Defect from all parties

By Michael R. Allen
web posted July 26, 1999

The Republican Party lost one seat in each house of the US Congress this month, without an election taking place. Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire and Representative Michael Forbes of New York both decided that having an "R" behind their names was intolerable. On the surface, it seems understandable that conservatives should leave the party after its many compromises. But a closer look shows that, while Smith's decision makes some sense, Forbes's move is puzzling.

Even those with the most faith in the Republican majorities in Congress have had their hopes deflated by now. Many conservatives hoped at least to stall the growth of government, and their hopes proved unfounded. Even the infusion of more decentralists in the 1994, 1996, and 1998 elections has not been enough to prevent the party leadership from expanding government and sitting by as wars are waged illegally and executive orders accumulate.

Yes, the Republicans did find the courage to impeach Bill Clinton. Great. They also picked the weakest charges against Clinton and presented them to a bored Senate. When the president decided to bomb Serbia shortly after his trial, the Republican leadership refused to stop him. The House lazily voted down measures supporting or condemning the war, though many conservatives banded together to make the debate heated. Republican leaders then gave Clinton full funding for his illegal war in an appropriations bill.

The latest actions by congressional Republicans are worse than their previous, inept handling of their role as opposition party. Before, Republicans could be counted on to merely let the status quo continue. Now, they are allowing criminal acts to go unpunished. The Democratic President will not be stopped by his own party, so it is incumbent on the GOP to be solidly against him -- yet they act as if liberty can wait.

My sentiments are partly shared by Senator Bob Smith, who left the GOP to become an independent. In his resignation speech, he cited his party's failure to make significant cuts in the size of government and its general abandonment of conservative principles. Smith is right about the party's lack of principle, though he might want to note that its founders were largely unprincipled, graft-dealing ex-Whigs, and the party has never been entirely dedicated to any fundamental principle.

However short it falls on principles, the Republican party is still the chief political vehicle for dissent against President Clinton. It has failed totally in that regard. Smith and I agree on that. Unfortunately, the senator has not been as pure a champion of the Constitution as he claims to be. Smith fails to see the dangers of a large military buildup, and has voted to increase federal control of criminal justice. The good thing about his leaving the GOP is that he will be able to explore his philosophy more freely, and may become more libertarian. At the least, he is standing up against the failures of the GOP, and that is admirable.

Less admirable, however, is the move of Representative Forbes to the Democratic Party. Forbes has never been known as a staunch opponent of federal power; if anything the petiole of his recent agenda has been to work against "extremists" who don't trust the government. He did vote to impeach Clinton, but he was an enthusiastic backer of the air strikes on Serbia. As a Democrat, he'll likely continue moving towards the Clinton center-left.

Yet some of his views may cause trouble with his new host party. He's very much pro-life. He's voted against liberals on social issues. There is a chance that he has never spent any time worrying about the dangers of nuclear power. (Actually, he hasn't. He voted in favor of the 1998 nuclear waste compact.)

His leaving the Republicans shows that he has some courage. All the same, to leave the GOP for a party even more statist hardly seems dignified.

Organizing against the state within the Republican party has its advantages, but when it has failed as often as it has, defection is a noble path. Senator Smith may be forgotten in a few months, but at least he will have stood for his beliefs. Some people may find it better to stay in the Republican party, while cursing it under their breath all the way. That is not a bad route, either, since the GOP's lack of principle makes it all the easier to use as a vehicle to effect libertarian reforms. Either way, one can make some progress.

Safest of all, though, is to defect from all political parties. The anarchist can't be blamed for that in which he took no part.

Michael R. Allen is the editor in chief of the peerless SpinTech magazine.

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