First, let me a aplogize to my not-so-many readers for the gaps in posting. I was busy during the holidays, and have been on the road much of the time since then. I will try to do better.
I have been a Republican all of my voting life — for over 30 years — even being an alternate delegate to a state convention back when I had the energy and wasn’t embarrassed to wear the funny clothes.
I was a Republican for a number of reasons, but the most important is the place of the individual in party philosophy. The fundamental dialectic, as far as I am concerned, has been between a communalist ideology that places the individual as a subject of a protective and controlling State, and an individualist ideology that places high value on individual liberty and freedom in the belief that the “invisible hand” of collective self-interest and unhampered social conscience will achieve greater things.
Unfortunately, within the context of the “war on terror,” it is becoming increasingly clear that the Republican Party is abandoning this value of individual freedom in the name of security. The increasing surveillance and intrusiveness of the government into the lives of the people is strongly reminiscent of the surveillance that occurred before and during the Nixon Adminstration. The government complains bitterly about the limits on surveillance placed upon it in the 1970s; it ignores *why* those limits were put in place. The abuse of power is a hallmark of the executive branch; this has been true since the first big guy with a club started lording it over the rest of the clan.
The Republican Party, taking its lead from the Administration, has taken the position that the people of the United States must abandon it’s privacy and civil liberties in order to achieve security. That has not been true in the previous 200 years of US history, and it is not true now. Quite the contrary. The egregious breaches of public trust in the name of security committed by the government in times of stress have almost universally been shown to be not only unnecessary, but self-defeating. It was true in the Civil War. It was true in World War II. It was true during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. It was true during the Vietnam War. It is true today.
The Democratic Party, oddly enough, is becoming positioned as the party of civil liberties and personal privacy. It is a nontraditional position for that party, and I don’t think they’ll do it well, but it’s better than nothing.
Oh, sure, the Republicans are *also* abandoning the rest of the things that made being a Republican meaningful — limited government, limited spending, individual liberty, freedom of speech, economic freedom. The party of free markets has put itself at the serivice of anticompetitive benefits for major industries. The party of individual freedom wants to place every act of its citizens under federal scrutiny. It is building a wall around the nation to keep out the very people that give us the vitality that protects us from the malaise of Europe.
But most importantly, the Republicans have cast the debate in terms of a fundamental incompatibility between individual liberty and security. In times of crisis, that can sway a lot of people, but it is a false argument. And in the long run, the Republican Party will suffer for it. I won’t flog the famous Ben Franklin quote about liberty and security, but it is as true now as it was 230 years ago; those who argue that technology changes it are simply wrong. I think it’s sad that we are abandoning his truism on his 300th birthday.
If the 2006 and 2008 elections become one of security versus liberty and privacy, liberty and privacy will win.
I, for one, no longer consider myself a Republican. I’m not a Democrat yet, but the days of party line voting are over.