Senator Arlen Specter’s recent departure from the Grand Old Party surprised many, not the least of which were his Republican constituents.
The defection accomplished, if nothing else, that great and feckless collegiate goal of “promoting dialogue.” But unlike student protests and candlelight vigils about free-trade coffee, this dialogue might actually produce something: a re-animated, realistic Republican party.
The Senator’s move left inter-Republican battle lines clearly drawn. Mike Huckabee took the helm on one side, Senator Lindsey Graham on the other. Huckabee’s stance: good riddance. Graham’s: we’ve lost another vote, are you happy now? While many have desired a Republican party of more pure ideals, ideals don’t win democratic elections. Majorities do, and majorities are only ever formed through compromise.
Idealism is pleasant, but often impractical, and political parties aren’t religions able to dictate doctrine from some central authority. Rather, parties are dynamic and fluid, shaped by members and events. The difference is unfortunate in this case, because religions realize, at least, that power comes from converts, not ex-communicates. Lapsed believers make poor apostles. And, as in American churches, the hard-liners of any party will suffer defections at the cost of their ideals. But churches have the luxury of holding to idealism; they don’t need to win elections.
Ideals, of course, are important; they’re the difference between one party and the other. But so is dialogue. It’s how ideals are hashed out, strengthened, and made presentable. William F. Buckley, long the face of conservatism, was known most for his gentlemanly debating. One shudders to think what the refined Buckley would say of Sean Hannity. Republican ideals have traditionally, and rightly, included fiscal conservatism, limited Federal government, military strength, and entrepreneurship. They have not included fiery radio rhetoric and internal division. Nor have they included unwavering adherence to the party line.
A Republican future doesn’t lie in ideological entrance exams for would-be standard-bearers. It lies in realistic courtship of voters attracted to some, if not all, of the GOP message, and of party members and party candidates diverse enough to win in every state of the Union.