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Jewish World Review Sept. 15, 1999/5 Tishrei, 5760

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh
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GOP must remain conservative -- AN E-MAILER suggested that he was dismayed that I could suggest that Pat Buchanan's migration to the Reform Party would hurt the Republican Party.

It was not Perot's fault that Clinton defeated Bush and Dole. They lost the elections themselves. The Republicans, he implied, are scapegoating other people and third parties instead of accepting responsibility and returning to their roots.

I'm mostly sympathetic to this view. Regardless of Perot's actual impact on those elections, the Reform Party may never have been inaugurated if Bush Sr. and Dole had spoken and governed more like conservatives. The Reagan Democrats likely would have remained loyal to the GOP.

But so much has happened in the past seven years. Even if the GOP frontrunner were as conservative as Ronald Reagan, I'm not sure a very damaging Reform Party effort could be prevented this year, unless Buchanan can be dissuaded from bolting.

The Reform Party threat is possible only because of major ideological shifts occurring in both major parties.

It is true that there has always been some ideological overlap between the two parties but the lines have been become extremely blurred following the Cold War and especially since the Clinton era.

In the Reagan years, Republicans stood for lower taxes, lower spending (even though their actions failed to match their rhetoric there), peace through strength, free trade, law and order and social conservatism across the board.

On foreign policy issues, Republicans have always been guided by the vital security interests of the U.S. But prior to the collapse of the Soviet Empire, any Communist incursion could properly be viewed as threatening our national interests.

On domestic policy, the Republicans enjoyed a monopoly on tax cutting and the Democrats were accurately painted as taxers and spenders. Indeed the Democrats regarded the deficit as a Keynesian badge of honor, rather than an abject forfeiture of their children's future.

But today, a review of where the parties line up on the various issues shows just how murky things have become in this extremely fluid and volatile political environment.

The GOP has yet to develop a coherent foreign policy following the Cold War because they have failed to reach a party consensus as to what constitutes a threat to our strategic interests.

GOP hawks view our national interests more expansively than GOP doves. But the doves, for the most part, are by no means isolationists. They favored intervention in the Gulf War, but not Kosovo.

On domestic policy, the Republicans have all but abandoned supply-side tax philosophy but have recaptured the spending-reduction mantle (even though they have not been properly credited for the latter).

Whereas Republicans used to be uniformly free-traders, today, a great many of them are protectionists, in the spirit of Democrat stalwart Dick Gephardt. Meanwhile, Democrats Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Bill Bradley, though, have become free-traders.

Most Republicans remain social conservatives and Democrats social liberals, but too many Republicans are becoming increasingly apologetic and discreet about it.

From the '60s until approximately the '90s, the Republicans were synonymous with law and order and condemned the expansion of criminals' rights under the Warren Supreme Court. The GOP hated big government, except for law enforcement and the military.

Today, with the lawless Bill Clinton as Chief Executive and the resulting corruption of the Justice Department and FBI, Republicans are far more distrustful of law enforcement than Democrats.

During the impeachment debacle, Republicans missed a golden opportunity to re-establish themselves as champions of the rule of law. Apart from the valiant efforts of the House Managers and the GOP House majority, the Republicans dropped the ball by failing properly to properly convict Bill Clinton for multiple felonies.

The point of all this is that there is less ideological cement and much less loyalty uniting the Republican Party than during the Reagan heyday. Republican officeholders are largely responsible for both by too often placing polls before principle.

Because rank-and-file Republicans are driven more by ideology than blind loyalty, the party suffers when it abandons its platform.

The unifying theme for conservatives must be stemming the tide of liberalism. But that can only be done with an affirmatively conservative agenda. Or else, in eight years or less, we may witness a large-scale implosion, if not radical restructuring of the Republican Party.

JWR contributor David Limbaugh is an attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a political analyst and commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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