If Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter’s defection to the Democratic side of the aisle affected only the fortunes of the Republican Party, it would be no cause for concern for non-Republicans like me. But America’s democratic scheme depends on a robust opposition to check the government’s tendency to grow–especially now that the White House is occupied by Barack Lyndon Roosevelt. Yet Republicans are as far from serving that role as the Detroit Lions are from winning the Super Bowl.
So what should the Grand Old Party do to resurrect itself enough to mount some semblance of resistance to the advancing Democratic juggernaut? The answer is that it needs intellectual coherence around a powerful idea, and that idea should be liberty. This is a principle that is both strong enough to intellectually moor the party in the way that those who want a “purer” GOP desire–and grand enough to appeal to a broad swath of the population, as those who advocate a more Big Tent approach recommend.
This would be the exact opposite of what Bush did. He, remarkably enough, managed to combine every anti-individual liberty idea from the right with every pro-big government policy from the left. From the right, Bush acquired: a super-hawkish foreign policy; contempt for civil liberties; and religiously informed positions on gay marriage, abortion and end-of-life issues. And from the left he got: high-spending ways, including the massive drug entitlement for seniors; expansive ideas about the federal government’s role in education policy; and the chutzpah, just before leaving, to engineer a massive government bailout of banks and auto companies.
Since the utter rout of the Bush agenda last November, the only Republican who has made the case for liberty is Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, he argued that the GOP should concentrate on returning the federal government to its core functions, not imposing its moral views on everyone. But this is hard to take seriously from a man who voted not once but twice for a constitutional amendment overriding the power of states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, demonstrating that for all his brave talk about freedom and federalism, he is not completely serious about either.
But what should Republicans do to reclaim the mantle of freedom?