With November fast approaching, much of the Republican Party’s focus is absorbed by the presidential contest.
However, there is another critical issue that Republicans must begin considering: When it comes to the most precious of political concerns — freedom — where do we stand?
The tea party movement has helped restore the Republican Party’s traditional focus on keeping taxes low and government small. But at the same time, the Republican brand is being damaged by our hypocrisy on questions of freedom vs. state interference. The GOP is the party that rose to destroy slavery and then 100 years later overcame Southern Democrats to pass the Civil Rights Act. A deep belief in freedom has long been central to Republican ideology. Today, though, our position on freedom resides on less certain ground.
Republicans must ensure that we retain our historic identity.
First, it must be noted that Republicans have a good deal to be proud of, in terms of recent steps to advance individual freedom.
Republicans have been at the forefront of opposition to Obama’s failed, statist management of the economy. Capitalism bounded to law is by far the most successful economic system for human advancement — it serves individuals and society by empowering and rewarding personal endeavor. No Republican should ever be afraid of speaking up for a strong private sector.
In recent years, Republicans have played a critical role in helping protect the rights of gun owners, ensuring that gun laws remain largely in the purview of the states, rather than in the overbroad hands of the federal government.
In international affairs, Republicans have largely stood firm in supporting continuing partnerships for freedom with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, many Democrats have been happy to abandon those countries for the sake of a skewed, short-term, domestic political expediency. Sadly, even though our military personnel, diplomats and intelligence officers continue to make strong progress in Afghanistan (as they did when they brought Iraq back from the brink), for President Obama and his party, freedom takes a distant second to re-election.
Republicans need to continue to stand for freedom, both in America and abroad. Unfortunately, our current stance on freedom is far from perfect.
The first issue is gay marriage. While I respect the ideological opposition that some Republicans have toward allowing gay couples to marry, that our party platform stands in opposition to gay marriage troubles me. When faced with a question of more versus less freedom, in the absence of compelling evidence to suggest that the option of more freedom will lead to a significant societal harm, I believe that Republicans should pick the option of more freedom every time. For me it’s quite simple. While I am not a homosexual, allowing two gay men or women who wish to bind their lives together to do so, by affirming their love in a legal relationship, neither offends me nor produces a negative externality for society.
A second issue is the Republican treatment of our Muslim fellow citizens. I recently wrote an op-ed for The Daily Caller on this concern, so here I simply ask whether our conduct in this area is compatible with our party’s heritage.
A third issue is the degree to which some Republicans — like Rick Santorum — are willing to affiliate themselves with people and ideas that fundamentally challenge the notion of a tolerant America. Republicans should stand squarely behind the pursuit of an America in which personal advancement is made possible by hard work and common respect, instead of being limited to the whims of zealots wishing to impose society from above.
In the end, a large part of the trouble with these divergences from traditional Republican ideology is the manner in which they weaken our ability to honestly rebut other attacks on individual freedom. For example, when we oppose Democratic attacks on the free speech of Chick fil-A (while I personally disagree with Dan Cathy, his company’s right to free speech must absolutely be defended), the strength of our rightful defense of freedom is degraded by similar Republican-affiliated attacks. As the founders affirmed when they preserved our most sacred laws in the Constitution, freedom is precious and — for Republicans at least — worthy of timeless protection.
As we seek new supporters, being able to honestly identify our party as the party of freedom should be a central concern. Ultimately, freedom concerns the power of individuals to shape their own lives without undue interference from others. In policy discussions, this ideal should be forefront in our minds.
Tom Rogan is an American blogger and writer currently studying in London, England. He holds a BA in War Studies from King’s College London and an MSc in Middle East Politics from SOAS, London. His blog can be found at TomRoganThinks.com.