What It Means to Be a Republican
This topic has been on the lips of many, especially since our losses in 2013. Here’s my take on the question of what it means to be a Republican today.
As a Republican in Virginia, I have always steered my ship to the star that is the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) Creed. There are a handful of similar documents in other states, but one of the best things about our creed is how deceivingly simple it is. It’s a short, 93 words that sums up what our party believes at its core. And just as important as what is in the creed is what isn’t.
Let’s look at each paragraph in turn:
These are two very powerful words. They are more powerful than “we feel” or “we think” and even more powerful, in my opinion, than “we know.” By believing in the following ideals, we aren’t merely saying they’re right or these are some pretty good ideas, rather we are establishing our faith in them.
That the free enterprise system is the most productive supplier of human needs and economic justice,
Free enterprise – another synonym for capitalism – has long been a part of Republican philosophy. From our earliest days, the GOP has been the party of business and the party that views the private sector as the best delivery vehicle for justice and equality. As Reagan said, a job is the best welfare program. The free enterprise system is key, because the focus of free enterprise is entrepreneurship and the ability to take an idea and turn it into wealth.
What doesn’t it say here? It doesn’t choose which school of capitalism. It doesn’t highlight Keynes or von Mises, Smith or Friedman. It says nothing about labor unions, which I have always held are a key part of the free enterprise system – a way to ensure that business is fairly and efficiently regulated without requiring high-handed government interference in the workplace and the market. Labor is the natural yin to capital’s yang, and a strong labor movement means less need for big government regulation.
As long as you are a capitalist – whatever kind of capitalist you are – you’ve got a place in the Republican Party.
That all individuals are entitled to equal rights, justice, and opportunities and should assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society,
The Party of Lincoln has long been the party of civil rights in America. We lost that crown in the late 1960s, when we embraced fleeing southern racists who could no longer stomach the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. We should get it back. We have always believed that all people are created equal, and they should be given the same rights, justice and opportunities as everyone else.
Notice how this is phrased. “All individuals.” Not “all natural-born U.S. citizens.” Not “all straight Virginians.” Not “all law-abiding citizens.” Not “all English speakers.” It says “all individuals.” All are entitled to equal rights, justice and opportunity.
It also says people “should assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society.” Not “citizens of the United States” or “citizens of Virginia.” The Creed isn’t specific for a reason. Even if you can’t vote – an illegal immigrant, a convicted felon, or you’re under 18 – you still have responsibilities as a citizen of a free society.
That fiscal responsibility and budgetary restraints must be exercised at all levels of government,
The Republican Party has long prided itself on its ability to effectively manage government at every level. Being fiscally responsible doesn’t mean no or even low taxes, and budgetary restraints doesn’t mean a small budget, or small government. What it means is simple: we need to run government effectively and do it without breaking the bank.
This paragraph doesn’t say “no taxes” or “no tax increases.” It doesn’t even say “low taxes,” but the argument that high taxes are compatible with fiscal responsibility is a weak one. The Creed was written to recognize that even Republicans are going to sometimes need to raise taxes – not doing so would not be fiscally responsible. It’s this focus on fiscal responsibility and budgetary restraint that is fundamental to Republicanism, not pledges against taxes or calls for irrational cuts to budgets that could cause more harm than good.
That the Federal Government must preserve individual liberty by observing Constitutional limitations,
The Founders devoted a significant amount of energy to ensuring that power in the Federal government would be diffuse and balanced among several branches, the states and the people. That was, in their wisdom, the best way to ensure that individual liberty was preserved. Since its original ratification, however, the Constitution has been amended many times, and our understanding of its provisions has changed. Federalism does not mean what it did in the 1790s. The Civil War and the 14th Amendment changed all that.
What didn’t change, however, was the concept of ordered liberty upon which the Constitution was based. The Constitution remains our founding document, and the intent and spirit in which it was enacted remains a powerful presence in our lives to this day. While the definition of federalism has changed, so too has our definition of liberty. Despite what you may have been led to believe, Americans today are more free than at any time in our nation’s history. Access to knowledge, upward economic mobility, protected civil rights – all are more accessible today than ever before for a wider part of the population. The Republican Party has played a role in ensuring that has been the case and we should never forget it.
The Creed also does not force upon Republicans a set way to interpret the Constitution by not defining what “Constitutional limitations” actually means. Every interpretation, from broad to narrow, is accepted.
That peace is best preserved through a strong national defense,
Abraham Lincoln, the first GOP President, made it clear he desired peace between North and South, but he was willing to take up arms in defense of the country and the Constitution when it was threatened by internal foes. Future Republican presidents would do the same for external ones. While we pray for peace, we know that a strong America is the only real deterrent left in the world. Our strength resides in our defense and we support not just the troops, but their missions as well.
Those who would call for America to pull back to our borders, to drastically cut defense spending and to reduce the size of our Armed Forces have learned nothing from history. Time after time, from the Revolution to World War II, the United States has taken the easy peace dividend, cut our military and been unprepared for the next conflict. And there is always a next conflict. Our party, and Virginia especially, must be vigilant against those who, in a misguided desire to prioritize other goals, would weaken America and reduce our ability to defend ourselves.
That faith in God, as recognized by our Founding Fathers is essential to the moral fiber of the Nation.”
No one better than a Virginian knows the value of religious freedom. Virginia’s statute on religious freedom was one of the first of its kind anywhere in the world. We have led the way in ensuring that every American – every individual – may worship, or refrain from worship, as they choose. But Republicans have long held that faith in our creator is a tie that binds one generation to another, and is ultimately a force for good. It is what informs our morals, guides our virtue and gives people something to strive for, despite knowing we will all sometimes fail.
But notice that the Creed isn’t specific. It says “faith in God,” not “faith in Allah” or “faith in Yahweh,” or “faith in Christ.” It allows each Republican to come to God in his own way, not foreclosing party membership for anyone. For me, Jesus Christ guides me, but that isn’t the same for everyone, and each man must wrestle with questions of morality and faith on his own. Still, our creed acknowledges what the Founders believed and what many, many people still believe to this day.
That’s the Republican Creed. Everything one needs to understand the Republican Party can be found in it. But the Creed is as important for what it doesn’t say, as it is for what it does. It doesn’t say you have to hate Democrats or fear the government. It doesn’t mention abortion. Or the second amendment. The death penalty, voting rights, entitlements, ethics reform, education, privacy, taxes, immigration – all of the push button issues of our day go unmentioned in the Creed. You also don’t see words like “conservative,” “right” or any other references to ideology.
For the same reason that our Constitution isn’t an inexhaustible list of the things the federal government can do to effectuate its enumerated powers, and the Bill of Rights isn’t an exhaustive list of all our rights against the government. The Creed, like the Constitution, recognizes that one generation’s biggest issue may be completely settled just a few decades later. The Constitution, like the Creed, leaves filling in the gaps to the people – after all, it is “we the people” who have given government its power. It is we who choose to call ourselves Republicans to decide what it is we want to be and what policies we wish to adopt. That’s what personal responsibility is all about.
This our creed, and this is what it means to be a Republican.
I remain proud to call myself one. I hope more will join me in doing so once they learn that many of the things they’ve heard or believe about our party are wrong.