The Moose and the Elephant: Leaving the GOP

Lean a little more to the right, maybe?

Those who have been reading this blog for some time will notice that we have, once again, undergone a facelift. This time it is for more that aesthetic reasons: it is meant to signal a change.

For a long time, this site and my political activities have been devoted to the fruitless effort to rescue the wagon that is the Republican Party from its accelerating slide down the steep slope to the right. After five years, I have come to terms with the fact that this is a hopeless quest. Long before Donald Trump reared his bilious physiognomy above the political parapet, it was clear that the party was in deep need of change, and that far too few Republicans either acknowledged this or had the faintest inkling of what that change might look like.

But the past few months, culminating with Trump’s nomination at the most shameful political gathering since the last Reichsparteitag in Nuremburg in 1938, have provided sufficient evidence that the GOP is incapable of meaningful, deep reform, even in the face of its most severe existential crisis in a century. The party’s lurch beyond conservatism points our republic toward a dark and terrifying future. We can either get off the wagon and do something, or we will by inaction consign the nation to the darkness.

And while I consider myself to be a conservative, I have found that the term has become so abused as to be almost meaningless, and that I have as little in common with the vast majority of conservative pundits and politicians as I do with those of the left.

Political conservatism to me is a dedication to two things: first, the principles that motivated the Founding Fathers as embodied in their writings and in the Charters of Freedom (The United States Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights); and second, the proposition that even the best system of governance is infinitely perfectible and thus dynamic. Conservatism should not throw itself athwart the road to change, but should embody ongoing reform informed by a wise balance of caution and progress.

Sadly, the most vocal proponents of conservatism seek to twist it into something far more regressive, robbing it of its balance in the name of dogmatic orthodoxy or more nefarious motives. When slavish devotion to free markets leads conservative thinkers like Thomas Sowell to inveigh against Teddy Roosevelt, the right no longer stands for reform but for a backslide into the cauldron of laissez-faire capitalism, robber barons, corporate monopolies, corruption, and vast income inequalities. The future promised by this sort of conservatism is not America: it is decline and dissolution. Christian conservatism would see America declare itself a Christian nation, and impose Christian values in the classroom, the bedroom, and the examination room. A theocracy dominated by plutocrats is the promise, enough nearly to rename the GOP the Banana Republican party.

Either we consign the GOP to the past, or we consign ourselves to the dystopia it promises.

In an effort to be a part of a better future, one informed by a conservatism that captures the promise of the 21st Century while holding true to the enlightened vision forged in the 18th, I am today leaving the Republican Party. I do so with a heavy heart and great reluctance. But to paraphrase my wife when she speaks of her own roots, I love the Republican Party, but the GOP that I love does not exist anymore.

But I also do so with a belief that such changes are good for the country, if for no other reason than they compel us to cast off the fetters of short-termism and special interests and enable us to engage in a more visionary and constructive conversation. This is what motivated Ronald Reagan in 1980, Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, Abraham Lincoln in 1860, and the men and women who put everything on the line 240 years ago to craft a new nation.


I will share more about where the Bull Moose is headed in the coming weeks.

Religious Universities: The Coming Reckoning


David Wheeler resents his conservative Evangelical education, and believes that it’s scandalous that students can use federal student loan aid to “attend a college that not only discriminates against legally married gay students, but also forbids students from dancing.”

Source: False Neutrality & the Left | The American Conservative

Dreher again.

This is a fascinating article for a lot of reasons, but it caught my eye because it is another signal that some on the Left wish to turn the crusade for gay marriage into a crusade against those who oppose it.

I don’t buy “slippery slope” arguments, so I am reluctant to believe that a rejection of, say, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is necessarily the beginning of a liberal/Left/Progressive jihad against those who believe homosexuality or gay marriage to be morally wrong.

But when a professor of journalism suggests in The Chronicle of Higher Education that a college must abandon its religious-based convictions about sex, gender, and human nature in order for its students to receive federal aid, the ground ‘neath one’s feed suddenly develops a sharp downward slope and greasy ice forms afore one’s eyes.

This amounts to a morals test. If you believe that some behaviors allowed under the law are immoral, and wish to attend a university that holds those same convictions, that you are disqualified from receiving federal student aid. No problem, you say: they can go to a state school. That’s a great idea, except that in many states, California among them, state schools (including community colleges) are packed, leaving private, mostly parochial institutions as the primary choice for a number of students. You are, in effect, restricting the neediest students to institutions least able to accept or serve them. And, by the way, over fifty historically black colleges and universities in the US are private, religious universities.

We can – and will – argue about whether so many students in the US should be going to college, but we are not going to have that discussion until we come up with a better alternative. In the meantime, our goal should be to enable an education as far as a student can take it.

Absent assurances to the contrary, it is reasonable to assume that next on the docket would be removing federal research grants to professors at schools who have a moral stance on matters of sex and gender. Remember, when we’re talking about de-funding research, this is not just about Oklahoma Wesleyan or Liberty Baptist. We’re also talking about Notre Dame, Loyola, St. Johns, Georgetown, Villanova, Holy Cross, Yeshiva University, Gonzaga, Fordham, Trinity, Brigham Young, and hundreds of other respected centers of academic endeavor.

If we proceed down this path, there will come a point at which the government is essentially demanding the complete secularization of these institutions, or, unless the institution can suddenly find other sources of funding, their closure. At what point does all of this begin to transgress upon the Free Exercise clause, especially when many of these schools train and ordain both theologians and clergy? Further, at what point does this begin to have a depressive effect on both the quality and the availability of university educations?

One of the unique and remarkable aspects of American higher education is the sheer diversity of institutions available to prospective students. Historically religious colleges and universities make up an important part of that diversity. Men and women of faith who are also scholars have an opportunity to teach in an environment that accommodates their lifestyles. Students of faith have an opportunity to learn in an environment where the focus is both academics and the development of moral character. Both of those situations are unavailable in secular state institutions, and the full scope of fields of endeavor and all of America would be the worse off without them. Leaving aside the questionable legality of secularization, this would be a national self-inflicted wound.


I Might Be a RINO

I have – though not yet in this forum – been accused of being a RINO. I hate the epithet: who, one must ask, has the right to decide what makes for a “real” Republican, and what makes for a Republican In Name Only?

Yet when I went back to first principles and thought through who I am and why, I realized that yes, in fact, I may be a RINO, and I think that might be a very good thing.

To understand my political beliefs, I had to start thinking about who I am, and what aspects of my identity are the most fundamental, working from inside (most essential) outwards.

So who I am, in order of precedence:

  • First, I am a human being.
  • Second, I am a husband and a father.
  • Third, I am an American and a Jew.
  • Fourth, I am conservative.
  • Fifth, I am a Republican.

Here is the reason for that precedence:

My humanity is what defines me, what separates me from being a rock, a tree, some other species of hairless simian, or a sentient alien life form. Being human comes with some benefits and some baggage, but I embrace all of that.

My belief in humanity and my role in it make me a husband and a father.

My belief in my family, my desire to make for us a good home, and to give us opportunities to better ourselves and the world around us have led me to increasingly base my life, behavior, and views on the twin pillars of the Charters of Freedom (The United States Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights) and on Torah (as embodied in the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, and commentaries derived thereof).

My desire to protect and defend these twin traditions (which despite ancient roots continue to grow and evolve,) while continuing to search for ways to better the world with wisdom, justice, and mercy make me a conservative.

My belief that the most practical way to do the above in the context of the American polity is to support the one party of the two dominant parties whose values most closely reflect my own. The one that comes closest is still the Republican Party, and so I am a Republican.

This is important, because the way these principles align make it clear that when the stances or behavior of the Republican Party – either the leadership or the rank-and-file – are at odds with the principles of my conservatism, the legal and moral framework of my Judeo-American ethos, the interests of my family, and/or of my humanity, I am obliged to take a stance at odds with the Party.

My first desire is to do so within the context of the Party, to add to the diversity of voices that the Party nurtured since its rise from the wreckage of the Whig Party in the 1850s. From this constructive if occasionally fractious process should come a party capable of managing and championing measured and careful progress (as opposed to rapid, headlong, and potentially destructive change as advocated by radicals, or the dogged defense of the status quo or a desire to return to the past as advocated by reactionaries.)

But if the behavior and mechanisms of the Party evince a complete and final rejection of the inclusive approach championed by Republicans like Reagan, Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, and Lincoln in favor of an ossified, doctrinaire conservatism that is in truth reactionary, it would be impossible for me to remain a Republican. I consider myself rather far to the right of the Democratic Party on most issues. But if I were to find myself as far from the central axis of the GOP as I am from the Democrats, then my affiliation becomes meaningless, and I can only renounce the former as much as I do the latter.

Thus it is not my own principles or stances that make me a Republican or a RINO, but the platform and behavior of the Party itself.

So call me a RINO if you will. But if you reject me, my die-hard Republican friends, consider carefully whether I am an isolated case, or whether you might be abandoning the very people whose votes you will need if you ever again expect to see a Republican voted fairly into the White House.


Preventing another Paris

The West must fight Islamist terror as ruthlessly as possible, using both liberal and conservative tools, while setting aside the weaknesses of each ideology.

We must crush rejectionists like the Islamic State (conservative) and strengthen our moderate Muslim allies (liberal). We must neither assign collective responsibility (as conservatives sometimes do), nor shrink from the reality that Islam, unlike other religions, is disproportionately being used as an excuse for violence (as liberals sometimes do). We must act slowly and deliberately (which conservatives dislike) but with a clear moral goal in mind (which makes liberals uneasy).

Right now, we are failing at many of these tasks.

Source: What Will Prevent Another Copenhagen? – Opinion –

The above is taken from an unusually balanced piece from The Forward, which holds a place as one of the most liberal of Jewish mainstream publications. This is not about letting either the far Left or far Right call the shots on terrorism. It is about capturing the best of both approaches and integrating them.

There is no guarantee that this approach will do any better than any we are using now. There will be peace when the fields that grow violent extremists lie fallow and infertile.

America the Unexceptional

In the United States, babies are more likely to die and high schoolers are less likely to learn than their counterparts in other affluent countries. Politicians may look far and wide for evidence of American exceptionalism, but they won’t find it in the numbers, where it matters.

American Exceptionalism”
Vaclav Smil

IEEE Spectrum

Patriotism is not seeing only the good things about your country and loving it for those things.

Patriotism is not seeing only the bad things about your country, and loving it anyway.

True patriotism is the ability to see both the good and the bad, and fighting to fix the bad without throwing away the good.

Hollywood and Politics

Anyone who will stand up in front of a group of friends, much less the United Nations General Assembly, and tell others how they should conduct their lives and affairs, all while behaving in a manner inconsistent with his advocacy, is a hypocrite and thus non-credible. That is as true for the family-values touting Republican congressman who bangs his married administrative assistant as it is for a film icon who preaches carbon consciousness while living an flagrantly carbon-spewing lifestyle.
The famous do not get a pass for fame: they get higher standards than the rest of us. That is the price of public influence.

The Weird Politics of Jenner Gender: Six Truisms

“The photo is indeed iconic. And not just in the shallow celeb meaning of that word. It’s iconic in the traditional sense, too, in that it’s being venerated as an actual icon, a devotional image of an apparently holy human. It’s an image we’re all expected to bow down to, whose essential truth we must imbibe; an image you question or ridicule at your peril, with those who refuse to genuflect before it facing excommunication from polite society. Yesterday’s Jennermania confirms how weirdly authoritarian, even idolatrous, trans politics has become.”

via ‘Call me Caitlyn, or else’: the rise of authoritarian transgender politics – Spectator Blogs.

I am late to the party commenting on the odyssey of Caitlyn Jenner, and that is by design. I wanted to wait until the media noise died down a bit to allow some quiet contemplation of what the fracas around Bruce Jenner’s gender reassignment means at a higher level. In that process I have kept coming back to Brendan O’Neil’s article at The Spectator (linked above) as the best encapsulation of my thoughts, but that his prose came across as rather more adrenal that I would have liked. To that end, I combine my thinking with O’Neil’s and offer the following set of propositions that I feel should guide our national discussion on the issue.

1. Transsexuality is nothing new. Look up Quentin Crisp, James Pritzker, Chaz Bono, and Renee Richards. Jenner’s experience is not a breakthrough, it is simply higher profile because he/she served as paterfamilias to a brood of unrepentant media sumps.

2.  Jenner’s choices are Jenner’s choices. What you think about them doesn’t matter. Jenner needs neither your approval nor mine to enjoy his/her rights as a human being and a citizen of our country.

3. At the same time, one’s reaction to Jenner’s choices does not determine one’s character. Supporting Jenner’s choices does not necessarily make you a good person. Questioning them does not necessarily make you a bad person.

4. Someone who questions Jenner’s choices is not necessarily being hateful. On the contrary, most of us have found our choices questioned most directly in our lives by those who care about us the most, and they question those choices out of concern for us or a desire to understand why we choose as we do.

5. By undertaking his/her lifestyle change in public, Jenner may offer solace to many transgendered people. But in doing so, Jenner fundamentally invites the nation to have a debate about the nature of gender reassignment, and where it belongs in the greater debate around identity politics.

6. Provided that debate remains civil, sincere, and does not seek to do gratuitous harm, the debate about gender reassignment is a healthy process. You do not create widespread acceptance of a new and controversial phenomenon by declaring the debate over and silencing those who disagree. All you do is undermine any arguments as to the “rightness” of that phenomenon, drive the discussion underground, and foment both division and mistrust.

I wish Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner much health and happiness, and hope that as we continue our debate that he/she will never find reason to take personal offense. From this quarter at least it is entirely unintended.