Monday, January 16, 2006

GOP Leadership Race: Dogma vs. Reality?

The national Republican Party is desperately trying to revamp itself in light of the Abramoff and other (Duke Cunningham, Tom Delay, Scooter Libby, etc.) scandals. Many see the impending race for the majority leader position in the House as a means for demonstrating to the public that the GOP is serious about reform. The hope for a good number of Republicans is that a new majority leader will not only usher in a new image to counteract the accusations of corruption within the ranks, but also that he (all three candidates in the race are men) will help bring the GOP back to its Barry Goldwater roots of small government and fiscal restraint.

According to a recent Post article,
US Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ari) is in the best position to reinstitute Goldwater-inspired ideals. Shadegg, who came into the House with the class of 1994 and its "Contract with America," is said to be a true-believer in the principles of modern conservative thought (with the notable exception of the times when catering to party leadership needs to take center stage).

But the question remains: Is it possible to govern based upon traditional conservative principles and still expand or even maintain public support? This question about the potential gap between conservative dogma and political reality was raised in a recent blog post by Matthew Yglesias while guest-blogging at Talking Points Memo. Yglesias writes:

"In some sense, I suppose it's possible that Shadegg or whomever will return the GOP to the True Faith of massive budget cuts and simply lead everyone over the electoral cliff in a straightforward manner, but that seems very unlikely in practice. And if you're not willing to do that and you're not willing to rethink any of conservatism's prime articles of faith, the only real alternative is to continue with self-interested machine politics."

This same tension between dogma and reality was suggested in an article from the Washington Post yesterday that analyzed the importance of the GOP leadership race. According to the article: "The disagreements pit what many Republicans see as the importance of adhering to bedrock conservative principles, particularly on the size and scope of government, against what others say is needed to maintain or expand the party's electoral appeal." So what do you do if you're a GOPer--head back to the ideals of Goldwater, which sounded good on the stump in '94 but never caught on as actual policies on a large scale, or continue down the path of lobby politics, which are effective but at best unethical and at worst illegal?

This may be the trick of politics: governing based upon your principles to please your ideological base while still working to expand your electorate in order to maintain and widen your scope of power.
Clinton chose to head rightward after feeling politically threatened by the Republican sweep of the '94 elections. So far the GOP leadership has opted for machine politics in an attempt to maintain its control rather than simply shifting itself on the political spectrum, but that game is now up. Where they go from here could determine who sweeps the '06 elections.

Indeed, as Clinton's move to the right proves, the tension between ideology and expanding your electoral base is one that affects both parties. Perhaps a useful model for how to remain true to an ideological set of principles while still maintaining some power in government is to move toward a proportional democracy, at least partially, in which political blocs are granted a percentage of governing seats that's equal to the percentage of votes they received in an election. A number of democracies already use this form of governing, mostly in Europe, and they appear to be quite successful. Without giving it too much thought, I would imagine the implimentation of such a system would work to limit the undemocratic effectiveness of lobby politics utilized by Abramoff, Delay, and others.


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