Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Small-r republicans vs. Small-d democrats or "Real republicans vote Democratic"

From what I am given to understand, Freeper types still make the "we are a republic not a democracy" argument. I guess Freeper types are small-c conservative after all in that they are keeping alive an argument long made by conservatives and liberals alike albeit when doing so they use rhetoric that has long since lost its meaning -- unless they only use this rhetoric because they equate small-r republicanism with the Republican party even though said party vanquished the last traces of small r-republicanism from its ideology in the 1980s.

Back in the day, when a conservative emphasized that we are a "republic not a democracy", which emphasis was key to the Republican party (hence the name) for at least its first 60 years or so, the specter of democracy was the 19'th century specter thereof: i.e., to put it in late 19'th century and 20'th century terms, conservatives sought, in reminding us that we are a republic not a democracy, sought to rhetorically defend liberty, McKinley and the engineer politician, Hoover from William J. Bryan, Huey P. Long, both free silver at one extreme and Paul Volcker at the other. That we were a republic meant that the majority was not always right. Not that these conservatives (unlike the Progressives who might also use this rhetoric) were Ibsenian liberals or Randroid libertarians (although many such conservatives my dad's age went through a Randroid phase in their development), but they did feel it was important both to preach and practice that certain aspects of our system of government and our lifestyle, traditions and culture should not be subject to popular whims.

Such thorough going, anti-reactionary conservative rhetoric, however, has no place in today's Republican party and certainly not in the Freeper wing thereof. For all the talk of certain Republicans about us being a "republic not a democracy" (which likely only reflects a confusion between being a small-r republican and a member of the Republican party), the Republican party, since the launching of the Southern Strategy, has been a party that stands for quite the opposite of small-r republicanism. Complaints about "activist judges ignoring legislative will" and the like are symptomatic of a larger faux populism the Republicans inherited from the Dixiecrats (and which is generally a cover for an aristocratic agenda, cf. my earlier post on Korach), which is reflects not small-r republicanism, which is the doctrine expressed by your mother when she says "if everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?" -- e.g., if everyone wanted to establish a religious test for public office, does that make it right?, but rather an almost Hellenic idea of democracy in which the will of the citizens (in practice a rather elite oligarchy, again cf. my post on Korach) trumps any sense of constitutional tradition, which is undermined anyway by misleading rhetoric about "strict construction" and "original intent" serving to question our living constitutional tradition. Certainly, the Republican party is no-longer a home to small-c conservatives nor is it a home to those who consider it important to emphasize our government is a republic not a democracy.

Interestingly, in the 1992 election in running against the New Deal Populist Ross Perot (who was largely misunderstood: his emphasis on curbing the deficit was part of a larger emphasis on preserving government largess long into the future -- think of him as the anti-GW Bush, the latter trying to spend the government out of existence), the Democratic Party established itself, for better or for worse, as the party of small-c conservatives who are wont to emphasize our republican non-democratic system of government. In the 1992 election, any republican conservative (note the lower case) who would have already bolted from the Republican party due to the faux populism of Nixon's moral majority and Reagan's cowboy act, would have found a home in the Democratic party (if they were still alive -- for better or for worse, the last great generation of republican conservatives largely died out in the 1980s) which, in response to Perot's real (not faux, but still just as worrisome -- look at what happened when the Argentines put Peron in power) populism, adopted the conservative republican line in all but the specific phrase "we are a republic not a democracy", likely because of the confusion caused by the words being the same as our party names even if what our parties stand for has changed.

From a Progressive point of view, this is not a bad thing. Even though a lot of what we Progressive Liberals stand for is not really outside the mainstream, our beliefs are perceived (thanks in large part to media types who would like to consider themselves at the left of the mainstream when they are really at the right and their corporate minders who have an agenda to position said media types as the left rather than right flank of acceptable discourse) to be to the left of the "mainstream"(TM). Indeed, the reason why many people support reactionary politicians based on "morality" is that they realize that morality and principle cannot be determined by majority polling (even if they misapprehend what constitutes morality: I am sure someone with a different theology than my own might have some enlightening things to say about how most people have a better handle on morality than they realize) and thus seek out those politicians who express strong moral beliefs even if those beliefs are, pace the news media, not at all mainstream. But our beliefs may also not be "mainstream" but instead of running away from them and trying to be more "moderate" we should embrace them as our morality (and not curse the darkness by complaining how Democratic strawmen need to get religion but rather light a candle and claim our point of view, correctly IMHO, is the moral point of view and act like it is moral, e.g. not run away from it or compromise too easily about such morality).

And when people complain, though we need knew language since the Republicans have hijacked republicanism, we should respond essentially with "we are a republic and not a democracy": it does not matter if everyone thinks we should sacrifice liberty for security, etc., etc. We have a constitutional tradition that must be preserved. While I fear a re-kindling of the flame of paleo-conservativism as a response to neo-conservativism as it is too close to the romantic response of Germany to Prussian conservativism that led to the Nazi regime, a healthful dose of conservative republicanism may be just the infusion that the Progressive movement needs. Perhaps, pace Lakoff, here we do need to respond to the Republican claim "we are a republic not a democracy" by not rejecting their rhetoric but saying:

"You're right: just because the people will a decrease in liberty, religion in the public square or do not will gay marriage doesn't mean that liberty should be denied -- nor should we pass over electing the best person to office in favor of a beer drinking buddy ostensibly on sobriety -- we are a republic with a tradition of Liberty and Progress not a democracy covering for an aristocracy of rule by markets not by laws"

Although perhaps not pace Lakoff but rather cf. Lakoff: after all, this is taking a key Republican talking point with a meaningless, but for the Republican party powerful, framing and giving it the proper, Democratic framing: real republicans vote Democratic!

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