Why I’m Not a Republican

I supported Barack Obama last election. My support for him was not because I’m some hippie socialist liberal. Admittedly, I have a few views that you could call liberal, but I have many conservative views as well. This writer is pro gun rights, pro capitalism, pro life, and pro death penalty. My support for Obama was as much an aversion to Sarah Palin as anything. To me, her nomination was a signal that the leadership of the Republican Party had become unserious about effective governing. And since Obama entered office, I have been pleased to find him far less liberal than — guess who? — the Republican machine made and has continued to make him out to be. He’s been less liberal than even I expected. As Obama’s first term nears its end, I have found my patience for the Republican party, which has explicitly placed getting Obama out of office above any bonafide attempt to construct agreeable and effective policy, all but completely deteriorate.

So it can hardly be said that I was very interested in the Republican debates this time around. I have no interest in listening to a back-and-forth about such meaningless titles as who is the “most conservative” or who would really “repeal Obamacare”—the only government takeover of healthcare in history that did not actually take over healthcare at all—or how Obama hates America, etc. etc.. However, in the midst of each increasingly feckless debate, I would hear this strangely refreshing voice coming from the far corner. That voice belonged to John Huntsman.

Having heard a fair amount now from Huntsman, I have found him to be the most impressive candidate to come out of the Republican party in years—thoughtful, articulate, even proven. I thought, this is a man who really has it: A man who believes that a strong capitalism is the most important part of an effective economy, but that government is not the enemy of capitalism; a man who acknowledges the obvious—that greenhouse gasses are proliferating at an astounding rate and that they have the potential to fundamentally disrupt our way of life, but that our economy can continue to prosper while we address climate change; a man who deeply opposes abortion, yet does not believe that the government is an effective means of spreading Christianity; a man who has incisively surmised the effects of an inevitably more powerful China and the geopolitical importance of the South China Sea in the coming years; and a man who was ready to transform our educational systems to meet the demands of the 21st century. What a candidate!

I really thought Huntsman was going do well. I guess I assumed that, while the most extreme pockets of the Republican party were currently the loudest, over the course of the debates more moderate pockets of the Republican party would hear the brilliance of this man and finally have someone to rally behind who actually supported their views. I assumed that this wave of extremism, anti-government sentiment, and non-compromise was a fad. I suddenly found myself optimistic about the Republican party.

I was wrong.

Huntsman’s support among Republicans nationally currently sits at 2%. He has been the only candidate not to surge at any time leading up to the primaries. Huntsman devoted practically his whole campaign to doing well in the New Hampshire primary, a relatively moderate state in the Republican primary. Last night, he finished 3rd with a meager 17%.

I’m afraid that Huntsman is going to be a case study for future Republican candidates. They will take from this primary how effective it is to recite over and over the same platitudes about smaller and small government; less and less taxes; Ronald Reagan; bigger military; the other candidates not being conservative enough; that I’m the most conservative candidate—how conservative?—THE MOST CONSERVATIVE!; and hyperbole about the Democrats as evil, America-haters, God-haters who want European style socialism, and who aren’t just wrecking our economy but want to! And they will be struck by how ineffective it is to appropriate anything that ever was said by the opposing party or to exhibit even the faintest tinges of balance or moderation.

Unfortunately, Huntsman has been a case study for me too. Because of Huntsman, I now know how I would fare if I ever ran as a Republican. I’m not going to be a part of that party; It represents me in no way. I only feel bad for such a brilliant man like Huntsman who had to serve as my lab rat.

16 thoughts on “Why I’m Not a Republican

  1. Kelly W says:

    Found your article on fb…. I’ve experienced quite a few frustrations with the Republican party as well. I like Huntsman, though Gingrich is my pick. And this is the second election that I will vote for someone I am in no way enthused about. And honestly taking a look, not only at the Republican party, but at politics in general, will reveal that childish rhetoric is apparent on every side. So my question for you, Chris – knowing your stance on some spiritual issues – how can you vote for someone who supports abortion as an undesirable – but available – choice? I think Obama is a nice guy with good intentions (albeit a lack of talent for governing in a way that accomplishes), but there is one issue I cannot bend on. I just can’t ever vote for someone who – no matter his/her political party – supports pro-choice. So knowing that you are pro-life, how can you?

    And yes, I lived in fear the last couple years that Sarah Palin would try to show up on the ballot again.

    And lastly, you know you asked for this kind of comment when you wrote this blog entry.

    • Kelly,

      Your question is a fantastic one and I’m not upset at all that you would ask it. Let me say this though—my answer is frustratingly complicated. You will probably disagree with my answer but I’ll do my best to explain it so as to be understandable. I’ll also try my best to comprehensively address the question without writing a book, which I could easily do.

      To begin, I have to start with my most fundamental assumption about what I believe to be the proper role of the state with regard to religion. Essentially, my view could be encapsulated as follows:

      Laws should not exist that could not be justified independently of religious doctrine.

      In other words, if some conceived law would exist by a government authority for the sole reason that it is dictated by some religious authority, I believe that law should not come into being. The reason I believe this is, again, complicated but I can summarize it by saying that I believe that the propping up and adoption of religion by the government actually hurts religion rather than helping it. If I believed government intervention helped religion—specifically Christianity—I would support it. Because I believe it hurts Christianity, I oppose it. This was essentially the view of the 17th century theologian, Roger Williams. It is Williams whom Thomas Jefferson was quoting when he wrote the famous phrase “wall of separation between church and state” in a letter to a group of Connecticut Baptists.

      That said, even though I certainly believe abortion is wrong, my belief that governments can legitimately outlaw abortion is not based on the Bible—it is merely based on the position taken by almost every secular authority that governments may justifiably protect individuals from harm by third parties. And I believe fetuses are people. However, because I do not view my beliefs about governments through the lens of religious authority, the stance taken by any candidate with regard to abortion is not viewed as an absolute prerequisite to getting my vote.

      I disagree with Obama about the government’s role in outlawing abortion, but I agreed with him about more other things than I agreed with John McCain. And let me be clear about another point—notwithstanding my statement about a pro-life position not being a prerequisite, it is still an important position. I would weigh it as heavily as any individual position on which a candidate could take. But when the sum total of a pro-choice candidate’s views aligns more closely to my views than a pro-life candidate, I will vote for the pro-choice candidate. That is why I voted for Obama.

      I hope that helps clear it up, even if you still disagree. I’m certainly open to any rebuttal.

      • Just a Dude says:

        Chris,

        Allow me to make a rebuttal on Kelly W’s behalf. I hope that I have not misread your post. In any case, your response seems to be based on two assumptions that I want to challenge.

        First is the idea that opposition to abortion can only be motivated religiously. My understanding is that it is uncontroversial among reproductive biologists that a “human being” comes into existence the moment that a sperm and egg unite. From that moment (and not a moment before), the being that exists has every essential biological characteristic of a unique human being. There are a number of philosophers who base arguments against the legalization of abortion on this biological fact. As such, there are completely non-religious bases for opposition to abortion. (Robert George, for one, has made many arguments to this end based on natural law–which is not an essentially religious concept, but one that was first employed by Aristotle and the Stoic philosophers).

        Second, you commit yourself to the view that “Laws should not exist that could not be justified independently of religious doctrine.” Consider how far you want to go with this. Facially, this principle would rule out the idea of the equality of persons and (arguably) the existence of “rights” at all. It would also rule out the essence of limited government (after all, without God what authority is there superior to the state?)

        Truth be told, if you go back far enough into the common law, all of our law was acknowledged to be based on moral conceptions derived from Christianity. The historic difference between the freedom and prosperity enjoyed by Western democracies and the lack of those things in the East is a direct result of political ideas of rights, dignity, self-determination, limited government, etc. that are derived directly from Christianity. (I suppose that these things could all be justified in an ad hoc way, based on the secular goods that they have produced, but notice that it is only AFTER the fact that we are able to recognize the social and political goods that come as a result of these religious ideas. Had your principle been utilized all along, it is almost certain that the system whose good we enjoy never would have come into being in the first place.) So when you say that laws should not exist that could not be justified independently of religious doctrine, you also have to consider to what extent our very system of government itself is fundamentally based on religious (specifically Christian) ideas.

      • Just a Dude:
        Thanks for your thoughtful comment. You make an important point that I will try to bring out. However, I think you also miss an important point.

        Before I get to that, I want to make sure that we are reading each other correctly. I want to be clear that I am for the outlawing of abortion. I believe that to be a position that is perfectly justifiable without the help of any religious backing.

        Now for my main point. You have successfully pointed out that good law has come from the fact that Christians have participated in government. I do not dispute for a second that many of the most important common law traditions in contract and property; our Western conceptions of checks, balances, and due process; and modern day egalitarianism have come in large part thanks to the contributions of Christian thinkers. However, this supports the assertion that having Christians in government is good for government. It does not support the assertion that the propping up of Christianity by the state is good for Christianity. I believe it is just the opposite.

        Further, if you are going to transpose the doctrines of the Bible into our civil and criminal law, how far are you really willing to take that? Are you willing to penalize people because they do not show up to church on Sunday? Are you going to penalize people for being greedy? Are you going to penalize men for looking at a woman lustfully? Are you going to penalize people for being a gossip? If not, why not? Each one of these are just as sinful as, for example, being in a homosexual relationship. Yet my experience has revealed that Christians seem to be much more interested in legislating against homosexuality and other sins that they don’t struggle with than they are against any of these parts of the Bible that are actually hard for most people.

        So in sum, I believe that the propping up of Christianity (I use this phrase; I’m sure there’s a better one out there somewhere) is both harmful to the church and never really carried out fully and not for any justifiable reason.

      • You might also find it interesting to note that Roger Williams, one of the earliest and most forceful theologians to advocate for the separation of church and state was trained in the law by none other than Sir Edward Coke, the man who practically invented the common law.

  2. Adam says:

    Chris, Like you, I also voted for President Obama. Like you, the selection of Palin had something to do with my decision, but the main reason was my hope that Obama would do more to remove U. S. troops from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was, and still is important to the U. S. economy (since we couldn’t afford even one of these wars during Obama’s first two years,) the lives of U. S. service members, and the foreign civililans hurt by our military.
    Unlike you, I acknowledge that their is a Republican candidate that is not asking for a “bigger military”. Representative Ron Paul, and his voting record, are convincing voters across the board that he would do more to end the war in Afghanistan sooner than President Obama has. Like you, Paul is “pro capitalism, pro life”, but unlike you, he is against the death penalty. I’ve seen no record of him using “hyperbole about the Democrats as evil, America-haters, God-haters”. He is one of the few Republican candidates, in this race, to make statements critical of previous Republican Presidents.
    I wanted to bring this to your attention, since I’m sure you wouldn’t want to generalize about a group of people. I don’t think Obama has lived up to his promises, but I doubt McCain would have been better. I do believe Ron Paul is a better choice than Obama in 2012, but I think most people don’t know his positions on issues, because he is often ignored or vilified.

    • Adam,

      Thanks for your thoughts. Ron Paul has an impressive record with regard to civil rights. He is the strongest proponent of the 4th, 5th, and 6th amendments (the criminal defendant amendments) of any of the candidates. I am at a loss that Obama would sign into law the most recent defense bill that allows for the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens accused of being enemy combatants. I don’t worship the founders like many do, but I will say that I agree with what they would have thought about that bill had they been alive—SHOCKED, HORRIFIED, TERRIFIED!

      Paul is also impressively against attempts to legislate morality. Again, good so far.

      Where I diverge sharply from Paul is in the seeming belief that government is the enemy of capitalism. I do not wish to see the Federal Reserve abolished, nor the Departments of Commerce or Education. I believe that the bank bailout, while regrettable, was a necessary measure to avoid twice the unemployment we currently have today.

      Further, I’m not fundamentally anti-war. I merely oppose wars the benefits of which in my judgment outweigh the costs. Actually, I’ve been quite impressed with Obama’s record on foreign policy. Foreign policy analysts have noted that Obama conducts foreign policy from the school of Nixon/Kissinger. While Paul occupies the neo-isolationist school, Obama occupies the realist school. I wrote about that a few months ago here: http://themcneal.com/2011/06/02/saudi-arabia-the-spring-revolutions-and-realpolitik/.

      So in sum, I’m thankful for some of the things that Paul has done to shape the political conversation. But there are just too many views that I fundamentally disagree with him.

      Once again, thanks for the comment.

  3. Just a Dude says:

    Chris,

    My point was not really that good law has come from Christian participation in government. Rather, I was trying to make a much deeper point–namely that the “deep structure” of our system of government itself is based on deeply embedded, distinctively Christian notions of human dignity and equality before God. This recognition is not inevitably made by human governments (just look at middle eastern and far eastern governments). Furthermore, this deep foundation should not be taken for granted, and that is what I was worried that you were at risk of doing.

    • Whatever you intended your point to be, that is the only point that your references actually advanced.

      I’m skeptical of conclusions like John Wise’s “Democracy Is Founded In Scripture.” The New Testament is written almost assuming that Christians would never be politically influential. The only references in the Bible to people of God having much political influence was in the context of the monarchy in the Old Testament. From Jesus’ death until Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Byzantine Empire in 313 AD, Christian thought with regard to politics consisted of little but trying not to attract much attention. When Paul instructs Christians to submit to the governing authorities in Romans 13, he is basically saying to Christians that, as much as is possible, don’t make things harder on yourselves by living as outlaws and causing trouble. America’s founders broke this commandment from Paul (and Jesus) by fighting the Revolutionary War against England.

      Yes, I said it. Our Founders should have just paid their taxes.

      I find little in the Bible to support your assertion democracy, freedoms, limited government etc, etc are inherently Christian ideas.

      Also, it does little to prove that point by pointing out democratic and successful governments in the west and autocratic and dysfunctional governments elsewhere. You must know that argument is full of holes.

      First of all, the overwhelming majority of non-Western governments have adopted some form of the type of government founded in the West. This is despite not being Christian. If the very foundation of a political system is Christianity, why are so many non Christian countries adopting it? Especially when there are countries that are far less Christian than ours, but I would argue are governed better.

      Further, what about the Christian countries in Latin America that are saturated with Catholicism—recognizing the same divine authority that you and I do—yet autocratic and dysfunctional would describe their public sector better than democratic and competent?

      Again, I think the better way of looking at it is that Christians have made many ingenious contributions to the body of political thought that has been adopted throughout the world. Many of them quote the Bible in so doing, but their contributions had as much to do with circumstances and pragmatism as anything else.

      • Just a Dude says:

        Chris,

        Once again, let me try to remove misconceptions regarding what I am arguing. I am not arguing that Biblical law should be enacted in our legislatures. I am not arguing that Christians should hold influential government positions or that Christian ideas are better than others just because they are Christian. I am not arguing that a democratic form of government can be read straight out of scripture. I am not arguing that only freedom- and equality-protecting governments can be based on Christian ideas. I am not arguing that it is necessary to maintain the Christian religion simply to enjoy the goods that we now enjoy in our political system. I am not arguing that other countries must become Christian if they become democratic.

        What I AM arguing is that, as a matter of unique historical fact, our system of government, which strives to ensure freedom and equality owes its very existence to the “deep presuppositions” of freedom, dignity, and equality that are implicit in the teaching of Christ, and which were developed and incorporated into political thought by faithful Christians over the past two millennia.

        Here are several books that express, generally, what I’m arguing, in case you are interested. I cite these just to give the flavor of what I’m maintaining. I would summarize them if I had the time, but unfortunately I do not, and I apologize for that. Anyway, here they are:

        Robert Royal, The God that Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West

        Alvin J. Schmidt, Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization

        Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success

        Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America

      • Your statement—that we owe the existence of government to the deep presumptions of freedom, dignity, and equality which are implicit in the teaching of Christ—really doesn’t bother me.

        In regard to the matter at hand, I don’t think your conclusion and my conclusion are really at odds. The fact that our government owes its existence to values that are implicit Jesus’s teaching does not mean that we should pass laws that could only be justified by the existence of religious doctrine.

        Today, those values are acknowledged everywhere—except North Korea. The fact that we have found these values so prevalent in the world, in my mind, speaks to the positive influence that Christians can have on people, and the positive influence that people can have on governments. And even while I believe strongly that governments can make us behave better (e.g. we are less apt to rob banks for fear of being arrested), I don’t believe they can make us more Christian.

        Good discussion.

  4. Just a Dude says:

    Here’s my point, in one sentence: There’s something really odd about espousing a “necessary secular basis” criterion for laws when the social-structural prerequisites for the development of a system of good government (i.e., one that protects the freedom, dignity, and equality of all) would themselves never have brought about the political goods that we enjoy, had the same secular criterion been applied historically.

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