The president hurls gratuitous insults at his opponents so often they tend to go over the heads of many voters and even the Republicans at which they are aimed. His recent barb that “the thing that binds their party together at this point” is protecting the rich from tax hikes is as obnoxious as it is wrong. Aside from the fact that Republicans just agreed to raise taxes on the rich, the comment, as President Obama’s remarks often do, assumes the other side is acting out of bad faith or contrary to the country’s interests. (Is wrecking our country with excessive debt all that binds Democrats together?)
But it did get me thinking about what binds Republicans (and, to a large extent, libertarians) together. In any group of generally like-minded people, let alone a national political party, there are differences in emphasis and degree, but Republicans have always been the idea party while the Democrats were the coalition party. So what holds Republicans together these days?
1. An originalist theory of constitutional interpretation that seeks to determine the intended meaning of the text and does not grant judges free rein to think up new rights and powers.
2. Faith in the private sector to afford opportunity, reduce poverty and create jobs.
3. A conviction that our debt crisis is real and must be addressed.
4. Support for Israel. Whether addressing Iran, the flotilla, Chuck Hagel or the Gaza war, Republicans are united in defending Israel and its legitimacy, including the right to make legal and political decisions within its own democratic system. (Democrats, as polls show, are rapidly lessening in their support of Israel.)
5. The conviction that civil institutions including the family, voluntary associations, churches and synagogues are the lifeblood of a society and should be protected from government meddling and pressure.
6. Opposition to abortion on demand. (Granted, that casts a wide net, but a majority of Republicans are at least willing to draw the line at late-term or partial-birth abortion, for example.)
7. A belief in limited government. I do not say “small” government, because we passed that point decades ago. We know Republicans, even Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), generally are not looking to repeal Medicare or other entitlements. That, in turn, means a suspicion of centralized power, a desire for less regulation and a defense of constitutional rights despite the left’s indifference to the same (e.g. Second Amendment protection, opposition to anti-First Amendment campaign finance reform).
8. A belief that national security is the first obligation of the federal government. While the amount of funding or the use of force may be hotly debated, there are few Republicans who would claim, for example, that income equality or middle-class entitlements are the most critical federal functions.
9. Rejection of the view that the U.S. has been a problem-making or corrupting influence in the world. Republicans may tussle over the amount of engagement, but a huge majority would agree with the sentiment that the U.S. is a force for good in the world.
10. The understanding that civil rights are individual rights and do not guarantee equality of results.
I’m sure you could come up with others or that there are some Republicans who don’t agree with all of these. But if the president made any effort to understand his opponents or appreciate their world view, he might not seem so incapable of forging deals or so dismissive of the nearly half of the country that voted against him.