SA@Takimag - Libertarian or Authoritarian: Which Way GOP?

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Amongst the many conversations from many quarters about who might lead the Republican Party, I keep hearing one name time and time again – Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. As with Sarah Palin, I intended to keep an open mind about any possibilities in the hopes that a post - Bush presidency, post - McCain campaign GOP might produce leaders who learned the right lessons the last eight years, and yet it seems those singing Jindal’s praises the most are the same Republicans who still defend the indefensible Bush and who campaigned the hardest for the unconservative McCain.

So what’s so special about Jindal? While he’s conservative on gun rights, illegal immigration and social issues, none of this really sets Jindal apart from other Republican leaders. What does set the Louisiana governor apart is that he is a racial minority, and is even being called by some the “Republican Obama,” due to his youth and Indian ancestry. The neoconservatives have been keen on Jindal as well, which is never a good sign, and as with Joe Lieberman and now Hillary Clinton, neocons will support any candidate they see as sufficiently interventionist on foreign policy and who is comfortable with wartime government expansion. And sure enough, Jindal remains a steadfast supporter of the war in Iraq, probably wouldn’t mind invading Iran or sending troops to Georgia, and as a congressman he voted both to make the Patriot Act permanent and for the REAL ID act, an Orwellian scheme so intrusive that it was overwhelmingly opposed by South Carolina Republicans. Well, except Lindsey Graham.

So is a candidate who combines multicultural appeal and Bush Republicanism a winning recipe for the GOP? In playing minority identity politics, the Republican Party will have proven itself no better than voters who pulled the lever for Obama simply because he was black. And in embracing another neoconservative, the Republican Party could further alienate voters who pulled the lever for Obama simply because he wasn’t Bush or a reasonable facsimile.

There is a better path. Instead of rallying behind a governor who really would amount to nothing more than an affirmative action hire, how about a governor whose limited government record would make even Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan blush? South Carolina’s Mark Sanford has long made plenty of enemies amongst Republicans by refusing to deliver politics as usual, and has been getting a lot of press as of late for much the same reason. As many Republicans join Democrats in pressing for more bailouts and begging for money, Sanford continues to chastise his own party for spending the money, will not take money for his own state and refuses to put further in debt, his own country. Unlike many Republicans, Sanford recognizes the failures of the last eight years, even recently dismissing Bush’s big government “compassionate conservatism” as a “disaster.” When asked what the Republican Party should stand for, Sanford repeatedly harkens back to the conservative bedrock principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility. "Our niche is maximizing individual liberty" said Sanford of his Republican Party. And the governor’s libertarian approach is undoubtedly what led him to oppose,  unlike Jindal, the implementation of the REAL ID Act.

The two roads that lie before the Republican Party are not the “more conservative vs. more moderate” choice that so many pundits seem obsessed with. For Beltway talking heads, when Republicans win they should become more moderate to stay in power and when they lose they must become more moderate to win elections. They always want “more moderate.” And they’re always wrong.

Obama won the election because he appealed to voters across political, party, generational and racial lines. The only Republican running for president this year who had a similar appeal to such a broad section of voters, and particularly the young voters who energized Obama’s campaign and were invisible in McCain’s, was Texas Congressman Ron Paul. The difference is whereas Obama appealed to so many based mostly on his race and charm, the white, uncharismatic and not-particularly eloquent Paul attracted a diverse base who were in love with his ideas.

As a matter of practical politics, the libertarian, small government conservatism of a Paul or Sanford promises to be a more winning strategy than the authoritarian, big government Republicanism of a Bush or Jindal. Reagan was not off-base when he once said “the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” And the GOP would do well to champion leaders who actually consider the massive costs of more wars, bigger government and less liberty, instead of another round of Republicans whose enthusiasm for more wars, bigger government and less liberty is always worth any cost.

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