This the Kind of Country That You Want? A Letter to a Republican
By Ernest Partridge, The
While I have many Republican friends, none are named “Whitney.”
This letter is for all my Republican friends in general, and
none in particular. It is also for all Republicans with whom
I am not personally acquainted, who are willing to pause and
reflect upon the condition of their party and their country,
and then upon their consequent duty as citizens of the United
At no time in my memory, or yours, I suspect, has the rivalry
between the two major parties been more mean-spirited and
And yet, despite our separate party affiliations, we remain
close friends as we have for all the decades since high school.
Moreover, I see no reason for this to change, nor, I trust,
Surely you know that I have never regarded you as a fascist,
just as I know that you have never thought of me as a traitor.
Yet these are the kinds of labels that are routinely hurled
by one fringe of our respective parties against the other.
Such mutual incivility is more than acutely unpleasant, it
strikes at the foundation of our republic. Thus it falls upon
cooler heads, such as ourselves, to reject the insult and
abuse, and to restore the calm civic dialog and mutual respect
that is the foundation of a just and secure political order.
Sadly, much more is required, if we are to restore our republic
to its former health and vigor. For our country and its founding
political principles are gravely endangered by a radicalism
that has taken control of all branches of our government as
well as our mass media.
This means that it has, regretfully, taken control of the
Republican Party – your party. It is thus imperative that
moderates, such as yourself, take back their party.
I suspect that this stark accusation might put you on the
defensive. If you feel that the Democrats also pose a threat
to our republic, I invite you to present your case and I promise
to consider it carefully. But first, please hear me out,
Our respective political differences manifest more than contrasting
political philosophies. These differences issue from contrasting
professional perspectives, career commitments, family backgrounds,
social contacts, and even religious commitments. Though different,
our perspectives on life and politics may be more complementary
and compatible, rather exclusive.
I chose an academic career. You opted to join your father’s
small manufacturing enterprise. So we encountered government
differently. The taxpayers furnished my salary, while government
imposed environmental and work safety regulations on your
I joined the California Teachers Association – a union. You
were management, at the other side of the bargaining table.
In my professional life, I had the privilege of teaching foreign
students, corresponding with scholars abroad, and frequently
traveling overseas to international conferences. You had to
deal with the problem of competition with foreign goods.
As a philosopher, my convictions strayed from religious faith
of my childhood. You have remained steadfast in your religious
convictions. So, of course, we have different views on the
relationship of church and state.
And so, of course, we adopted different attitudes toward government,
labor relations, foreign policy, and so forth. Almost inevitably,
you have allied yourself with the Republicans, and I have
supported the Democrats – albeit often reluctantly, as “the
lesser of the evils.”
Our political differences have been a constant topic of conversation
between us over the years, occasionally heated, but never
placing our friendship in any great peril. You see, we are
both moderates. And while, in our arguments, our attention
was understandably focused upon our differences, we took little
notice of our common ground of commitment and belief.
You correctly describe yourself as a “Conservative.” I am
willing to be called a “liberal,” despite the recent disparagement
of that once honorable label. However, because of the abuse
of that word, I prefer to call myself a “progressive.” “Conventional
wisdom” treats “conservative” and “liberal” as opposing point
of view. I prefer to see them as complementary. Thus and authentic
conservative and a liberal can hold a great deal in common.
We both revere our founding documents, the Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution. Accordingly, we believe
that “to secure these rights" to life, liberty, and the pursuit
of happiness, "governments are instituted among men.”
Along with the founders of our republic, we share a suspicion
of “big government” and thus endorse the protection of our
“inalienable rights” as articulated in the Bill of Rights.
We both believe that our elected leaders have a bond of honor
to the citizens which requires that these leaders deal candidly,
openly and honestly with the people.
We both prize freedom, though you are more inclined to interpret
freedom in economic terms, while my attention is directed
to freedom of inquiry and expression.
With Jefferson, we both believe that a free press and the
open competition of ideas is the life blood of a democracy.
With Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Monroe, we eschew “foreign
entanglements” and disavow any imperial ambitions for our
Despite our religious differences, we both endorse the “traditional
values” that are taught by all the great world religions:
tolerance, mercy, charity, compassion, moderation, peacemaking.
We both reject sudden social change through violence or the
radical imposition of alien ideologies.
These are all, let us note,
“conservative” values, which we learned together from
the outstanding public school teachers that taught us history
and civics. These values have stood the test of time, and
may serve us well today. Neither of us are at all inclined
to abolish these principles.
The differences between “conservatism” and “liberalism” are
grounded in perspective and in emphases – again, not necessarily
Webster’s dictionary defines “conservatism” as “The practice
of preserving what is established; disposition to oppose change
in established institutions and methods.”
The liberal looks forward to an improvement of the human condition.
The best expression that comes to my mind is that of Edward
Kennedy, at the funeral of his brother, Robert F. Kennedy:
"My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged
in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply
as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right
it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried
to stop it... As he said many times, in many parts of this
nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:
"Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things
that never were and say why not."
The liberal, then, is a “meliorist” – one who
endorses worthy values and institutions received from the
past, and who recognizes suffering and injustice in the present
which he strives to ease and rectify for the future.
What deserves most to be preserved from the past, and improved
in the future? In the specific answer to these questions reside
the divergences of our political opinions. But in the general
content of these received principles and future aspirations,
we are united. It is that concurrence which has bound our
For now I must urge you to look directly and soberly upon
your Party. With the aforementioned principles of conservatism
firmly in your mind, ask yourself: Does this organization
embody your conservative convictions? Do those public figures
who so readily describe themselves as “conservative” authentically
fit that label? Where your Party is leading our country, do
you truly wish to follow?
Can you, as a defender of the Constitution
and the Bill of Rights, support the Patriot Act, and the
fact that under its provisions, at least three of your
fellow citizens are today incarcerated without charge,
without access to counsel, with no prospect of a trial
and release – all this in violation of the Fourth, Fifth,
Sixth and Eighth articles of the Bill of Rights?
Can you support an Administration that assumed
power through election fraud, the disfranchisement of
thousands of our fellow citizens, the violent disruption
of official vote counting, and an arbitrary and incoherent
ruling by five partisan judges?
Can you, as an opponent of “foreign entanglements”
support a war of aggression, launched under demonstrably
false pretenses, and provoking a world-wide hostility
toward the United States administration?
Can you, as a conservative, sanction a federal
deficit this year of half a trillion dollars and several
trillion dollars over the next several years, causing
an unbearable financial burden upon the generations that
If conservatives believe in limited government,
then can you, as a conservative, accept without protest,
government surveillance of your book purchases and your
e-mail? Is it the business of the government to interfere
with a woman’s control over her own body?
Conservatives uphold the rule of law. Can
you then condone the arbitrary violation of laws by the
President and members of his administration – including
the Presidential Records Act, the Freedom of Information
Act, the law forbidding the “outing” of covert CIA agents
Conservatives insist upon responsibility
and accountability. Can you then allow exceptions by such
well-placed individuals such as Ken Lay, Dick Cheney and
As a conservative who believes in free markets
and free enterprise, are you not concerned about the growth
of monopolistic cartels and conglomerates which stifle
and absorb competitors (e.g., Microsoft). Are you troubled
by the fact that virtually all broadcast media in the
United States is owned and controlled by six corporations,
and that the corporation-friendly Federal Communications
Commission has ruled in favor of still greater media market
concentration? Are you aware of the devastation that WalMart
has caused to small town business throughout the country?
If these trends and conditions trouble you, then you are in
agreement with this liberal, for we both find in this list
a violation of our shared political and economic convictions.
For this reason, I refuse to describe the ideology and policies
of the controlling faction of your party as “conservative.”
Far better to describe it as “right-wing” or “radical right.”
Consider next, the corruption of our politics. The right wing
has repudiated our tradition of civic friendship, and instead
regards its political opponents as “traitors.” Liberal policies
are condemned, not merely as erroneous or misguided, but as
“evil.” Politics today has become “warfare by other means,”
wherein it is not enough to defeat one’s opponents in a fair
election; the opponent must be destroyed. Witness the attacks
on the Clintons, and on John McCain in the South Carolina
primary of 2000.
Thus our once-united national community is being split into
warring factions as we forget our common loyalties and lose
the capacity to act in common purpose.
Of course, there are among your fellow Republicans, individuals
who would respond, “spare me all this ideological Choctaw.
My politics is guided by my self-interest, and it is clear
to me that Republican policies are best for my investments,
my business, and my personal prosperity.”
However, on close examination, even the appeal to self-interest
fails the radical right. Be honest, now: would you trade your
investment portfolio today with the one you had when Bill
Clinton left office? Don’t you feel at least a little anxious
about the direction of the Bush economy – with ever increasing
unemployment, ever-decreasing consumer confidence and disposable
income, interest in the national debt soon to become the largest
item in the federal budget, and half of that national debt
owed to foreign creditors? In point of fact, throughout the
the stock market has performed better under Democratic presidents
and congresses. History confirms Harry Truman’s
observation, “to live like a Republican, vote like a Democrat”.
It is not difficult to understand why the self-interest even
of the wealthy is best served under Democratic administrations.
Democrats along with moderate Republicans believe that a flourishing
economy is the result of cooperative teamwork functioning
according to fair and explicit rules and regulations – teamwork
among investors, entrepreneurs, educators, researchers, workers,
and yes, government. The right wing, on the other hand, takes
a short-sighted and self-defeating view of “self-interest,”
whereby society is a jungle, a frontier, where the ruthless
and self-serving individuals are best fit to survive. Thus
the liberal is more inclined to think of morality in social
terms, as justice, fairness, compassion, tolerance, equal
opportunity. The radical right defines morality more as
an inventory of individual virtues: chastity and fidelity,
sobriety, piety. (See my On
Civic Friendship and Consumer
In sum, a gang of radical dogmatists have captured the Republican
This is no longer the party of Abraham
Lincoln who urged “malice toward none and charity for
This is no longer the party of Theodore
Roosevelt, who waged political war against the “malefactors
of great wealth."
This is no longer the party of Dwight D.
Eisenhower who warned us of the “military-industrial complex”
and who lamented that "Every gun that is made, every warship
launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final
sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed,
those who are cold and not clothed. “
Face it, my friend: your party has deserted you and your fellow
moderates. All worthy content has been drained from this party,
and all that remains is the empty shell with the name, “Republican,”
and the false attribution of the word “conservative.”
If you are to take back your party, you must paradoxically
leave it for a brief season. Clearly, the moderates can not
now wrest control of the party from the radicals – certainly,
not before the 2004 election which, if Bush wins a second
term, will solidify the radical right control of our government
for another generation.
If moderate republicanism is to revive, the radicals must
be repudiated and thrown out of power next year. To accomplish
this, you and your fellow moderates must form an alliance
with the moderate Democrats – with whom, I submit, you share
a significant inventory of political ideals and policies.
You differ with these Democrats primarily in name – and “what’s
in a name?”
When I reflect upon the political landscape today, and upon
the dilemma faced by moderate Republicans such as yourself,
I am reminded of the closing scene in the magnificent war
drama, “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” Col. Nicholson (Alec
Guinness), the commander of the British prisoners of war,
becomes so personally invested in the project of building
the bridge, that he forgets that he is assisting the enemy.
Seeing the explosive charges set by the Allied saboteurs to
destroy the bridge, he rushes down to the river to save the
bridge and, upon encountering the British and American commandos,
is suddenly shocked into a recognition of his authentic loyalties
and duties. “My God,” he says, “what have I done?”
So, in closing, I must ask you: Wherein is your ultimate loyalty?
To your party or to your country? If you reflect soberly on
what has become of your party, on the full import of the crisis
facing our country, and upon you duty as a conservative and
as a patriot, I am confident that you will arrive at wise
and just conclusion.
Your friend and compatriot,
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer
in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He
publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly)
and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers"