Barry Fagin

Colorado Springs Gazette, 7-25-09




Since I’ve returned to the U.S. and resubscribed to my political e-mail lists, I’ve been getting all sorts of messages warning me about the advancing Democratic agenda. Tax-and-spend liberals are running amok, and we’ve got to fight back. We’ve got to cut spending and cut taxes. We’ve got to articulate a principled vision of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and individual choice. These e-mails are all from Republican and conservative groups.

 I couldn’t agree more with my conservative colleagues. I just have one question: What were you all doing during the six years when Republicans held the presidency and both houses of Congress? Where was your principled vision then, while government was growing at rates not seen since the Johnson administration? Once you were in power, you paid no attention to the voices for limited government within your own party. We were shuffled off to the side, while you taxed and spent like drunken sailors on leave. Now that you’ve lost the election, you want limited government again. Forgive me if I’m somewhat skeptical.

 It’s pretty clear that some conservatives, and maybe even most, like limiting government power only when they don’t have any. There’s a name for people like that. We call them RINOs, Republicans In Name Only.

 How exactly did Republicans lose their way? I’d like to suggest that the balance shifted too far in favor of social conservatives. Social conservatism, while not in principle requiring larger government, in practice far too often does. It is oh so easy to go from “This is wrong” to “This should be illegal.” It is tempting to combine political power with a divine mandate, forgetting that the two realms ought to be separate. The GOP of today and its enthusiastic embrace of the fundamentalist right is very different from the party of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater. Sadly so, in my view.

 If the Republican Party is ever going to become something other than Democrat Lite, it has to stand for something other than opposition to abortion, homosexuality and illegal immigration. These are all issues that resonate with at least some voters, but they are not going to fix America. Instead, the Republican Party needs to become the party of ideas. This shouldn’t be too hard, given that Democrats don’t have any. But in order to find the right ideas, you’ll have to listen to other voices in your party. The ones who truly want to restore America’s original vision of freedom and responsibility. You need to listen to libertarians.

 After all, we’re the ones who came up with vouchers as an alternative to the public school monopoly. Sure, social conservatives took up the banner, but it was Milton Friedman who first put them on the table, and libertarians who worked for decades to make them a reality. Today, we are the ones who offer the only constructive approaches to defusing the ticking time bomb called Social Security.

 We have blueprints for cutting taxes and cutting spending (still a revolutionary notion to the current power brokers in the Republican Party). We have real alternatives to the nationalization of health care the Democrats are trying to shove down our throats, alternatives that will make health care better and cheaper. We can help Republicans reach the youth of America, who traditionally vote Democratic. We can even show you how to take free enterprise seriously by cutting billions in corporate welfare. Provided, of course, you agree with us that taking money from some and giving it to others is not what government is for. Even if the beneficiaries tend to vote Republican.

 But in order to do this, we’ve got to have a place at the table, and we’ve got to be convinced the Republican Party wants to be something more than Democrat Lite when it comes to taxing and spending. We will probably never agree on every issue, including some pretty important ones. But consider the lesson of history. The six years of the modern Republican Party dominated by social conservatives led to unprecedented government expansion, economic meltdown and an election that put Republicans out of power for at least a decade.

 Maybe Reagan and Goldwater were on to something after all.