Dailies Misanalyze GOP Rifts

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Dailies Misanalyze GOP Rifts

by Ari Armstrong, January 11, 2006

Previously I argued that the Republican Party is split mostly between the religious social conservatives and the pragmatic "moderates." Those are certainly the two largest groups. But there is a third, much smaller group that consists of Republicans mostly concerned with individual rights and, derivatively, economic liberty and a government limited in function to protecting rights. (Obviously the ideas of liberty are not specific to any party, but my goal here is to look at what's going on in the modern Republican Party.)

There's a lot of overlap. For example, Douglas Bruce easily falls into the "social conservative" camp, but he spends a lot of time advocating and working for individual rights. And Bill Owens, a pragmatist, sometimes pays lip service to the principles of economic liberty. The individual-rights Republicans are heirs to the "classical liberal" tradition of the Enlightenment and to the free-market theories such as those advanced by Ludwig von Mises, who wrote a book titled "Liberalism."

So there are real divisions within the Republican Party. Unfortunately, the big Denver dailies made complete hash of these distinctions. Reporters from both the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post offered, not a careful analysis of the real differences among Republicans, but incoherent nonsense masquerading as news.

For example, in a January 6 article for the News, Stuart Steers writes, "Are Colorado voters increasingly middle of the road and less likely to embrace the anti-government ideology they've flirted with in the past? Or will possible ballot initiatives to ban gay marriage and crack down on illegal immigrants bring a wave of conservative voters to the polls?"

What exactly is the "anti-government ideology" with which voters have allegedly flirted? Steers offers no answer, because his claim is arbitrary. Apparently what he has in mind is past support for tax limits. However, as I have argued, there is nothing "anti-government" about wanting lower taxes. Yet Steers and columnist Mike Littwin invoke irresponsible and wildly misleading rhetoric to misrepresent the advocates of economic liberty.

And what is the meaning of Steers's "middle of the road?" Apparently what Steers has in mind is that some people want much lower taxes, some people want much higher taxes, and the "moderates" or "middle of the roaders" want taxes to increase somewhat. The slim passage of Referendum C increased state spending more than it was already scheduled to increase. By what standard is that a move to the "middle?" By the rational political standard of individual rights, the passage of higher taxes moves our culture away from the full protection of individual rights and toward the gutters of collectivism and statism.

Steers apparently sees nothing odd about throwing in the alleged supporters of "anti-government ideology" with the supporters of increased governmental interference with marriage and labor contracts.

At least Steers points to the real "feuding between the moderate and social conservative wings of the party." For example, "Veteran state senator Norma Anderson also announced her retirement and took a... swing at the 'ideological Christian conservatives' in the GOP." Yet Steers does not make clear the distinction between the social conservatives and the advocates of individual rights.

Karen Crummy makes the same mistake in her January 5 article for the Post. She writes, "The divide between social conservatives and moderates in the party -- exacerbated by infighting over referendums C and D -- appears ready to widen as the two factions fight over who should set the agenda." Again, there is nothing socially conservative about economic liberty.

Apparent in Crummy's article is an antipathy toward principles as such. (This point is especially noticeable to me given that I'm currently listening to Leonard Peikoff's lectures on DIM -- disintegration, integration, and misintegration. Peikoff describes the so-called "moderates" as disintegrators who are openly hostile to grand, abstract principles but who retain some elements of an integrative, reality-based approach, if only by default.)

Crummy writes, "'Things have gotten really bad for the party,' said state Sen. Steve Johnson, a Fort Collins Republican and a self-described moderate conservative. 'The right wing of the party has the attitude that if we don't agree with them on every item on their litmus test, then we aren't a good Republican. I think it's going to hurt our chances of winning back the statehouse'."

Johnson's complaint is remarkably similar to one made by pragmatic Libertarians. His comments disparage standards and support pragmatism.

Crummy also editorializes: "With such issues as intelligent design, immigration and gay marriage hovering, an inability to compromise could cause big problems for the party as a whole." Crummy's remark implicitly conflates the proposals of religious conservatives with the proposals of free-market economic liberals. Crummy thus fails to distinguish between policies that are rationally defensible based on individual rights and policies that would use tax dollars to propagate creationism, impose economic protectionism, and entrench legalized discrimination.

Crummy adds, "John Straayer, a political-science professor at Colorado State University [said,] 'But if they handle things carefully and build coalitions and stay away from ideology, they could be fine'." The advice to "stay away from ideology" is a clear endorsement of pragmatism. But if coalitions are not based on ideas (idea-ology), what is supposed to be their basis? Neither Crummy nor Straayer offer any answers. The only answer possible is that coalitions are to be ad hoc affiliations of interest groups.

Crummy also includes Anderson's criticism of "ideological Christian conservatives." Apparently, Anderson is not criticizing the particular ideology of Christian conservatives (as I have done); she is criticizing ideology per se, without any allowance for rational ideology (or a conceptual, principled, reality-based, integrative approach, as Peikoff describes it).

Crummy also quotes Anderson: "The division has been here for a long time, but the name-calling really began during C and D... Owens has tried to be a good governor, and they criticize him because they don't agree with everything he says."

I think it's clear which side engaged in the more vicious "name-calling." But here the point is that Anderson fails to distinguish between "name-calling" and rational criticism. By Anderson's "standard," it's to be expected that people will disagree on various points, and that's no reason to "criticize" each other. Who can say who's right and who's wrong? Thus, Anderson's pronouncement manifests subjectivist tendencies (as any form of pragmatism must).

Crummy writes, "Additionally, former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell said Tuesday that he was fed up with the blind loyalty that was demanded by right-wing Republicans, and state Rep. Mark Larson, who announced last month that he was not running for re-election, said he was leaving in part because he was tired of fighting the more extreme faction of his party."

Again the issue is supposedly one of undue calls for "loyalty," not one of rational disagreement. And what does "right-wing" mean in this context? Apparently, it's supposed to mean the group consisting of religious conservatives and free-market liberals. What is the meaning of "extreme?" Apparently, "extreme" describes, among other things, a person who takes individual rights seriously.

Crummy also writes, "'The split between upscale, traditional Republicans and the social conservatives was quite marked during C and D,' said Bob Loevy, a political-science professor at Colorado College. Many traditional Republicans, especially in Denver's suburbs, were already put off by social conservatives -- especially on issues of abortion, stem-cell research and immigration, he said."

So why is it "upscale" to be in favor of increased state spending and increased violation of people's property rights? Why should the issue of economic liberty be thrown in with the anti-liberty proposals of the religious conservatives?

Lynn Bartels's January 4 article for the News is also flawed. She writes of a "a growing split in the GOP that pits moderates against conservatives and fiscal Republicans against social-issue Republicans." She adds, "Anderson abruptly resigned Tuesday before her 20th and final year in office, saying she is ready to move on. But she also was sick of partisan bickering and barbs from the more conservative wing of the party." Bartels pits Anderson against "Jon Caldara, president of the conservative Independence Institute think tank."

So Bartels makes the same basic error: she places fundamentally disparate views under the catch-all, arbitrary, undefined category of "conservative." And what's a "fiscal Republican?" It makes sense to talk about a "fiscal conservative" as somebody who wants low taxes. But how are fiscal conservatives pitted against "social-issue Republicans?" Even though members of the two camps sometimes work together, there are real divisions between them -- but unfortunately Bartels doesn't explain the nature of those divisions.

Caldara told Bartels that "Norma Anderson and Mark Larson... do not represent the values of the Republican Party." Larson replied, "Colorado is not a right-wing, neo-con state." But Caldara is obviously upset that some Republicans supported increased state spending (above already-planned increases). While Caldara might be classified under the vague category of "right-wing," he's not a neoconservative.

Bartels does indicate that there's more to life than social conservatism and pragmatism. She quotes Caldara, "I'm not a social-issues conservative... For me the issue is the size and scope of government, and those who believe the size and scope should be larger are simply not Republicans." Caldara thus approaches "individual-rights Republicanism," even though he does not specify that the "scope" of government is supposed to be the protection of individual rights.

Why do all three reporters pit the "moderates" -- the unprincipled pragmatists -- against a catch-all group of "conservative," "more extreme," "ideological" Republicans? I know atheistic Republicans who hate religious conservatism and want to eliminate taxes and return government to the role of protecting individual rights. I also know deeply religious Republicans who support the welfare state and want to ban abortion and inject God into the tax-funded classroom. What do those two groups have in common? Their only similarity is a rejection of pragmatism in favor of intellectual and moral absolutes. To the pragmatist, all principles are comparable, all "ideology" of equal worth (meaning no worth).

But, as Peikoff notes, there is an essential difference between reality-based principled and those based on other-worldly presumptions. Pragmatism and religion are false alternatives. Neither pragmatists nor religionists wish to admit rational principles based only on a conceptual, reasoned understanding of the evidence of the senses. Yet the advocates of "integration" (by Peikoff's meaning) criticize both the pragmatist "moderates" and the religious conservatives. For that reason, they mostly escape the notice of common journalists.

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com