The "Big Tent", Again

The realities of the GOP frequently conflict with its P.R. (which explains why hacks and spinsters are so valued by the party). While paying ample lip-service to limited government, constitutionalism, and Judeo-Christian morality, Republican actions – on a personal and collective level – consistently fail to advance those righteous principles.

Perhaps the greatest discrepancy between the supposed and the actual stems from the flawed claim that Republicans operate a “big tent” party. This has been standard mantra for a while now, but despite having been around the block, it remains mostly uncontested.

Rather than tolerating unorthodoxy, Republicans are notorious for enforcing lockstep march, and punishing any hint of ideological deviation. This prejudice is evident by the institutionalized resistance to Pat Buchanan’s bid in 1996, or John McCain’s independent-minded campaign in 2000, as well as the violent reaction of today’s establishment against Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, and others.

Indeed, the current Republican Party is a brittle and unadventurous organization, complacent with graying dogma. It eschews critical thinking, has a puny capacity for ideas, and a worrisome unwillingness (inability?) to consider even the most modest paradigm shift.

Crystallization began in the 1980’s – when conservatism finally exploded onto the national stage in two spectacular elections – but it reached completion following the neo-conservative putsch earlier this decade. During that stretch, there arose a GOP elite, ensconced primarily in Washington and Manhattan. These slick, coastal bigwigs have slowly produced a rigid mold into which all Republicans (and, presumably, all conservatives) must fit, or risk excommunication.

The present right-wing ideal – an unabashed hawk with Wall Street and White House loyalties, a nasty spending habit, and passing interest in constitutionalism – is relentlessly praised by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and National Review. There are, of course, other attractive qualities (an unusual amount of concern over the “gay agenda”, for example), but these are definitely secondary, often used to sucker Heartland voters to no real benefit of their own.

In enforcing this Republican model, the partisans of the “Reagan coalition” (a strange term, since much 21st century GOP policy would horrify the Gipper) have, very consciously, dismembered the Grand Old Party. Liberal, moderate, and libertarian cadres – those old boys from New England and the urban Northeast and the mountain West – are increasingly viewed as heretical, as is the expansive Old Right.

Now, it’s untrue to say that these blocs have been totally shut-out of party process. The Washington/Manhattan axis has seen fit to maintain a loose alliance with them, conjuring single issue firestorms (abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.) in order to keep relations somewhat viable. The upper-crust similarly manipulates right-wing populists (a.k.a. Christian Democrats, a.k.a. Reagan Democrats) and Bible Belt folk. However, the establishment has less obvious disdain for these types, owing to their impressive voting strength.

The net result of this hierarchically-imposed orthodoxy is an ever-narrowing definition of what it means to be in and of and for the “right.” The only chance for a more inclusive right-of-center party is popular rebellion, from the dirt on up. The disenfranchised groups must make their voices heard, their sentiments known. They must demand that their unique takes on conservatism are once again considered legitimate, and respected by the larger coalition. There must be no more institutionalized mockery and exploitation. It’s time that moderates, paleos, and all the others refuse to be second-class conservatives, second-rate Republicans.

This election suggests that the grassroots are in fact disgruntled, and itching to rock the boat. The candidacies of Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, and even John McCain represent insurgencies. Lou Dobbs’ new-found success is also good news, as is the public’s realization that unchecked multiculturalism, bellicosity, and globalization have the potential to destroy (what remains of) our republic.

Given the internal and external dangers currently facing America, the need for a truly “big tent” right is of the utmost importance. Yacht club grandees, red-meat nativists, cautious suburbanites, “Country” faction decentralists, pro-worker traditionalists, crunchy cons, isolationists, and constitutionalists may not have everything in common, but they can surely unite behind one slogan: “It’s Our Party, Too --- Give It Back!”

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