res publica and Republicans

Years ago, before the Flood, I reviewed a book written by the Ripon Society. It led me to do some research about that group since the book was well written and struck a comfortable balance between political conservatism and “bleeding heart” liberalism. I confess I find the political middle ground more firm than the ground at either extreme. At the time I wrote the review the society embraced moderate Republicanism. I discovered some interesting things about the group, including the fact that it was the first major Republican organization to support passage of the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s. In the early 1970s, it called for the normalization of relations with China, and the abolition of the military draft.

That was then. That was when the Republican party traced its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson who traced his roots back to Cicero and the republican ideal of the “public thing,” the res publica. The founders all had read their Cicero in Latin, of course, and they tended to idealize the Roman Republic of Cicero’s days when individuals were admonished to put the common good ahead of their own in the name of “public virtue.” It was the ideal Augustine had in mind when he established his monastery which became the model for similar Christian communities throughout Europe: committed to the common good, seeking to control man’s natural wish to put self ahead of the good of all.

But, as I say, that was then: the days of Jefferson, and later Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Today the Republican party is the party of Michele Bachman, Newt Gingrich, the Tea Party, the spiritually certain, Fox News, and the corporations that want to squash the common good in the name of increased profits. And the Ripon Society seems to be leaning precariously to the right these days. It is difficult to see any connection whatever between today’s grasping and greedy Republican party that would trash social and environmental programs in the name of saving a few tax dollars and the Roman ideal. The idea of the common good has disappeared behind a stinking cloud of greed and self-interest, the very thing Cicero tried so hard to prevent. And yet these people claim to be “Republicans.”

The Republican party is not alone in its preoccupation with greed and self-interest, of course. Both parties are in the pockets of the corporations and tend to ignore the commonwealth as they push their own agendas — whatever those might be. But on balance, the Democratic party tends to care about people above profits — as a general rule — even as it seeks to solve all problems by throwing money at them. So for all its shortcomings, the Democratic party does seem more concerned about the common good, more concerned about the welfare of others and the survival of the planet. However, the more adept members of this party become at playing the political game (and they seem to be learning quickly) the farther they will remove themselves from Cicero’s ideal of the res publica, the public thing, the commonwealth. If that ideal is to mean anything again it will require a third party that remains disconnected from corporate wealth and special interests. Don’t hold your breath.

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2 thoughts on “res publica and Republicans

  1. Even the Fiscal Cliff is not enough to bring the warring parties to the conference table. I fear we have already gone over the cliff of reason, and our leaders are more than willing to crash on the rocks below rather than reach any kind of compromise. I have asked repeatedly in the past, and will continue to do so, just who are the party leaders that are in charge, that are directing the country to crash on the fiscal cliff rather than give a few inches in compromise. I still don’t believe it is Boehner or McConnell. Is it Cantor, so anxious to take over from Boehner? How about that unelected power broker Norquist? Is it bombastic, loudmouth Limbaugh? Worse yet, is no one in charge, no one the leader? Is a rudderless ideal leading us to destruction?

    I know for sure that the goings on in Washington are not at the wish or direction of myself, or anyone I know, and we are all pretty ordinary citizens. So it must be Wall Street or K Street who is truly running this country.

  2. What is the common lament of former Republicans? “I did not leave the party, it left me.” If the GOP wants to find out where it has gone wrong and how it needs to turn their battleship, they need to ask people who left it, not the ones who remain. I go back to their underlying platform which is extremely weak and, at times, contrary to what is needed. Not only are there few ideas, there are bad ones which would do harm. You cannot continue when you promote exclusion and bigotry. It kind of minimizes your ranks. I am with Barney, the GOP does not have true leadership in their party, those who would openly squash people who are speaking inanity. The problem is the inmates have been running the asylum. Great post, BTG

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