Traditional Republican values
Nine examples of what the GOP has historically believed in
George F. Will, the conservative writer and commentator, in a June 2 interview in The New York Times Book Review, said, “To understand the Republican Party’s descent into a cult, and congressional Republicans’ loyalty-as-lobotomy, read Arthur Koestler’s novel of the Soviet Union in the 1930’s, ‘Darkness at Noon.’ Pay particular attention to Gletkin, the embodiment of the apparatchik mentality.”
Gregory Sorg, writing in a recent edition of NH Business Review, responded to my March 29-April 11 column (“Rational action will save us”), in which I stated that the GOP had been hijacked and that I believed in “traditional Republican values.” Mr. Sorg questioned what those values are.
His question got me to thinking about whether they can be defined. That in turn sent me to my library, to books written by or about Republican icons, including volumes about Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, Barry Goldwater’s 1960 “The Conscience of a Conservative” and his 1964 “Where I Stand,” and finally, Peter G. Peterson’s “Facing Up: How to Rescue the Economy from Crushing Debt & Restore the American Dream.”
The following principles appear to me to be traditional Republican values, gleaned from these sources and related histories:
• Freedom: The original and basic value. The party and its leaders have stood for freedom for people all over the world, and usually to welcoming them to America. The GOP traditionally has believed that individuals should be free from government interference in our lives.
• Limited government: The GOP traditionally has stood for limitations on what the government can and should do. Government should not try to do everything or replace individual initiative to do for ourselves. It should leave most decisions on personal matters, like how we live, reproduce, love and worship, to individuals without government interference.
• Government close to the people: Republicans traditionally have believed that if government has to do things, it should do them at the level closest to the people being governed, so those people will have maximum input and the ability to try different approaches, either at the local or state level.
• Strong national defense: The GOP has stood for strong defense and preparedness. It also has stood for cautious use of that power. Strong defense does not mean wasting money on weapons systems which provide jobs in some powerful congressman or senator’s district, but intelligent investment that provides a military which can deter others from dangerous actions.
• Quality public education: Most people forget that public education was a Republican idea in the 1800s, to provide a common understanding for citizens of all backgrounds, so they would have common values and preparation to be good citizens. Regardless of class or wealth, this is a system to bind us together and not split us apart.
• Limited taxes and balanced budgets: Goldwater says, “The size of the government’s rightful claim — that is, the total amount it may take in taxes — will be determined by how we define the ‘legitimate functions of government.’” Traditionally, Republicans have believed that taxes must be sufficient to pay for the things we together decide to do. This means balanced budgets, reduced national debt and prudent fiscal policies.
• Conserving the environment: President Theodore Roosevelt was among the original environmentalists, and Republicans supported conserving the environment as good business and good policy.
• Encouraging capitalism: Republicans traditionally have believed in policies and programs that encourage capitalism as the best method to create wealth, a higher standard of living, competition and individual and group success. However, they also have believed in sensible limits that keep capitalism fair and controlled. The original anti-trust acts were enforced by Republicans like Roosevelt to create more, not less, capitalistic activity. Minimizing governmental regulations controls have encouraged responsible business activity and a strong economy. Support of capitalism also has traditionally included support for free trade.
• Realistic foreign policy based on American leadership: Republicans traditionally have believed in facing the facts as they are and leading in the world because our belief in freedom and justice deserved respect based on how we acted. This has included proper alliances, forging common ground and moral, principled leadership.
The list could go on and on. However, compare these values to what is demonstrated today by Republicans in the executive and legislative branches, and George Will’s words may be frighteningly accurate and Greg Sorg’s question a good one.
Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He can be reached at email@example.com.