A Republican “Purity Test” — A Remarkably Stupid Idea

With the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee coming up, RNC Vice Chairman Jim Bopp has come out with a proposal to pass a resolution establishing a “purity test” for Republican candidates in 2010, rather like the “loyalty oath” idea which was floated a few years ago. The plan would be to get all Republican candidates to sign off on a list of 10 positions, and if they disagreed with three or more of the items they would then be denied any support and funding from the RNC and other party organizations.

While I can safely say that I’d probably pass the test, I find the entire concept deeply distasteful. It’s so un-Republican that it makes me angry to think that we’ve got people in the party leadership who would seriously advocate it. It reflects so badly on the party that supporting it should be more of a disqualification for holding office than disagreeing with its various positions would be.

Obviously this idea originated in the dissatisfaction which many people felt with the failed campaign of moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava. The problem with this is that Scozzafava was selected by her state’s county party chairs who are part of the structure that produces the RNC and she was approved by the RNC. So this proposal is essentially saying that the RNC doesn’t trust its self or its own people to pick candidates responsibly. And the double irony is that based on her actual views rather than various misrepresenations, Scozzafava might actually pass this test, and if they had just held a party primary and let the GOP rank and file pick her the entire problem would have been avoided.

This is the kind of ideologically based litmus test which makes the party look foolish and which has historically been more characteristic of the Democrats than of Republicans. Traditionally Republicans have been united by broad core values like a belief in individual liberty and limited government rather than specific issues of policy. The membership has been called a “big tent” for a reason. Bopp apparently wants to replace that tent with a tiny little coffin.

Here are the proposed items which candidates would have to sign off on:

1. We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;

2. We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run health care;

3. We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

4. We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;

5. We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

6. We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

7. We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;

8. We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

9. We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

10. We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership.

You can guess at which of these I’d have a hard time agreeing to, but the real point is that these issues are so extremely specific and represent a very limited perspective on these issues. There are several points here where there is strong and legitimate disagreement among Republicans, and that disagreement and the debate it produces is much healthier for the party than shutting down dissent.

#6 is particularly poorly conceived. When did the GOP become the party of unqualified, unthinking support of the military? The jury is really still out on whether the “surge” worked in Iraq. The evidence suggests that it was changes in strategy rather than number of men deployed which made the difference there, and there’s very little evidence that sending more men to Afghanistan will do any good at all. This is why the Constitution puts the ultimate decisions about wars in the hands of the Congress and President, not the military.

#2 and #9 are somewhat redundant. If we support a free market in health care as stated in #2, then opposition to the things in #9 is a given. #3 makes no sense, since Cap and Trade is a market-based approach to energy reform. I don’t like the idea of having to support government mandated energy reform of any sort, market based or otherwise. As for #8, I realize theocratic conservatives don’t like to hear this, but the DOMA is a pointless act of pure symbolism and it trivializes the party to raise it to the level of serious political issues. And why stop with these 10 rules? Why not put school vouchers and energy independence and ending social security on the list?

So I don’t think much of this list of points we should all agree to. I think they’re a poor definition of Republicanism, which should be based on deeper and more universal principles. It would make a lot more sense to me to just make all candidates swear to uphold the Constitution, but I’m funny that way.

However, the real objection here is how foolish doing something like this makes the party look. It suggests that we have no confidence that our members and candidates share in any kind of core ideology, or that we’re trying to draw a line between “good” Republicans and some other class of “evil” pseudorepublicans. A lot of people try to do this and it always backfires because no one can really agree on who the “evil” Republicans are. As far as I’m concerned that group probably includes RNC members who want to make me swear an oath to take set positions on a list of arbitrary issues which will probably be obsolete before I run for reelection.

It really suggests that we think our candidates are so stupid or so out of control that they can’t be counted on to be at all consistent with the general principles of the party. Rather than working with them and getting to know them like mature adults and trusting their local party and voters to assess their qualifications, we’re going to put forward a narrow definition of what they must believe and then punish them if they deviate. It’s rather like the way they discipline third-graders in government schools.

What it also tells us is that the RNC really has no idea what it’s doing or how to manage the Republican party. It shows a fundamental lack of confidence in the existing infrastructure and the process which produces candidates and ties the party hierarchy and the grassroots together. It suggests a leadership so weak that they feel threatened by the party’s own members, imposing mickey mouse rules because they cannot lead by example and inspiration.

If this is really the best idea Jim Bopp and the other RNC members who have signed on to support this proposal can come up with for guiding the party then I have to conclude that they are intellectually bankrupt, lacking in basic leadership skills and should not be in the offices which they currently hold in the organization. It also reflect poorly on RNC Chairman Michael Steele, as it suggests that he heads up a party he can’t control by any means short of dictatorship.

Democrats love to bash on the Republican Party and dismiss us as a bunch of hidebound reactionaries who are incapable of thinking for ourselves, and based on this proposal they may have a point. Jim Robb and the RNC members who supported this idea are doing a very poor job of representing their state parties. They ought to be voted out of office and replaced with people who have some confidence in the party and the principles it stands for and the people who make up its membership.

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About Dave 536 Articles
Dave Nalle has worked as a magazine editor, a freelance writer, a capitol hill staffer, a game designer and taught college history for many years. He now designs fonts for a living and lives with his family in a small town just outside Austin where he is ex-president of the local Lions Club. He is on the board of the Republican Liberty Caucus and Politics Editor of Blogcritics Magazine. You can find his writings about fonts, art and graphic design at The Scriptorium. He also runs a conspiracy debunking site at IdiotWars.com.

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