Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- August 16, 2004

A Letter to a Republican Friend

Is this the Kind of Country that you Want?

Ernest Partridge

Note: While I have many Republican friends, none are named “Whitney.”  This letter is for all my Republican friends in general, and none in particular.  It is also for all Republicans with whom I am not personally acquainted, who are willing to pause and reflect upon the condition of their party and their country, and then upon their consequent duty as citizens of the United States.

Dear Whitney,

At no time in my memory, or yours, I suspect, has the rivalry between the two major parties been more mean-spirited and poisonous.

And yet, despite our separate party affiliations, we remain close friends as we have for all the decades since high school. Moreover, I see no reason for this to change, nor, I trust, do you..

Surely you know that I have never regarded you as a fascist, just as I know that you have never thought of me as a traitor. Yet these are the kinds of labels that are routinely hurled by one fringe of our respective parties against the other.

Such mutual incivility is more than acutely unpleasant, it strikes at the foundation of our republic. Thus it falls upon cooler heads, such as ours, to reject the insult and abuse, and to restore the calm civic dialog and mutual respect that is the foundation of a just and secure political order.

Sadly, much more is required if we are to restore our republic to its former health and vigor. For our country and its founding political principles are gravely endangered by a radicalism that has taken control of all branches of our government as well as our mass media.

This means that it has, regretfully, taken control of the Republican Party – your party. It is thus imperative that moderates, such as yourself, take back their party.

I suspect that this stark accusation might put you on the defensive. If you feel that the Democrats also pose a threat to our republic, I invite you to present your case and I promise to consider it carefully. But first, please hear me out,

Our respective political differences manifest more than contrasting political philosophies. These differences issue from contrasting professional perspectives, career choices, family backgrounds, social contacts, and even religious commitments. Though different, our perspectives on life and politics may be more complementary and compatible, rather than exclusive.

I chose an academic career. You opted to join your father’s small manufacturing enterprise. So we encountered government differently. The taxpayers furnished my salary, while government imposed environmental and work safety regulations on your company.

I joined the California Teachers Association – a union. You were management, at the other side of the bargaining table.

In my professional life, I had the privilege of teaching foreign students, corresponding with scholars abroad, and frequently traveling overseas to international conferences. You had to deal with the problem of competition with foreign goods.

As a philosopher, my convictions strayed from the religious faith of my childhood. You have remained steadfast in your religious convictions. So, of course, we have different views on the relationship of church and state.

We have adopted different attitudes toward government, labor relations, foreign policy, and so forth. Almost inevitably, you have allied yourself with the Republicans, and I have supported the Democrats – albeit often reluctantly, as “the lesser of the evils.”

Our political differences have been a constant topic of conversation between us over the years, occasionally heated, but never placing our friendship in any great peril. You see, we are both moderates. And while, in our arguments, our attention was understandably focused upon our differences, we took little notice of our common ground of commitment and belief.

You correctly describe yourself as a “Conservative.” I am willing to be called a “liberal,” despite the recent disparagement of that once honorable label. However, because of the abuse of that word, I prefer to call myself a “progressive.” “Conventional wisdom” treats “conservative” and “liberal” as opposing point of view. I prefer to see them as complementary. Thus an authentic conservative and a liberal can hold a great deal in common.

For example:

We both revere our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Accordingly, we believe that “to secure these rights" to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, governments are instituted among men.”

Along with the founders of our republic, we share a suspicion of “big government” and thus endorse the protection of our “inalienable rights” as articulated in the Bill of Rights.

We both believe that our elected leaders have a bond of honor to the citizens which requires that these leaders deal candidly, openly and honestly with the people.

We both prize freedom, though you are more inclined to interpret freedom in economic terms, while my attention is directed to freedom of inquiry and expression.

With Jefferson, we both believe that a free press and the open competition of ideas are the life blood of a democracy.

With Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Monroe, we eschew “foreign entanglements” and disavow any imperial ambitions for our country.

Despite our religious differences, we both endorse the “traditional values” that are taught by all the great world religions: tolerance, mercy, charity, compassion, moderation, peacemaking.

We both reject sudden social change through violence or the radical imposition of alien ideologies.

These are all, let us note, “conservative” values, which we learned together from the outstanding public school teachers that taught us history and civics. These values have stood the test of time, and may serve us well today. Neither of us are at all inclined to abolish these principles.

The differences between “conservatism” and “liberalism” are grounded in perspective and in emphases – again, not necessarily in conflict.

Webster’s dictionary defines “conservatism” as “The practice of preserving what is established; disposition to oppose change in established institutions and methods.”

The liberal looks forward to an improvement of the human condition. The best expression that comes to my mind is that of Edward Kennedy, at the funeral of his brother, Robert F. Kennedy:

"My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it... As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: "Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not."

The liberal, then, is a “meliorist” – one who endorses worthy values and institutions received from the past, and who recognizes suffering and injustice in the present which he strives to ease and rectify for the future.

What deserves most to be preserved from the past, and improved in the future? In the specific answer to these questions reside the divergences of our political opinions. But in the general content of these received principles and future aspirations, we are united. It is that concurrence which has bound our nation together.

Until now.

For now I must urge you to look directly and soberly upon your Party. With the aforementioned principles of conservatism firmly in your mind, ask yourself: Does the Republican Party of today embody your conservative convictions? Do those public figures who so readily describe themselves as “conservative” authentically fit that label? Where your Party is leading our country, do you truly wish to follow?

For consider:

  • Can you, as a defender of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, support the Patriot Act, and the fact that under its provisions, at least three of your fellow citizens, and possibly more, are today incarcerated without charge, without access to counsel, with no prospect of a trial and release – all this in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth articles of the Bill of Rights?

  • Can you support an Administration that assumed power through election fraud, the disfranchisement of thousands of our fellow citizens, the violent disruption of official vote counting, and an arbitrary and incoherent ruling by five partisan judges?

  • In the coming presidential election, 30% of the votes will be cast with “touch-screen” machines that leave no audit trail – meaning that the votes can not be verified? As a Democrat, I am further troubled by the knowledge that the manufacturers of these machines are avowed supporters of George Bush, and that the software is “proprietary,” which means secret. I know you to be a patriot first and a Republican second, so you must be concerned about this possible violation of the sacred right to vote, even though – perhaps especially because – it may benefit your Party.

  • Can you, as an opponent of “foreign entanglements” support a war of aggression, launched under demonstrably false pretenses, and provoking a world-wide hostility toward the United States administration? Are you even more troubled by casual talk by the neo-conservatives of pending invasions of Iran and Syria?

  • As a Christian, do you truly believe that this Administration can justify the loss of a thousand American lives, and at least 10,000 Iraqi civilians – numbers that are fated to increase as this war continues?

  • Can you sanction the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and “detainees” at Guantánamo, in clear violation of international law and treaties as well as Christian morality? Do you really believe that full responsibility for these atrocities falls solely upon the enlisted personnel directly involved?

  • Can you, as a conservative, approve of a federal deficit this year of half a trillion dollars and several trillion dollars over the next several years, causing an unbearable financial burden upon the generations that follow?

  • Don’t you agree that the economic productivity of this country should be shared fairly among its people? If so, can you believe that the American economy can continue much longer upon this course of increasing deficits, the outsourcing of jobs, decreased wages and benefits, loss of consumer confidence and disposable income? How long to you suppose that the American people will put up with this injustice? And as John F. Kennedy said, “those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make violent revolution inevitable.”

  • Conservatives insist upon responsibility and accountability. Can you then allow exceptions by such well-placed individuals such as Ken Lay, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove? Are you not troubled by the disappearance of over two billion dollars of taxpayers’ money into the pockets of corrupt individuals – cash appropriated to the Halliburton Corporation and intended for the reconstruction of Iraq?

  • As a conservative who believes in free markets and free enterprise, are you not concerned about the growth of monopolistic cartels and conglomerates which stifle and absorb competitors (e.g., Microsoft). Are you troubled by the fact that virtually all broadcast media in the United States are owned and controlled by six corporations, and that the corporation- friendly Federal Communications Commission has ruled in favor of still greater media market concentration? Are you aware of the devastation that WalMart has caused to small town “free enterprise” business throughout the country?

  • If conservatives believe in limited government, then can you, as a conservative, accept without protest, government surveillance of your book purchases and your e-mail?  Is it the business of the government to interfere with a woman’s control over her own body?

  • Conservatives uphold the rule of law. Can you then condone the arbitrary violation of laws by the President and members of his administration – including the Presidential Records Act, the Freedom of Information Act, the law forbidding the “outing” of covert CIA agents and organizations?  (See "When the Law Goes Flat").

If these trends and conditions trouble you, then you are in agreement with this liberal, for we both find in this list a violation of our shared political and economic convictions.

For this reason, I refuse to describe the ideology and policies of the controlling faction of your party as “conservative.” Far better to describe it as “right-wing,” “radical right” or “regressive.”

Consider next, the corruption of our politics. The right wing has repudiated our tradition of civic friendship, as self-identified “liberals,” such as myself, are accused of “treason” by Ann Coulter. Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Viet Nam, is labeled as “unpatriotic.” John McCain’s years as a POW are turned against him and his family is slandered. John Kerry’s medals, duly awarded by the Navy, are proclaimed as fraudulent. Liberal policies are condemned, not merely as erroneous or misguided, but as “evil.”  Politics today has become “warfare by other means,” wherein it is not enough to defeat one’s opponents in a fair election; the opponent must be destroyed. Witness the attacks on the Clintons, and on John McCain in the South Carolina primary of 2000. And now once again, against John Kerry and John Edwards in the current campaign.

Thus our once-united national community is being split into warring factions as we forget our common loyalties and lose the capacity to act in common purpose.

There may be among your fellow Republicans, individuals who would respond, “spare me all this ideological Choctaw. My politics is guided by my self-interest, and it is clear to me that Republican policies are best for my investments, my business, and my personal prosperity.” Surely such a consideration is at least an ingredient of the Republican case.

However, on close examination, even the appeal to self-interest fails the radical right. Be honest, now: would you trade your investment portfolio today with the one you had when Bill Clinton left office? Don’t you feel at least a little anxious about the direction of the Bush economy – with ever increasing unemployment, ever-decreasing consumer confidence and disposable income, interest in the national debt soon to become the largest item in the federal budget, and half of that national debt owed to foreign creditors? In point of fact, throughout the twentieth century, the stock market has performed better under Democratic presidents and congresses. .  History confirms Harry Truman’s observation, “to live like a Republican, vote like a Democrat”.

It is not difficult to understand why the self-interest even of the wealthy is best served under Democratic administrations. Democrats along with moderate Republicans believe that a flourishing economy is the result of cooperative teamwork functioning according to fair and explicit rules and regulations – teamwork among investors, entrepreneurs, educators, researchers, workers, and yes, government. The right wing, on the other hand, takes a short-sighted and self-defeating view of “self-interest,” whereby society is a jungle, a frontier, where the ruthless and self-serving individuals are best fit to survive. Thus the liberal is more inclined to think of morality in social terms, as justice, fairness, compassion, tolerance, equal opportunity. The radical right defines morality more as an inventory of individual virtues: chastity and fidelity, sobriety, piety. (See my On Civic Friendship  and Consumer or Citizen?) 

In sum, a gang of radical dogmatists have captured the Republican party. Consequently,

  • This is no longer the party of Abraham Lincoln who urged “malice toward none and charity for all.”

  • This is no longer the party of Theodore Roosevelt, who waged political war against the “malefactors of great wealth."

  • This is no longer the party of Dwight D. Eisenhower who warned us of the “military-industrial complex” and who lamented that "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. “

Face it, my friend: your party has deserted you and your fellow moderates. All worthy content has been drained from this party, and all that remains is the empty shell with the name, “Republican,” and the false attribution of the word “conservative.”

If you are to take back your party, you must paradoxically leave it for a brief season. Clearly, the moderates can not now wrest control of the party from the radicals – certainly, not before the November election which, if Bush wins a second term, will solidify the radical right control of our government for another generation.

If moderate republicanism is to revive, the radicals must be repudiated and thrown out of power in this election. To accomplish this, you and your fellow moderates must form an alliance with the moderate Democrats – with whom, I submit, you share a significant inventory of political ideals and policies. You differ with these Democrats primarily in name – and “what’s in a name?”

When I reflect upon the political landscape today, and upon the dilemma faced by moderate Republicans such as yourself, I am reminded of the closing scene in the magnificent war drama, “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness), the commander of the British prisoners of war, becomes so personally invested in the project of building the bridge, that he forgets that he is assisting the enemy. Seeing the explosive charges set by the Allied saboteurs to destroy the bridge, he rushes down to the river to save the bridge and, upon encountering the British and American commandos, is suddenly shocked into a recognition of his authentic loyalties and duties. “My God,” he says, “what have I done?”

So, in closing, I must ask you: Wherein is your ultimate loyalty? To your party or to your country? If you reflect soberly on what has become of your party, on the full import of the crisis facing our country, and upon you duty as a conservative and as a patriot, I am confident that you will arrive at wise and just conclusion.

Your friend and compatriot,


Copyright 2004 by Ernest Partridge

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .