Many, many years ago, I joined a Republican Party that no longer exists. I was attracted to it–despite its longtime extreme-right “fringe”–because its rhetoric and philosophy was mainly that of classical liberalism: limited government, the rule of law, and the social contract.
Limited government, by the way, is not the same thing as small government–classical, 18th Century liberalism stood for limiting the ability of government to intrude into areas of citizens’ lives where government doesn’t belong. Determining where to draw that line has always been subject to debate, of course, and the GOP of my time was, admittedly, too often willing to pass intrusive laws against “sin,” and resistant to necessary business regulations.
Back then, however, most Republicans took pride in the party’s history: the party of Lincoln had been the anti-slavery party while the Democrats had ruled the South and defended the ownership of some humans by others.
Over the years, America’s two major parties have essentially traded places, and I am only one of the many Republicans who realized that the party had morphed into something that had very little in common with the one we’d originally joined.
I thought about just how complete that switch has become when I read a recent column comparing Jared Polis, the Governor of Colorado, with Ron DeSantis of Florida, by Jennifer Rubin.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a 2024 presidential aspirant, has told cruises how to run their businesses. And he has threatened to raise taxes on Disney in retaliation for speaking out against the hateful “don’t say gay” bill. These are things you might expect from a petty authoritarian such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban or defeated former president Donald Trump, who threatened companies that didn’t kowtow to his administration.
Now, DeSantis wants to go after the board of directors of Twitter. “We’re gonna be looking at ways the state of Florida potentially can be holding these Twitter board of directors accountable for breaching their fiduciary duty,” he bellowed on Tuesday.
In response to DeSantis’ assaults on businesses in his state, Colorado’s Jared Polis tweeted
Florida’s authoritarian socialist attacks on the private sector are driving businesses away. In CO, we don’t meddle in affairs of companies like @Disney or @Twitter. Hey @Disney we’re ready for Mountain Disneyland and @twitter we’re ready for Twitter HQ2, whoever your owners are.
The GOP pooh-bahs who constantly talk about “freedom” clearly don’t understand what freedom is. (Hint: it isn’t “freedom” to refuse a vaccination so that you can infect your neighbors, or “freedom” to pick on people of whom your church disapproves.)
Rubin defines it properly.
Polis also understands how powerful “freedom” can be — freedom to run your company, freedom to raise your child (and seek legitimate medical care for them), freedom to choose not to give birth to a child, freedom for teachers to teach about civil rights without being sued, freedom to cast a ballot in the most convenient way for each voter, freedom to learn math. It’s remarkable how much control the GOP wants to exercise over every aspect of Americans’ lives and the economy.
Indeed, in abandoning classic liberalism (limited government, the rule of law, etc.) in favor of an authoritarian, theocratic model, Republicans have defied an essential feature of democracy. This is what scholar Yascha Mounk describes in the Atlantic as “the recognition that there is a sphere of life in which everybody should be able to do what they like without having to worry about anyone else’s opinion.” Having decided that America’s identity is White, Christian and straight, the MAGA right now spends an extraordinary amount of time and effort stretching the power of government to boss around everyone else.
Classical liberalism limited the role of government to actions necessary to protect citizens from others’ wrongdoing. Government could–and should–prevent businesses from dumping toxic waste in the river or cheating customers; government should prevent the selfish or heedless from harming others.
Barry Goldwater famously said that government didn’t belong in your boardroom or your bedroom (he won an award from PFLAG, the LGBTQ rights organization.) Today’s Republicans are intent upon invading both.
Looking back, I think it’s fair to say that the GOP of my day believed in over-restraining government. (When Nixon established the EPA, it was seen in some quarters as a betrayal of Republicanism.) Today’s version, however, has totally abandoned any respect for freedom, civic equality and the rule of law.
DeSantis, Abbott and their ilk define “freedom” as the right of businesses to support their hateful policies and the right of citizens to obey their dictates.