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So here we are, looking at another major election in just over a year, and our intra-party divisions don’t just increase, they’re becoming an out-and-out canyon. You can see the conflict summed up in many ways: Tea Party vs. Mainstream, Movement vs. Establishment, Fringe vs. RINOs, and Chaos Marine vs. Imperial Space Marine. Okay, I made that last one up*. I find these terms inadequate, however. More and more, I find the real divide as Principle vs. Process.
Principle Republicans tend to perceive themselves as embracing our nation’s founding ideas. For the Principle Republican, small government is key. This is not necessarily a reference on locality, but rather on the presence of government in daily life. Indeed, you only need to look at San Francisco or Seattle to see that local government does not necessarily mean small government. The Principle Republican sees government as necessary — which largely differentiates him from more libertarian line of thought — but prefers a government as described in the Tao of Taos: one which has a light touch, where the people see themselves as accomplishing things rather than the government. Mark Levin’s book Liberty and Tyranny† eloquently describes the thinking of the Principle Republican.
For the Principle Republican, the process takes a back seat to principle. The advancement of liberty over tyranny, the genuine embrace of small government over big government, and the recognition of the individual over the state takes precedent. The ideas of the Founders are tantamount. This is not intended as a worship of past figures but, rather, as a recognition of their ideas. Principle Republicans prefer to hear their politicians speak about Liberty, especially if it has a capital “L.”
Principle Republicans are not without fault. They’ve a tendency to want to abandon the process altogether, which has its perils. Today’s Democrats enjoy abandoning process in favor of their principles and the result has been a disastrous undermining of liberty; it would be a mistake to think this no-holds-barred attitude would be solely a left-wing problem. They also tend to place increasingly demanding criteria on elected officials, sometimes demanding purity that none can meet. And though I adhere to the Principle Republican side, I fear plenty here would probably demand George Washington’s ouster for being a RINO‡.
Though they are on the opposite side of our internecine debate, Process Republicans also respect the Founders’ ideals, but also emphasize the system they set in place. Indeed, there’s a lot to be said for the republican system of checks, balances, and procedures that encourage moderation and consideration over reckless abandon. We live in a world where people expect government to “get things done” and the process is there to moderate how it’s done and (hopefully) temper and hone ideas into effective tools of government. The Federalist Papers** can help one get into the mind of a Process Republican. Liberty had already been attained by the states. The Federalist Papers discuss the ideas that lead in part to the process we are in today.
Liberty is good, but — says the Process Republican — without checks and balances it can easily lead to confusion or anarchy. The State exists and requires a system to guide and control it, otherwise we get what we had in the Articles of Confederation which was bad enough that the Founders got together to rethink things.
Process Republicans have their faults as well. Converse to their counterparts, they sometimes want to ignore principle entirely in favor of process. Unmoored from principle at all, process continues going forward without a thought as to whether it’s going in the right direction. When “getting things done” becomes a bigger principle than advancing a principle, process leads away from proper goals. Moreover, Process Republicans become annoyed with their sometimes impatient counterparts. Rather than explain how the system can be used to advance liberty, they begin to demand Principle Republicans to be quiet, knuckle down††, and let things play out.
Understanding each other at this point is of tantamount importance. Principle Republicans want Process Republicans to understand liberty and advance us toward it. We’d like to be addressed as valuable members of the party, not as problem students in need of Ritalin. Meanwhile, Process Republicans would like the Principle Republicans to exercise discretion and patience. When Process Republicans lay out a plan of action, they’d really appreciate it if we Principle Republicans didn’t light the plan on fire because it doesn’t accomplish everything at once. Principle Republicans are worried that we are losing the ideas we love; Process Republicans are worried that we might overstep our bounds and abandon a system that works well.
Republican democracy is an inherently messy process. You can’t get ten people to easily agree on pizza toppings‡‡; getting a nation of hundreds of millions to agree on questions of public policy is exponentially more difficult. The strength of our nation’s founding was not just the ideas or just the system, but rather a system that fosters and empowers the ideas espoused. It is time we value our differences and recognize that our differences complement each other, rather than separate us.
* But that would be so cool if either side could settle their differences over mini-warfare games. Yes, I just suggested a solution that favors me. Also, Space Orks are best.
† The book contains far less vitriol and screaming than a typical Mark Levin broadcast. Also, the book is less likely to call you stupid.
‡ He wasn’t even that. Our first president as you know had no party. Also, there were no Republicans then. GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT PEOPLE!
** Principle Republicans take heart! We have the Anti Federalist Papers. In your face, Alexander Hamilton!
†† … buckle down, do it, do it, do it …
‡‡ For the record: Pepperoni is the only topping that truly belongs on a Pure Republican Pizza. Adding pineapple to your pizza is a sure sign of a RINO.