for your nascent Republican coalition: it's a State party. The State is where this stuff should get decided. So we can't try to pretend it isn't important while we work on other stuff.

When he gets tired of his hiatus I expect Dave will come back to FSP (and I expect it will be a lot sooner than he currently expects) to try to start building the Republican coalition.

I wish him luck.

I'd just rather turn him into a Libertarian.

Oh well.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here Here.

Dana Garrett & Stephen Crockett said...

"Abortion? I hate it. Wish it didn't exist. Cringe to think about it. Viscerally it rips at me.

But it comes down to the question of who gets to make decisions about what happens in a woman's body--herself or somebody else?"

I feel exactly the same way as you. I support abortion rights, but if I were a woman I don't think I could have an abortion. My reasons aren't theological (I'm an agnostic), but they are spiritual. I have found that for me it is important to accept and embrace most of what life brings my way. That's not a prescription for anyone else, but it is for me. Besides, I'm crazy about kids. If I were well off at age 53, I'd like to have another one...adopt a child this time. I feel like I get more from relationship w/ children than I give them. For me that's part of embracing what comes my way.

We just got our son's evaluation from the NIH today. He's more delayed than I thought. They recommended year round 5-day a week special education. Some school districts in DE offer that, but not our school district. They offer it 3 days a week.

I hope we can work it out w/ them. If not, I might have to force them to do it legally. I hate that. I hate to add to the burden of financially-strapped school districts legal fees. But I'm hoping we can work it out through agreement.

What a pity, though, a parent has to worry about such a thing. We can't afford a private special education school.

To me paying for public education is like paying to build and maintain a road. It's infrastructure...public infrastructure.

Good post, Steve.

Steve Newton said...

Dana,
Have you thought of asking them to work out a deal wherein they provide transportation daily to the nearest school district with the appropriate services? For them it is a deal because that is a hell of a lot cheaper than if you force them to provide the services, and for your son it gets them the treatment he needs now.

I understand your reluctance to force the issue or to place an unreasonable demand on your school district, but I think you are caught in the trap of misplaced empathy. You realize that the folks in your district care and appear to be doing the best they can, so you don't want to turn them into adversaries or to further deplete their resources.

But here's the problem with that: for your son the clock is ticking. Every day that passes until he is about six years old is a fleeting treasure, because the ability to make rapid progress starts to deteriorate about then. He will conceivably locked into specific deficits at that point if you haven't made a certain amount of progress. You have to push as hard as you can RIGHT NOW to get him fives days a week year round.

I have this atavistic streak in me that says I will be socially responsible up to the point that it begins to affect my family, and then all bets are off. You need to press them with a sense of urgency that every day you lose is a day he can't get back.

I hope I did not phrase any of the foregoing offensively, but I feel really strongly about this for children like your son, and one of the tactics that the "system" uses is the "bureaucratic lull you into accepting a slow timeline for everything."

Please, please push as hard and fast as you can.

David said...

I like your post. We of course disagree on the social issues.

How can you hate abortion and think it is something we must fight to protect? You should hate abortion because it is the bloody murder of an innocent child. There is not middle ground.

Steve Newton said...

"How can you hate abortion and think it is something we must fight to protect? You should hate abortion because it is the bloody murder of an innocent child. There is not middle ground."

I hate many things, Dave, that are necessary to a free society. I hate allowing KKK members free speech. I hate bombing runs that kill Iraqi women and children. Both in some contexts are necessary.

"because it is the bloody murder of an innocent child" is not language of discourse, it's language of religious passion. I don't accept the idea that before a certain point that an undifferentiated embryo is a child, but I understand that you do.

However, that entity resides within the body of a living, breathing, sentient woman, whose right to control her own body is fundamental to a free society. I can argue from a historical standpoint that more women have been killed, enslaved, or denied access to power over the male need to control their reproductive freedom than due to almost any other cause since before recorded history.

The deaths and disfranchisement of those women is a palpably real issue, and I recognize if you do not that they have fundamental rights.

Dave, saying "there is no middle ground" is precisely why Dave Burris' vision of an inclusive Republican Party will never work at the State level. You're unwilling even to discuss the issue; you prefer to lecture me regarding your moral superiority.

We therefore cannot co-exist in the same political party, although we will obviously be able to make common cause from time to time over other issues.