res publica

I wrote this years before Donald Trump appeared on the political stage. I re-post it here hopefully as a matter of historical interest.

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 St. 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 [Donald Trump], 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 as a consequence. 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 — as a general rule —  the Democratic party tends to care about people above profits 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.

Who Will Annihilate Whom?

This HuffPost story caught my eye:

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned fellow Republicans this week, saying President Barack Obama’s inaugural address had convinced him that the president was undertaking an effort to “annihilate” the GOP.

“Given what we heard yesterday about the president’s vision for his second term, it’s pretty clear to me — should be clear to all of you — that he knows he can’t do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans,” Boehner said during a speech at the Ripon Society on Tuesday. “So we’re expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party.”

The story struck me because I had been thinking that the Republican Party was doing a pretty good job of annihilating itself without help from Barack Obama — or anyone else for that matter. Clearly there are deep divisions within the Party among the far right spiritually certain and Tea Party types, the mainline Republicans, the intellectual conservatives (with whom I share many values), the moderates, and the left-leaning Republicans who are open to antithetical points of view (a rare thing these days on both sides of the aisle). There’s even a group of Republicans that has started to pull away from the Party. Given those divisions and the recent failed attempts like those of candidate Romney to please them all, the Party could be said to be on the brink of annihilation.

It is true that Barack Obama has said publicly that he will no longer be “Mister Nice-Guy.” He spent four years trying to reconcile conflicting points of view and play the compromise game — playing it a bit too enthusiastically for my blood. It didn’t work. Now he says he will take off the gloves and get serious. We shall see. It could get interesting.

Consider the fact that a recent report indicates that when Barack Obama was elected to his first term a group of Republican politicians (and their sponsors, I dare say) met in Washington and swore to oppose anything the President attempted to do. For the most part the strategy worked, though the Affordable Health Care Act slipped through the cracks. But the sort of opposition that denies the possibility of compromise a priori makes it impossible for anything to get done — as we have seen first-hand. This last Congress was the least productive on record and the newer version will continue to be unproductive until or unless those who are elected to public office recall that their ultimate responsibility is to further the common good — not special interests or their political party.

But that may never happen. In the meantime, the Republican Party will continue to overwhelm us with its many divisions within its own house and its leaders like John Boehner will continue to point in the wrong direction in his effort to determine the cause.