- Rebuild the party brand as “the Party of Principle” by moving away from a “platform” or “menu-driven” definition of conservatism toward “principled conservatism.”
Principles are the foundation of government based on the rule of law; governing based on values is a progressive principle and leads down the road to arbitrary government. The fundamental principles of American government are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. They are stated many times in many ways. They are three:
- The primacy of individual sovereignty;
- The sanctity of private property; and
- The preservation of the rule of law.
Every decision each of us makes, we make as an individual. Even the decision to come together to take collective action is first an individual choice. Private property results from our individual choices about how we use our labor. Our Creator endows us with life and liberty, but life is not self-sustaining. If we are not at liberty to acquire at least the basics of survival, we die.
We acquire, as Frederic Bastiat wrote in “The Law,” through either plunder or our effort – whichever is easier. No religion or morality will prevent plunder, he noted, if the effort to plunder is less than the effort necessary to acquire what we need and want through our own effort.
One group taking control government to plunder the community is bad, said Bastiat. It is worse, however, when another group takes over government, not to reestablish justice, but to plunder on its own behalf, for then the rule of law is completely preverted.
How is the Republican Party viewed today? As a plunderer or wants power to get back at the Democrats or as the party that will stand-up for the rule of law – the fundamental principle that the law is neutral, that it preserves individual freedom to act in a moral manner without mandating a morality to be imposed.
Keeping Bastiat’s ideas in mind, let’s look at the Republican Party Platform.
When printed off a computer, the platform fills some 14 pages. In handout form, the Minnesota GOP platform folds out to the size of small roadmap, printed two-sides, in eye-straining type. It requires some 175 line items and over 5,100 words to lay out the party’s plans for Minnesota. Pretty impressive considering the Good Lord could only come up with 10 Commandments and 300 words of wisdom to guide the individual behavior of all people at all times.
But it’s not just length and complexity of the GOP platform that is a problem. “Platform Conservatism” creates unnecessary barriers for people who value liberty, limited government, and fiscal conservatism and want to join the Republican Party, but are confused by the dissonant cacophony of principles and values that make up the published party platform.
Take the education planks, for example.
The Minnesota GOP platform says Republicans believe in parental school choice. The Minnesota Republican Party supports programs like charter schools and school vouchers. So far, so good. But then the platform goes on to list a plethora of education reforms for public schools that would, in essence, reduce the freedom of anyone who disagreed with the GOP to educate their children as they saw fit to do. The GOP platform imposes a definite set of values on ALL children attending public schools every bite as much as the DFL platform does. The only difference is the values being imposed.
So, is the Minnesota GOP seeking power to replace the DFL and impose its own views (creating barriers) on the rest of Minnesota? Or is the Republican Party seeking power to restore justice to education, by focusing on policy promoting more charter schools and using vouchers as the primary source of school funding?
The latter approach replaces barriers to joining the Minnesota GOP with on ramps to the Minnesota GOP. It’s believing in the principle of educational choice that makes one a Republican, not the curriculum one might choose given educational freedom.
What makes us Republicans?
Every section of the GOP platform can be deconstructed in a similar manner, but that is not the point. At issue is whether “platform conservatives,” those who hold that the best conservative is the one with the most “yes” checks on platform planks, are really the political “good guys.” Or is being a conservative about more than just holding the popular (as far as Republicans are concerned) position on the issues? Is the objective of putting Republicans in power about ensuring that the “Eddie Eagle Gun Course” is available in every public school, or does the Minnesota GOP want to rein in and limit government authority to impose the whims of the few on the lives of the many?
At its core, conservatism is really about allegiance to a republic founded on the governing principles of individual sovereignty, private property and the rule of law. Creating policy and legislation that furthers those principles is the best way to produce prosperity for all and the only way to ensure justice for all. Unless we as a state and a nation protect everyone’s individual sovereignty, everyone’s private property, and provide equal protection for everyone under the rule of law, we cannot guarantee our own ability to live by the values we choose to live by.
It is faith in fundamentally American governing principles that makes us Republicans. It is extension of the governing principles we recognize, not the values we seek to protect, that enables us to build coalitions with those who believe in liberty as strongly as we do – even if they might choose to use their liberty differently. Rebuilding the Republican Party requires that we move away from “platform conservatism” toward a “principled conservatism” based on individual sovereignty, private property and the rule of law.
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