Saturday, August 17, 2002

Just What is a Moderate Republican?

Some people think that moderate Republicans are just "RINOs" or "Republicans in Name Only." In reality, this wing of the GOP has a long tradition. Paul Peter Jesep wrote a wonderful defense of what it means to be a moderate. I hope you enjoy it.

Moderate Republicanism, Progressive being a component, is an esoteric ideology to many -- a philosophy difficult to define. Extremists and militant social Conservatives have succeeded in wrongly labeling Moderates as a recent political mutation. History documents otherwise. Between 1890 and 1950 the Moderate wing dominated the party. Moderate Republicanism traces its roots to men like U.S. Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts in the 1850s. The impact of Moderate Republicanism, however, didn't become apparent until shortly after the Civil War. The GOP emerged as the party of free enterprise. And by the late 1890's two distinct groups evolved -- Moderate and Conservative. The Moderate wing called on government to curtail unbridled capitalism that exploited men, women, and children in the textile mills. It also wanted environmental protections and the ending of corrupt patronage in government.These early reformers recognized that some societal problems could only be addressed by the national government. Moderate Republicans often see limited government as a useful tool that when operated carefully, like a piece of heavy machinery, can improve the quality of life for all Americans. Moderate and Conservative fall under a broad philosophical framework of Republican. Although Conservatives are a legitimate branch of the GOP who have made many positive contributions, this wing of the party has allowed itself to be dominated by extremists and social moralists that marginalize Lincolnian principles.Moderate Republican orthodoxy includes:

A passion for civil liberties;
A disdain for conformity and suspicion of authority;
A belief that the Constitution is a living, breathing document with timeless values that must be made relevant in a modern age;
A commitment to protect the environment and not engage in mindless exploitation of the nation's natural beauty. A spirited case must be made for reusable energy sources like solar power. Modern technology provides many options before the earth is harshly, brutally, and needlessly pillaged.
A strong belief that diversity -- gender, racial, social, sexual, ethnic, and religious -- should be celebrated because it gives the United States moral strength. Diversity -- in the long-term – encourages respect, understanding, and a greater sense of community;
A commitment to fiscal prudence and limited government;
A recognition that government does have a basic social responsibility to help those in need;
A belief that the nation does have international responsibilities;
A belief that God and religion have a very important place in America -- at the dinner table and in churches, temples, and mosques. But it should never be used by politicians to advance a narrow moral agenda;
A belief that the national government should be used in a limited manner to advance the common good;
A commitment never to put party above country; and
A responsibility to publicly criticize those who call themselves Republican when the situation merits. Moderate/Progressives have a duty to vote against the party line when it doesn’t serve the greater good. Doing so doesn’t make them less Republican. It demonstrates that they have the honor, political courage, and intellectual honesty to put nation above party.
Gov. Thomas E. Dewey, described as a "pay-as-you-go liberal"; by one historian, summarized Moderate Republicanism:

"It is our solemn responsibility to show that government can have both a head and a heart; that it can be both progressive and solvent; and that it can serve the people without becoming their master."

While the name "Moderate" is misleading, there is nothing centrist or in the middle about this brand of Republicanism. Rather than being viewed as the "in between" choice, it should be recognized as one of three ideologies. The principles of Moderates are clear. They do not pick and choose among the opposing Liberal or Conservative ideologies to form their own.Moderate lawmakers are consensus builders. But then again the art of legislating is that of compromise, negotiation, and a recognition that other views have merit. This does not mean Moderates compromise core values, but rather they understand the complexities of passing intelligent legislation that benefits the greater good. They also engage in spirited debate among themselves which sometimes limits their strength as a coherent, national force. This passion for public policy discussion permits detractors to label them indecisive. Moderates sometimes forget that ideas alone don't win political battles. There must also be a coordinated strategy to win elections. And they must be willing to fight Conservatives on ideological grounds.And sometimes Moderates, not knowing their own political or ideological history, have referred to themselves as "in the middle." They have erroneously viewed themselves as a description rather than a legitimate ideology with a rich heritage.In the Twentieth Century Moderate and Progressives like U.S. Senator Jacob Javits were aggressive in their support of Civil Rights legislation. Conservative U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He would have supported the Act had an Affirmative Action provision been removed. Moderates insisted that only the federal government had the authority and political power to end the evils of segregation. Arts funding, programs for indigent children, and assistance to the elderly were also supported by Moderate Republicans.Such luminaries as Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower along with Republican presidential nominees Charles Evans Hughes, Wendell Wilkie, and Thomas E. Dewey have championed Moderate principles. Other legendary Moderates include Gov. Nelson Rockefeller of New York, Gov. Earl Warren of California, Gov. William Scranton of Pennsylvania, Gov. George Norris of Nebraska, U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, U.S. Senator Bronson Cutting of New Mexico, and U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson.Moderates were the first internationalists. The nation, they contended, had a critical role to play in advancing democracy in the world. Conservatives by contrast were isolationist. In the 1940s and 1950s, U.S. Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, leader of the Conservative wing, was an isolationist. Conservatives now call for a strong national defense. In domestic policy, Moderate Republicanism has become part of "main stream Conservatism." Moderates were successful in underscoring government's basic usefulness and its social responsibility to help people. No Conservative, for example, supports the elimination of Medicare. While everyone agrees that it needs to be overhauled -- no one thinks it should be abolished.Even on tax policy, Moderates were the recognized leaders for fiscally prudent government. In 1944 and 1948, Thomas E. Dewey and later Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, tirelessly criticized the waste of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs. They set the Moderate standard that while government must be compassionate, it must also be fiscally responsible. In short, Conservatives do not have, as history demonstrates, a monopoly on fiscal common sense.Today, the Republican Party has become dogmatic with a tendency to reject intellectual dissent. Moderates have no one to blame but themselves for feeling less welcome in a party that they’ve contributed to for over a century.Moderates must be militant if they are to re-emerge as a voice of reason within the GOP. But to do so they must be aggressive in re-asserting their place, armed with an honorable history and the intellectual tenacity to offer thoughtful, pragmatic solutions to the pressing social and economic issues of the day.And to do so Moderates and Progressives must have a platform in keeping with their historic crusade for social justice, intellectual honesty, and nation above party. Here are possible planks reflective of such values: A sincere attempt to help, not ignore, the homeless, the working poor, and the hard-pressed working class;
A strategy to halt urban sprawl while encouraging intelligent commercial development;
A renewed commitment to civil liberties that includes an expansion of privacy protections regarding the Internet, health care, financial information, and other highly personal data;
A real effort to limit the clout of powerful, highly financed special interests that have more influence over legislation and greater access to elected officials than the average citizens;
A recognition that credit card companies engage in legalized loan sharking with interest rates that may exceed twenty percent. Such usurious rates have created a new class of Americans -- indentured-servants to the banking lords. Interest rates on credit cards must be regulated and brought down;
A commitment to ongoing tax cuts that do not harm the most vulnerable in society;
A commitment to affordable, quality health care that does not put profit above people;
Support for ending the death penalty on the state and federal level. Republicans are some of the most vocal advocates of the death penalty. Oddly, a party that prides itself on limiting the authority of government is willing to give it the ultimate power -- the decision over life and death -- despite knowing that mistakes will be made. There are few things more un-Republican than support for the death penalty. If Republicans showed the same suspicion toward trusting government regarding the death penalty as they do on tax policy then all executions in this country would immediately stop;
An aggressive effort to pay down the national debt which now exceeds $5.6 trillion;
A renewed effort to end discrimination based on race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation; and
A commitment to education that teaches and empowers the nation's youth to think, show compassion, be self-reliant, and contribute to the greater good.
Moderate Republicans have much work ahead. To achieve such noble Lincolnian goals, they must understand their rich history, be secure in a unique philosophical heritage, and most importantly, be unafraid to fight Conservative ideologues. They must work harder at presenting Moderate Republicanism as a legitimate, long-established Lincolnian ideology.


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