Over the years this blog has been deeply, sometimes sharply critical of the Republican Party inspiring many to wonder about its title. Why would a dedicated, lifelong Republican be so unhappy and if so, why stick around?
You don’t become a GOPLifer because of your mindless enthusiasm for our team or your unflinching hostility toward the opposition. The term “lifer” is borrowed from prison slang. A lifer has no place else to go. Being a GOPLifer doesn’t reflect any particular sense of commitment. It comes from a lack of options.
I became a Republican in a forgotten era in which the party stood for urban, commercial, business values. When I was first learning about politics, Republicans still campaigned in cities. The inner suburbs of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Los Angeles were the party’s core. Some of the country’s most powerful Republican Senators came from California and the Northeast.
The center-right Republican coalition that took shape in the ‘60’s after William F. Buckley chased off the Tea Party of his era stood for the power of markets, the vital importance of personal liberty, and the need for American global leadership. Those values were tempered by an interest in tangible outcomes that rises from authentic patriotism and hard-headed business pragmatism. The insufferable drama queens who staged a phony debt ceiling crisis last year would have been kicked swiftly to the curb by the GOP in the ‘80’s. Once upon a time, ideology was secondary to results.
For two decades that vision led the Republican Party to the White House in five out of six elections. It edged the whole country and our culture toward the right and made the party competitive again at the national level.
An emphasis on the value of markets, trade, and a confident, assertive American presence in the world gave us the richer, freer, far more peaceful planet we now enjoy. Markets are not perfect. Business is not altruistic. The pursuit of personal greed does not always lead to optimal outcomes. American military force is not necessarily a force for stability in every case. However, the Republicans of the late 20th Century re-opened possibilities for American enterprise and power that had previously been closed.
With feet planted firmly in reality and a willingness to examine our failures we could have continued the momentum away from the straightjacket of big central government toward an ownership society. We could have made American power a lasting force for liberty, stability, and prosperity in the world. Twenty years ago we had every reason to expect that a generation of Republican dominance would build a new order at home and abroad, expanding personal freedom and opportunity.
Those who once embraced that dream are still around, but there is no political party for us to call home. We began in the Republican Party and traces of this heritage are still apparent in the party’s foundations. But today there is no major national political force that still embraces this optimistic view of American economic and diplomatic power.
To be a GOPLifer means clinging stubbornly to a vision of what might be, in spite of what you see all around you. After all, this lost dream of a Republican agenda remains in some sense its inevitable future.
Fear is to politics what meth is to truck driving. It will help you deliver in a pinch, but the more you come to depend on it the more dangerous your next run becomes. And then your teeth fall out.
That older, more practical, optimistic version of the Republican Party is still hanging in the air, waiting to be refined for a new era. As the party’s fear-binge approaches its inevitable conclusion, perhaps sometime in the near future there may once again be a meaningful place in the Republican Party for a GOPLifer.