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Partisanship

The always excellent John Fund of the Wall Street Journal had a rather disturbing article out today. Since I have yet to figure out why I cannot get my links to work, I will summarize his arguments and then comment on why I find this disturbing.

His article was on the increasing polarization of the political sphere. John says that

Both major political parties are increasingly squeezing out moderates, in part because the country is so polarized, and also because each party's primary electorate is becoming smaller and more ideological. Ask John McCain, who was flattened in the 2000 Republican primaries, or Joe Lieberman, whose campaign this year for the Democratic nomination went nowhere.

This is a bipartisan effort. Fund says that 5 moderate democrats were defeated by more liberal candidates in primary elections. One moderate black congressman was fairly blunt:

Because I didn't do what the white, liberal, extremist Democratic leaders wanted me to do, they're trying to punish me," he told the Houston Chronicle. "They think they ought to control the minds and hearts of every black in the Democratic Party, and if you don't do what they say, they're going to try to drag you back to the plantation like a runaway slave."

For the republicans Fund sights conservative republican challenges to Sen. Arlen Spector as well as some other primary challenges in the past year. In a quote I find most revealing, conservative libertarian Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth said that:

"Mr. Moore says his group seldom enters GOP primaries and then only when the incumbent violates basic Republican tenets. "Low taxes are the central linchpin of conservatism," he says. "It's possible to disagree about abortion, gay rights or the proper level of military spending, but we can't disagree about our one unifying message as conservatives."

My comment: I find this trend most disturbing. If representatives are being ousted because they "sell out" or "compromise" it will be almost impossible to get anything done.

With regards to the democratic side I am not in the least surprised. The democrats have become increasingly partisan ever since Bush took office in January of 2001. For the most part, Bush has governed as a right leaning moderate. He has cut income taxes, but he has also significantly increased spending. Two most glaring example of this is with the Medicare prescription drug bill and the Leave No Child Behind education bill. These two bills have many democratic ideas in them, yet the democrats scream, yell, and wig out everytime they are mentioned. Add on to this the fact that a majority of the democrats have decided to fight Bush tooth and nail on any further prosecution of the war on terror and you have a pretty scary situation. I know what the Democrats aren't, but I have no idea what they are. What Fund is telling me is that I shouldn't be holding out any hope that this will change.

But the Republicans seem to be doing exactly the same thing. Most distressing is the comment by Stephen Moore that the "core" republican belief is the cut in income taxes. While this is true in principle, it is not true that every republican who opposes a particular tax cut at a particular time is violating republican beliefs. It is entirely possible to be a conservative economist and oppose the Bush tax cut of 2003. One need not be violating any republican principles. For instance, one could say that the money may be better spent prosecuting the war on terror or that one should leave any stimulus to the monetary authorities (most conservative economists believe in the latter). Although I do not hold to these beliefs, I accept those who do and recognize that they are my friends and not my enemies.

But there are other reasons to be distressed at Mr. Moore's comments. It is increasingly hard to define exactly what a republican is and is not. Part of the problem is the confusion people have over the difference between a republican and a conservative. All republicans are not conservatives and some conservatives are not republicans. This confusion becomes even more evident when you throw the libertarians into the mix. Libertarians hate being called conservatives AND republicans as they do not believe they fall into either camp. What about those neoconservatives and paleoconservatives? Those two groups can't even be trusted in the same room together!

So, what do I propose as an alternative to the term republican? Well, I am not so sure. But I wouldn't define the term in as narrow a way as Mr. Moore is doing. Rather, I would note that the republican party is the big tent in which various groups of men of the right gather to form a consensus on how to advance the nation. In theory, every republican should like tax cuts. But that doesn't mean that prudential considerations should be misconstrued as heresy.