Late last week the Missouri Legislature failed to overturn Governor Nixon’s veto of a controversial tax cut bill, with fifteen Republicans supporting the Governor’s veto. The fifteen were promptly dubbed “the Flimsy Fifteen”, and area conservative radio talk show host Dana Loesch told her listeners that “the Republican Brand has been trashed.”
There was a time not too long ago when “Republican” wasn’t a brand, it was an approach to governing. It wasn’t that long ago that the Party believed in a pragmatic, rational role for government. Republicans believed that a well-functioning government was necessary to insure a strong nation and that government, just like business, could be rationalized using the scientific method to make it more efficient and effective. This view of government goes back to the Party’s founding – historically, the Republican Party supported a role for government that while limited was still robust and capable. As strange as this sounds, it wasn’t that long ago that people voted Republican because they thought we could make government operate more efficiently.
Pragmatic Republicanism seems to have been replaced by ideological Republicanism, the belief that government is inherently flawed and incompetent – now unfortunately, the Republican Party has become the anti-government party. Instead of believing that we can rationalize government using the scientific process, the Republican Party seems to argue that government is inherently inefficient and corrupt, not to be trusted with even the most basic of tasks. Instead of seeing a robust if limited role for government, the Party has come to view almost every action of government as a step towards creeping Socialism. Instead of making government operate better, we just need to defund it, to starve the beast until it collapses and dies.
When Loesch noted that the party will now have “zero credibility” with voters, this is what she was talking about – voters will now doubt the Party’s commitment to defunding and bankrupting government. But for many of us that are more traditional Republicans, this is a good thing. A surprisingly large number of pragmatic, rational Republicans think trying to bankrupt government is actually a bad idea.
The de-funding approach to shrinking government is also intellectually dishonest. “What should government do?” is a hard question. Answering “Less” makes for great talk radio, but terrible governance. If you feel government should be less involved in education, have that debate when the legislature is debating educational spending – have the courage to stand up and say what you believe. Tax cuts – defunding government – instead ducks the hard questions, hoping to force a cut in the size of government and then figuring out how to clean up the mess later.
It was this mess, figuring out how to drastically cut spending for education, that the fifteen Republicans were thinking about when they voted with the Governor. Many of them would probably prefer a smaller government and reduced tax burden. But they also recognized that starving the beast, while a great bumper sticker, isn’t a good way to run a state. Ideology rarely works well as an approach to governing.
The goals of Ideological Republicans and those of us that are more pragmatic overlap, but with a key difference – pragmatic Republicans still see a need for an efficient, well-run government. Most Republicans agree that government has the bad tendency to expand in scope. But the best way to protect against creeping government while insuring it still fulfills its basic responsibilities is to be the party running government. The ideological bent of the Republican Party is starting to get in the way of this approach. Why would voters trust the Party to run government more efficiently when we are telling them our real goal is to bankrupt the government so it shrivels and dies?
A surprisingly large part of the Missouri population does want the state government to help support educational spending, and this includes many parents in very good, Republican-leaning school districts. A surprisingly large part of the electorate does see the need for an effective government. And so for many of us the votes of the fifteen legislators were signs of hope, signs that maybe the Republican Party is returning to its more pragmatic, rational roots. Let’s hope that this vote marks the return of the Republican Party that earned the name The Grand Old Party.