Friday, April 22, 2005

Welcome--What are Moderate Republicans

Welcome to this new blog. It will be a forum of commentary on politics, healthcare, psychiatry, culture, etc. from the standpoint of that key demographic, the Northern New England moderate Republican psychiatrist.

What is a moderate Republican? In a party composed of such an array of factions, moderates are often labeled as RINOs--Republicans In Name Only--implying they are allied with the majority party but in fact lean to the Left.

I submit that there is a third Anglo-American political tradition, distinct from liberalism in the Mill-Bryant-FDR strain, and distinct from conservatism in the Burke-Goldwater-Buckley strain. There's a political philosophy that David Brooks has called "progressive conservatism" and he traces it at least back to Alexander Hamilton. In an excellent NY Times essay entitled "Reinventing the GOP" Brooks details this Hamilton-Lincoln-Teddy Roosevelt tradition: one that believes in using government to foster an environment for individuals to succeed economically. This tradition has less of an emphasis on its role in personal morality than the conservatives while still retaining a brand of pragmatic nationalism in the service of order. Programs that enhance national unity are favored, recognizing the Union itself to be a federation of often competing interests--hence support for national parks, universities, and promotion of the arts. Progressive-conservatives have more emphasis on fostering individual class mobility than the Millsian liberals who looked more toward wealth redistribution via the state.

Hamilton's legacy was carried on by Whigs like Clay whose "American System" fell to his political admirer Lincoln for full execution--strong national banking to level the economic playing field, infrastructure development (canals, land-grant colleges and other internal improvements), and tariffs to prevent excessive British control over the US economy. Teddy Roosevelt busted trusts to protect competition, not simply to oppose large economic organizations.

Progressive-conservatives saw that the problem is not government itself or business itself, but rather that large organizations inherently produce diffusion of responsibility and anonymity, conditions that foster inertia and corruption, respectively. The mission of politicians then is not so simple as to protect the little guy from the corporation or to protect individual rights from the government, but rather to use government to promote a set of incentives that tend to make it difficult for any party to abrogate anyone's rights.

The twentieth century saw a struggle between the liberal big/active government camp and the conservative small/limited government camp, and Brooks describes the progressive-conservative vision as being askew of this debate, and so fell by the wayside. But leaders like Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller favored a government active in creating economic infrastructure but limited in its scope of direct economic activities. They favored strong defense, but warned against a military-industrial complex. They favored an active international policy, but treated our clearly unequal postwar allies as equals, and so gained more allies. They were privately spiritual but not publically religious. Republican politicians in this vein are still around.

This is the type of Republican Party that a moderate Republican supports. The question is often asked why someone who differs with many of the current policies advanced by the Republican leadership does not simply join the Democrats. Not an easy question--but I hope I have shown why they would not feel quite at home with the Democrats, and there are other compelling reasons that will be a theme of this blog.

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