GOP should move toward individual rights
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
The following article was originally published by Grand Junction Free Press on January 8, 2007.
What's the future of the Republican Party? Fred Brown argued in The Denver Post that the GOP should move "closer to the middle." He claimed that Bob Beauprez "lost because he was too conservative," while Bill Ritter became governor because he is "middle-of-the-road." What utter nonsense.
Beauprez was part of the Republican big-spending Congress that helped botch the war in Iraq. His office issued press releases bragging about his pork-barrel spending. He praised the regulatory state. He fought for new gun restrictions. He continually injected religion into politics. He failed to articulate a case against Ref. C and state-controlled medicine. If this is "conservative," then that term means nothing.
Meanwhile, Ritter ran on the themes of high taxes and socialized medicine. On which road do such positions represent the "middle?"
The problem is that so-called conservatism is an "embarrassing conglomeration of impotence, futility, inconsistency and superficiality," to invoke Ayn Rand's description. And so-called liberals are often big-government, anti-liberal statists. There is no "middle" between two fundamentally incoherent positions.
In politics, the only consistent positions are individual rights verses statism (of whatever variety). Those who side with individual rights advocate economic liberty, free markets, the separation of church and state, and equal legal protection for all. They oppose censorship, high taxes, and laws that criminalize gun ownership, homosexuality, drug use, and abortion. Notice that this position contains elements usually seen as both "conservative" and "liberal."
Statists promote taxation, the forced redistribution of wealth, government control of the economy, state intervention in religion, victim disarmament, and the criminalization of all manner of acts properly left to the discretion of consenting adults.
"Middle of the road," in this context, means that you want to violate individual rights some of the time.
In his book The Elephant in the Room, Ryan Sager explains what really happened in the interior West. Unlike Brown, Sager actually offers evidence to support his claims.
For our purposes, the most important chapter from Sager's book is number seven, "Look to the West." Also key is the appendix, "Political and Social Attitudes in the South and the interior West." After the Pew Research Center released data in 2005 on "Political Typology," Sager contacted the Center and obtained more detailed statistics for the interior West, defined as Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.
Sager notes that Americans are moving West and South; i.e., away from "the Democratic Party's power base." And Democrats "are now effectively locked out of the South." The Democrats already control the West Coast. That leaves the interior West.
Sager points out some interesting things about our region of the country. First, relative to other traditionally Republican strongholds, people are less evangelical. So "conservative" issues like censorship, legal attacks on homosexuals, and banning abortion don't play as well here. Notably, while Ritter is "pro-life," he downplayed this position and explicitly endorsed the separation of church and state.
Sager discusses Frontier PAC, a group "dedicated to the idea that Democrats can win in the West" by appealing to "libertarian, small-government voters" -- the very voters that Colorado Republicans such as Bill Owens have abandoned.
Sager quotes Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who discusses the "secular," "libertarian" voters of the interior West with a "culture of live and let live."
Sager also quotes Dan Kemmis, a Democrat formerly of Montana's State House, who said, "Westerners still are pretty much small-government people... They have a tendency to trust the government that's closest to them, rather than a distant government... There's been increasing uneasiness about whether the Republican Party hasn't become the party of big brother and big government." Kemmis particularly complained about Bush's No Child Left Behind Act (which puts "the federal government... in the classrooms"), the Patriot Act, and the Republican intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo.
Sager summarizes that "the West has a socially libertarian and anti-federal-government streak as long as the Rocky Mountains." He notes, "Public-opinion polling also reveals the interior West's libertarian streak on many social issues." At the same time, we Westerners believe in financial independence: "A whopping 74 percent of people in the interior West believe 'most people who want to get ahead can make it if they're willing to work hard'."
In the West, Sager notes, Democrats are winning because "[t]hey've appropriated the language of small government, lower taxes, balanced budgets, efficiency, privacy, responsibility, and a whole host of other come-ons designed to lure libertarians into at least a fling."
In Colorado, many individual-rights voters saw Ritter as the lesser of evils.
If Republicans wish to learn how to start winning again in the interior West, and if Democrats want to remain in power, they'll pick up Sager's book. Thankfully for advocates of individual rights, the interior West is relatively amenable to their views.