How to Be a Republican

I grew up in New England in the 1960s and 70s.  My whole family was Republican.  We supported John Chafee, Edmund Brooke, Eliot Richardson, and Nelson Rockefeller.  Social liberals and fiscal conservatives.  These types of Republicans are long gone.  Nixon, then Reagan, and recently Trump discovered that courting southern whites could win elections.  Social liberalism was gone and fiscal conservatism only applied after the elite garnered the spoils.

I personally liked the debates between the conservatives and the liberals.  William F. Buckley and George Will on one side and Daniel Moynihan and John Kenneth Galbraith on the other.  I watched such debates with my grandmother as a ten-year old and was captivated.  The basic idea was to present a line of reasoning and then defend it.  It was great fun for both sides of the argument.  In the process, I learned much about politics and government.

Given that everything I admired in the Republican Party has been expunged from the party, my only choice is to be an Independent.  I could, of course, affiliate with the Democratic Party, but I am not in favor of the US evolving into a single party state.  We need contrasting points of view that are well argued with compelling evidence.  Conservative and liberal views need to be discussed and debated.  The public needs to understand the pros and cons of these contrasting views.

How might that happen?  I was immersed in it via Firing Line, McLaughlin Report, and other politics-oriented shows that brought together conflicting points of view for argument, discussion, and debate.  CNN and Fox, in contrast, separate the conflicts to different cable channels.  Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp take this segregation of perspectives to an extreme.  You only are exposed to opinions with which you already agree.

In an earlier post, I argued that we need to return to pubs, get off the couch, and roost on barstools next to whoever might be there to hear and engage with conflicting opinions.  A great example of evidence-based discussion and debate concerns sports.  When arguing about the GOAT (greatest of all time) in any sport, anyone can now immediately access data to support their arguments on their iPhone or equivalent.  It can be rather compelling.

Interestingly, I have found that people never assert “alternative facts” about sports.  Statistics for batting averages, touchdowns thrown, and three-point baskets are accepted as correct.  Statistics on the weather are similarly accepted.  Economic data fares pretty well too.  Public health data was once well accepted, but has become politicized of late. Political polling data are, rightfully, less credible.

Discussions based on data mutually judged to be valid can still lead to disagreements, not about what we know, but about what to do.  The conservative and liberal pundits noted above were great at this.  Moynihan captured the essence of this in a memo to Nixon, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”  Most people I chat with in local pubs would agree with this assertion.

Another place where free and informed discussion reigned were town meetings that I experienced growing up in a small New England town.  The annual town meeting provided everyone an opportunity to discuss and vote on the annual town budget.  Data and plans were presented and participants requested chances to speak.  The debate could be heated, but a vote eventually happened and the budget was set.  I am not at all sure that this still happens.

However, technology could enable town meetings for larger populations.  Data and plans would be presented, people would electronically ask questions, and a moderator would sort, categorize, and pose questions to speakers.  In some cases, the author of a question would be given the floor (or screen) to elaborate their questions or comment on the responses of the speakers.  Electronic meetings could be held for neighborhoods, wards, and cities as a whole.  Everyone would much better understand each other’s perspectives.

Choosing a party affiliation could be based on the philosophies and policies advocated by the different parties.  Tribalism would hopefully fade as more people came to understand the facts and the policy alternatives.  People would also gain understanding and the means to influence policies.  There would be increased engagement and talking at pubs, social groups, and online meetings.  The result would be an ongoing creative balance between conservative and liberal perspectives and priorities.

If this worked as I have outlined, I would quite likely split my votes among candidates from both parties because I would know what each candidate stands for and, from the online meetings and my iPhone data device, have a sense of whether I should believe them.  If this worked really well, I might even rediscover how to be a Republican.

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