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Goodbye to the GOP

By Scott Gillette



I havenít been writing about much in the past several months. Canít say that too many people have written and said, "Boy, I miss your column!" Not that I think or other people think that my writing is bad. (But maybe thatís an illusion on my part, who knows?) Itís just that my writing does not provoke an emotional reaction one way or the other most of the time. I think itís time to change that, permanently.

However, my outlook on the political world has altered significantly. I have left the Grand Old Party, and I am an independent. I consider politics much, much less than I used to, although as a recovering political junkie thatís a relative concept. But when I do think about politics, itís without an ideological axe to grind.

What prompted all these changes? Well, lots of reasons. For starters, teaching is my biggest priority right now. It's more important than writing at the present time. Nobody will miss my columns in the same way that my students may miss having a committed teacher. Current events come up in class, but you can only dig so deep into whatís happening in the world. Moreover, I have no interest in shaping young minds politically. They will make up their own minds someday, and allowing students to decide issues for themselves is the best thing.

September 11th influenced my thinking about politics. The nationís capitol is full of public policy battles, but their outcome is preordained to occur within a small ideological spectrum. Maybe a few billion will be spent here instead of there, or someone will or will not get nominated, or more importantly oil drilling will or will not occur in the Arctic. These are important questions, but only up to a point, and they are not life and death issues.

George Will once said that there is more deeply felt passion in professional wrestling than there is in politics. This statement assumes that the fix is in, and policy is pretty much preordained. And come to think of it, thatís how D.C. works. Like most Americans, I believe that my participation does not affect how the government works. (This may explain the drop in participating voters over a period of decades.) People who think they can change the system by going to D.C. are suffering from some profound illusions.

Now, this does not mean that new ideas and political movements cannot have a profound impact on politics. They can, and do. (Almost all of these movements originate from outside D.C., which is a company town.) But these movements may take decades to have their efforts bear fruit. Most people would prefer the spotlight, and be with the "in" crowd, as opposed to toiling in anonymity. But I would prefer the latter.

If I remained in the GOP, I would have certain constraints that I would have to place on myself, out of respect for the party that carries many of my political aspirations. I would prefer the freedom from such restraints, and I would like to be able to call things as I see them.

Another reason for leaving the GOP is that I no longer feel any joy in being a spokesman for the conservative movement, let alone a supporter of a bland Rockefeller Republicanism. This movement, which has gone from a cultish following in the 1950s to the political mainstream today, has a lot of accomplishments under its belt, but whoís kidding who? Iím not a cultural conservative, and I donít think conservative policies necessarily mean good government all the time. They (the cultural warriors) wouldnít want me there, so why should I want to be with them?

But the biggest reason for leaving the GOP nest has been my evolving rejection of American foreign policy, and how it continues to be conducted. The age of the American Empire is upon us, and will continue well into the next century, but that does not mean we should accept this state of affairs uncritically. America is a great country; unfortunately, some other countries are worse off because of our involvement in their military and economic affairs. (The International Monetary Fund has destroyed countless economies, so big banks can buy assets in those countries on the cheap.) Moreover, such intervention does not benefit our citizenry for the most part, but merely the privileged few right here at home. Blood should not be shed for such campaigns.

This does not mean that current war in Afghanistan is illegitimate. But I do believe that calling Iran and North Korea part of the "axis of evil" is counter-productive. The sanctions against Iraq need to be lifted, now. The IMF, which constantly destroys developing economies in order to serve a few large banks, needs to be abolished or completely revamped.

It should be noted that the worst attacks on American soil were carried out directly by only nineteen people, by using civilian aircrafts. Increasing the military budget by 20% may make people feel good, but it will not make our country safer. Moreover such build-ups only make it more likely for further military campaigns to be launched abroad, which makes attacks at home more likely, not less.

All of these views are outside of the conventional wisdom, never mind the Republican establishment. It is simply not tenable to belong to a group that holds such divergent views on such important matters.

Itís worth noting the other people have defected from the Republican Party in recently: Rep. Michael Forbes, Senator James Jeffords, David Brock, and Patrick Buchanan, to name a few. The former two are politicians who were never really Republicans in the first place, and made the switch out of expedience or egotism. Brockís new book, Blinded by the Right , is a juicy read to be sure, but the book makes me wonder whether Brock was ever committed to the conservative cause in the first place. To describe the entire movement as retrograde and racist, as Brock did, is a caricature at best.

Buchananís departure from the party is not unlike mine in one respect: it was based on evolving political differences. I do not share Buchananís views on Western civilization, or the culture war, or many other things, but I agree with him on this: the American republic is becoming an empire . This has negative consequences for most people in our country, and the world. There may be very little to counteract this massive trend, but it should be addressed and opposed at the very least.

If you, the reader, detect a radical sensibility in some of these positions, youíre right. My politics has become a hybrid between a libertarian-conservatism and a radical critique of how the world works. There is a huge chasm between these two views, and they can only be reconciled on an issue-by issue basis. But they are not mutually exclusive either. I can read and enjoy The Nation without subscribing to what I consider to be its excesses.

Moreover, it is interesting to note that both conservatives and leftists, while possessing diametrically opposite values, often share a common thread. Both sides contain a pessimistic view of people in power. One can argue that governmental power is more dangerous than corporate power, but both sides can agree that people who possess power often become corrupted, then corrupting. I couldnít agree more. One group I could never appreciate again is the establishment liberal position, which combines the worst mushy sentimentalism of the left, while containing the power worship sometimes associated with the right. The worst outcome for this country would be a small class of wise men who would rule, ostensibly, to help those who are less fortunate. This fits the Democrats perfectly, but it doesnít work that way.

H.L. Menchken subscribed this role to journalists: "To afflict the comfortable, and to comfort the afflicted." Thatís a nice line, but thereís more to writing than that. The best writing can provide clarity to the noise that permeates events, and a dedicated journalist/writer can sort out the wheat from the chaff. A character in Night and Day by Tom Stoppard said, "No matter how imperfect things are, if you've got a free press everything is correctable, and without it everything is concealable."

So Iíll keep writing, although with a different mission. Maybe my work will lead to different opportunities, maybe Iíll have an impact on how readers consider issues, maybe Iíll tilt at windmills and nothing more. But Iíll write. And thatís enough for now.


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