The Emperor Claudius supposedly annoyed his courtiers by frequently suggesting Rome restore the republic. In The Next Conservatism, the book I presented to Donald Trump, Paul Weyrich and I issued the same call. People may still say the United States is a republic, but in fact it has become an oligarchy controlled by monied interests and the politicians they openly and legally buy. Many office-holders come to Washington poor, but few of them leave that way. Paul and I quoted Governor Jerry Brown of California, not normally one of our favorite people, who said, “Unless you have recently given a politician a check for at least $1000, you don’t count.” Paul, who knew Capitol Hill as well as anybody, added, “Yes, they sell their votes,” for the legalized bribes called “campaign contributions”.
If the American government is to recover its legitimacy, we need to reform the system. That includes taking the money out of politics. Not only must we ban campaign contributions, we must also block the many other ways Members of Congress and senior administration officials line their pockets, including having family members work for a lobbying firm you must use to reach the Member and going to work once they leave government for the interests they served when in office.
How to fund campaigns without permitting bribes to politicans is a conundrum. Paul opposed public financing of campaigns, I support it. But if it is to create a level playing field, the challenger must receive several times as much funding as the incumbent to even the advantages of incumbency. What sitting Congress will ever vote for that?
Tough as that will be to acheive, it alone would not be enough to restore the republic. The Next Conservatism suggests additional reforms, including term limits and limits on the length of Congressional sessions. As used to be the case, the real lives of Senators and Congressmen should be back home in their states and districts, not in Washington.
One of our favorite reforms would be putting “None of the above” on every public ballot, with a rule that if it wins they have to call a new election with new candidates. Nothing would do more to raise the quality of candidates the parties put forward. Interestingly, Russian voters have this option and have used it, sending all the candidates packing.
Conservatives have often been leery of ballot initiatives and referenda, but The Next Conservatism calls for making them legal in all states and at the federal level as well. Swiss voters regularly overrule their government through referenda, and they kept the Swiss federal government small and respectful of the people’s liberties.
Perhaps the most important reform is ending the abuse of federal government power to shove political correctness, which is really cultural Marxism, down the throats of the American people. America was never supposed to be an ideological state, a country where the government forced a certain set of beliefs on the public. Now, we see it suing states and withholding education funds to demand, in the name of “equality” that men be allowed to use women’s bathrooms and locker rooms! Our ancestors would have met such demands with torches and pitchforks.
Were I writing a new edition of our book, I would go beyond demanding an end to state ideology (any ideology). Both conservatives and liberal need to recognize that our country is culturally divided. Millions of Americans now accept the counter-culture of the 1960s as the valid, mainstream culture. Millions of other Americans reject that culture and adhere to our old Christian, Western morals and culture.
This division has the potential to destroy our country, the United States of America, to fragment it the way we see other countries fragmenting in other parts of the world. No conservative wants to see that happen. Without the state, life is, as Hobbes warned us, nasty, brutish, and short. We do not want America to go the way of Syria or Iraq.
Fortunately, our Constitution offers us an easy answer to this problem; federalism. Our Founding Fathers never imagined that life in Massachusetts and life in South Carolina would be the same, much less that the federal government would try to make them the same. They would rightly have considered that tyranny.
Perhaps the most important reform to restore the republic is then this: allow some states to reflect the post-1960s culture and others to retain our traditional culture. Stop trying to make life everywhere the same. If we allow cultural variety once again on a state-by-state basis, which we once had, people can move to a place where they feel comfortable, where their values are affirmed instead of persecuted. This would allow us to live together in one country regardless of how much we differ in our beliefs and our behavior.
Reforming the corrupt, ideological oligarchy in Washington and restoring the republic are fundamental to the next conservative agenda. They must be, if that agenda is to be more than eyewash. Should it succeed, Americans might once again be able to say the Pledge of Allegiance without the uncomfortable feeling that much of it is no longer true.