Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Conservatism without Republicanism

I think I've made it relatively clear how little I think of the modern-day Republican party here and elsewhere. But I hope I've made it just as abundantly clear how I'm still desperately clinging to my conservative roots. How to go about doing this, I'm still figuring out. But two recent stories might shed a little light on the subject.

Independent Voices

President Bush recently made news by announcing that he wasn't going to raise tax revenue while implementing his partial privatization of social security. Unless he comes up with another idea, the only way to fund the immediate shortfall in benefits is to borrow the money (thereby, increasing the deficit). But the White House is still claiming it can cut the federal deficit in half by 2009. How this works, they're not willing to say.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina isn't buying it. And he's made remarks to that effect on the record: "I think it's irresponsible to borrow the whole trillion dollars....What I'm asking of the president, when it comes to the transition costs, be flexible."

This is what I love about the Republican party; there's more than enough room to argue the finer points of policy. Where I see liberalism as mostly a coastal phenomenon, conservatism stretches from the Appalachians past the Rocky Mountains, varying ideologically as often as its geography. It's this diversity within conservatism that gives me hope in the midst of our current, lackluster Administration. This isn't the pinnacle of conservatism. One need only to look at conservatism's rich history to put Bush in his proper perspective. There have always been men who've abused conservative thought, but they will come and go. Lindsey Graham proves that conservatism, especially in its fiscal sense, can never be ignored.

Tryanny By Other Names

On the other hand, when Republicans get together on something, they can be reeking bullies. Despite the virtues of its individual members, Senate Republicans (as a whole) are devising ways to force Bush's court nominees through the Senate, possibly destroying that time honored tradition of the filibuster.

A filibuster is one of those archaic Senatorial rules of procedure that allows unlimited debate on a bill before it is brought to a vote. But just because it's archaic does not mean that it's outdated (I realize I'm redefining archaic a bit, but I like the word, and dislike that it's taken a negative connotation). The original purpose of a filibuster was to allow the minority to fully critique a bill before it was put to a vote -- to allow for it to be criticized incessantly if need be. In the last century, however, it's also become a way for minority Senators to look out for their minority constituents.

In today's climate, with the nation so evenly divided, the filibuster is of utmost importance. Even though there is a clear Republican majority in the Senate, there is still a whole 48% of the voting public who don't agree with President Bush and his policies. The filibuster must remain in place for their voice to be heard. Democrats blocked only 10 of 229 court nominations through the use of filibuster during Bush's first term. In their eyes, there were 10 potential justices who had no business sitting on a federal bench. And even though the Republicans had the votes to put them there, the Democrats constitutionally kept them off because they felt these justices were the types who would run rough shod over the rights of the minority.

This is, in fact, a key component to our system of government. We do not live in a pure Democracy, but in a Democratic Republic. Might does not in fact, make right. Provisions are made for the protection of the minority, whether they make up 1% or nearly half of the population. This is a good thing, and shouldn't be thrown away because we happen to find ourselves in the majority. If for no other reason than one day, we might find ourselves once again in the minority, with no protection left to cling to!

The filibuster is part of this long tradition of looking out for the welfare of the minority. No amount of rhetoric (such as labeling 10 failed justice attempts out of 229 "the tyranny of the minority") should allow us to lose sight of this. I hope the "mavericks" of the Republican party are able to make the more obstinate among them understand this, and cooler heads might prevail.

Reclaiming the Conservative Name

So there you have it. Though I'm a conservative, I'm not much of a Republican. Mostly, because I like our Republic, and I want it to last another 200 some years. It's not perfect, but making it better should never involve silencing dissent for short-term political gain. Conservatism, in its purest form, understands that our past is worth fighting for -- no matter whom our opponent may be.

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