Roughly twenty years ago a noticeable shift in the priorities of the Republican party began. Instead of keeping to their previous adage of 'lower taxes, less government' the Republican party has swung to promoting higher taxes, bigger government and more government intrustion into our personal lives. This pattern is clearly evidenced in the first term of George W. Bush and seems to be continuing in his second term. Further, there appears to be a national push by those indicating they are Republicans to abandon the core values (that word will come up later in this column) of what the Republican party initially stood for: the equal opportunity for all individuals.
According to the GOPs own website the Republican party lead the charge for womens suffrage, abolishing slavery and freedom of speech as well as the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution which guaranteed equal protection under the laws. However various members of the Republican have stated: single, pregnant women should not be allowed to teach in schools because they do not represent our values (Senator-elect James DeMint, South Carolina), people who are gay should not be allowed to teach in schools (Senator-elect James DeMint, South Carolina), that doctors who perform abortions should be executed (Senator-elect Tom Coburn, Oklahoma; it should be noted that Coburn used to perform abortions), there should be a literacy test and poll tax for people to vote (Ann Coulter, columnist).
On the government side actions taken to increase the size of government and its intrustion into ones daily life include: creation of the Department of Homeland Security, allow police to search ones home and look for evidence before notifying the individual of the search (USA PATRIOT Act, Fourth Amendment issue), allowing police to tap your phone and computer without probable cause (USA PATRIOT Act, Fourth Amendment issue), a Director of National Intelligence (would oversee the activities of all intelligence agencies, not yet implemented), Faith-based and Community Initiatives (added a new layer of bureaucracy to seven Federal agencies), and an Amendment to the Constitution which would ban non-heterosexual marriages.
These issues aren't just at the national level. They have trickled down to the local level as well. In my case the Republicans have a majority of the County Commissioners spots (two out of three) yet recently have proposed a 39% increase in property taxes in the form of 19.5% increases in the first two years of their four year term. At the state level the Republicans have been pushing for higher taxes on various goods. Further, during a time when the Republicans had control of the Governors spot and the two houses of the Legislature, taxes were increased while at the same time tax dollars were given to private companies to build new sports stadiums. This last act alone goes against the precept of the Republican principal of competition in a free market.1
Another issue that the Republican party has taken up is the merging of church and state. This is evidenced in the Faith-based and Community Intitiaves program as instituted during the first term of George Bush and the continuing howl from the religious right to force their view of what religion the United States should follow and dictate as the only true religion. This is quite astonishing since Republicans will sometimes claim that Thomas Jefferson is the founder of their party, a man who specifically said that the First Amendment to the Constitution built a wall of separation between church and state.2
These changes are most prevelant in the last few years but most particularly in the 2004 election when morals (there's that word I promised you) were thrown about as what to look for in an elected official. What's truly fascinating about this concept is that while the Republicans routinely hoist Bill Clinton and his shenanigans as evidence of the lack of morals in the Democratic party, they will completely ignore people like Rudy Giuliani, who while Mayor of New York City and and while married, was openly running around with his mistress. Or someone like Newt Gingrich who pressed his first wife to sign divorce papers while she was still in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery and who had a six-year long extramarital affair with a congressional aide, Calista Bisek, during his second marriage.
Other issues that have me wondering are the ideas that deficit spending and a growing national debt are good things. Certainly there are times when government will have to spend beyond its means and be forced to borrow money (bonds, notes, etc). However, whenever Republicans are in power, even when they have a majority in the House and Senate, deficit spending balloons beyond all norms and the deficit grows at astronomical rates. To further compound these issues Republican administrations insist on reducing the revenue stream through tax cuts at the very time they are increasing their spending. Again, this goes against the very Republican core ideas of fiscal responsibility and less government.
To be perfectly blunt I'm not sure how the Republican party can keep going if it abandons everything it once stood for. At the current rate the party will be populated by the far-right, almost fascist, portion of the population in less than twenty years. Those who will do anything to quell dissent and force others to conform to their vision of how things should be.
The more moderate members of the Republican party are already being lost though some, like John McCain, are doggedly trying to change things from the inside. Their efforts, however, are being watered down or completely negated by the more rabid anti-freedom segment of the party.
It will be interesting to see the evolution of the Republican party in the next two decades. I have a very distinct feeling that looking back on how things ended up the leaders of the Republican party will also wonder where they went wrong.