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Ten 'principles' could keep thinkers away from the GOP

Purity test sponsor James Bopp Jr. outside the Supreme Court in 2006.
Purity test sponsor James Bopp Jr. outside the Supreme Court in 2006. (J. Scott Applewhite/associated Press)
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By Kathleen Parker
Sunday, November 29, 2009

Some people can't stand prosperity, my father used to say. Today, he might be talking about Republicans, who, in the midst of declining support for President Obama's hope-and-change agenda, are considering a "purity" pledge to weed out undesirables from their ever-shrinking party.

Just when independents and moderates were considering revisiting the GOP tent.

Just when a near-perfect storm of unpopular Democratic ideas -- from massive health-care reform to terrorist show trials, not to mention global-warming hype -- is coagulating over 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Just when the GOP was gaining traction after gubernatorial victories in Virginia and New Jersey . . . Republicans perform a rain dance at their own garden party.

Things were just going too well.

Thus, some conservative members of the party have come up with a list of principles they want future candidates to agree to or forfeit backing by the Republican National Committee.

The so-called purity test is a 10-point checklist -- a suicide pact, really -- of alleged Republican positions. Anyone hoping to play on Team GOP would have to sign off on eight of the 10 -- through their voting records, public statements or a questionnaire. The test will be put up for consideration before the Republican National Committee when it meets early next year in Hawaii.

The list apparently evolved in response to the Republican loss in the recent congressional race in Upstate New York, when liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava withdrew from the race under pressure from conservatives and endorsed Democrat Bill Owens, who won. Republicans had held that seat for more than a century.

James Bopp Jr., chief sponsor of the resolution and a committee member from Indiana, has said that "the problem is that many conservatives have lost trust in the conservative credentials of the Republican Party."

Actually, no, the problem is that many conservatives have lost faith in the ability of Republican leaders to think. The resolutions aren't so much statements of principle as dogmatic responses to complex issues that may, occasionally, require more than a Sharpie check in a little square.

It's too bad that "elite" and "nuance" have become bad words in the Republican lexicon. Elites are viewed in Republican circles as "those people" who are out of touch with "real Americans." And "nuance," the definition of which suggests a sophisticated approach to understanding (as opposed to "Because I said so, case closed") has come to be viewed as a Frenchified word Republicans successfully hung on presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004. His flip-floppery on issues became associated with nuance, a.k.a. lack of decisiveness. Ergo, a lack of leadership skills.

It was superb message manipulation, if you go for that sort of thing. But it was also pandering to America's inner simpleton. Not to defend Kerry, specifically, but heaven forbid anyone should ever consider shades of meaning or new developments and change his mind. As Kerry said during a 2008 Associated Press interview, "Decisiveness wrongly applied can create a lot of pain." This nation was, after all, for slavery before it was against it.


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