Republican elephant and the silhouetter of a man with a question mark over his head

Am I a RINO?

As I’ve watched Republicans over the last few years, I have developed an uneasy feeling that I am becoming a RINO, a term which, to the political novice, means “Republican In Name Only.” That may shock my conservative friends, but you may be a RINO, too.

To appreciate what I mean, let me provide a little context.

The Function of Law

I see law as having primarily a “negative” function. In other words, for me, law should function more like the Ten Commandments, which are “negative” in that they “negate” or restrain certain actions—the “thou shall nots.” The law identifies an evil—for example, various forms of stealing, dishonest dealing, killing, and destruction of private property—and seeks to prevent it. When law’s function is primarily negative, its function is rather modest.

The opposite view is to see law’s function as “positive.” Those who believe law has a positive function think the law’s function is to affirmatively improve the lives of people. Law’s function is to make your life better.

The Implications

I readily admit the positive view of law is more appealing than the negative view, particularly in our culture. Today, no one likes to be told no; “thou shalt not” is not popular. And passing laws to make folks lives better just sounds good and altruistic.

But when civil government thinks its job is to use the law to make a citizen’s life better, the government is now in the position of defining for you what makes your life better instead of you. And when making my life better is the government’s function, then government can come up with all kinds of things it thinks it can do for me to make my life better. Government gets bigger and bigger doing all its good things.

What That Means for Republicans

Republicans are people, too (though liberals might assail that assertion), and they don’t like being labeled “the Party of ‘No’.” So as I’ve watched members of Congress and the state Legislature over the last few years, I have found an increasing number of Republicans wanting to “do things” for people to improve their lives.

I also have this uneasy feeling that an increasing number of Republicans believe a strong economy is the government’s responsibility, that its function is to affirmatively “do things”—make “investments” with other people’s money—to make sure our economy is strong.

On top of that, many Republicans increasingly want to solve people’s problems and save them from the consequences of their wrong decisions. If they don’t, then they are hard-hearted, mean-spirited, uncaring, and uncompassionate. Of course, it takes lots of government programs paid for by other people’s money to protect the foolish from themselves. And, of course, the foolish tend to continue being foolish, which creates a demand for more government programs.

One way I plan to test my theory is to watch over the next several months as Republicans announce their gubernatorial aspirations. I want to see if some or all of them say something about wanting to help people, improve the lives of people, make things better for people, etc. I want to see if, by their statements, they effectively volunteer to shoulder responsibility for the state’s economy.

Are ‘Old’ Republicans the New RINOs?

It used to be that Republicans said things like President Reagan said, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” and “the most terrifying words in the English language are I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” and “where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves,” and “all great change in America begins at the dinner table.”

But those kinds of Republicans are fast disappearing, being replaced by the new breed of Republicans, who increasingly are just like Democrats—they think government is the solution; they would just go about it a bit differently from the Democrats. Like the Democrats, they now see the law’s function as positive.

So, if that is now what being a Republican means, I guess that makes the old RINOs the new real Republicans and makes me the new breed of RINO. My, how times have changed!

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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silhouette of a group of protesters, illustration of Trump

Will the Trump Revolution Bring Real Change?

Several news headlines over the past week said the populist revolution against the Democratic and Republican establishment that swept Donald Trump into the Oval Office was spreading among European countries. The vote in Italy this week was demonstrative. But will this revolution lead to real change or simply a counter-revolution?

Last week, I noted the swings between Democrat and Republican control of Congress and between liberal and moderate Presidents (Clinton to Bush to Obama) and further noted that the swings away from more liberal control had not arrested the downward trajectory in our social mores and fiscal irresponsibility:

If we don’t figure out why this phenomenon exists, then I predict that in another four to six years we will see another swing with Congress changing hands and another Obama-Clinton type, or perhaps worse, a Bernie Sanders, going into the Oval Office when we find ourselves disillusioned with Mr. Trump and the change we were looking for from him didn’t come.

Why have none of the political changes in the more conservative direction brought about any real change?

I recently found an intriguing answer to that question in a book written in 1860 by Dutch politician and historian Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer, Christian Political Action in an Age of Revolution. Prinsterer analyzed the political swings in France from the tyranny of absolute monarchy and the rule of one, Louis XVI, to the populist majority, back to the absolute rule of an individual, Napoleon. His purpose was to discover what worldview might lie behind the political turbulence and determine whether that worldview was infecting his own country.

His conclusion was that these swings were the product of a “revolutionary condition” that could only produce “perpetual revolution”:

The revolutions of 1789, 1793, and 1830 were only different phases of a single phenomenon, different acts of the same drama, ‘governmental revolutions with the Revolution.’ Though we shuddered at the memory of the Terror and the Jacobin propaganda, and later at the violence and conquests of the Empire, we believed—on the basis of wise concessions of a moderate liberalism—that we could prevent the return of these terrible calamities. We took for excess what were in fact direct consequences.

To corroborate his assessment that revolution would prove to be perpetual, he noted that even Napoleon had said, “I am the bookmark that marks the page where the Revolution was halted; but when I am gone, it will turn over the page and resume its march.”

Will the same be said of Trump’s tenure? Will his presidency prove to be merely a “bookmark” that only halts, for a time, our national journey toward social and fiscal bankruptcy? After all, in retrospect, the Republican Revolution in 1994 and the Bush presidency that followed were, at best, only “bookmarks” in our slide.

The answer to this question would seem to be “yes” if the “revolutionary condition” that led to the swings in France pertains here. And what was that condition according to van Prinsterer?

The condition was an underlying principle, and here’s how he described it:

The Revolution’s principle is the idolatrous worship of humanity; man recognizes no one but himself as sovereign, nothing but his reason as light, nothing but his will as the rule; he worships man and dethrones God.

This, too, is the prevailing principle in America. And until that principle changes, perhaps we should not expect any real change in America or in Europe. Partisan powers that at root embrace the same principle cannot really arrest the direction in which we’re headed; our momentum cannot therefore be forward, but only back and forth. As van Prinsterer said, “the only antidote for systematic unbelief is faith,” faith in the “God of nature, history, and the Gospel.”

If van Prinsterer is correct, and I believe he is, then the question isn’t whether Mr. Trump will bring about the change we need, because he can’t, but whether the Church will be ready to speak the truth that both the individual and the majority, the ruler and the ruled, the employer and the employee are under the sovereign authority of the Triune God.

As William Penn said, “Men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants,” be they the elite or the populist majority. Only the Truth will really set us free, and bring about real change.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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A crowd of people, a blue checkmark, and the U.S. Capitol

Hoodwinked No More: How to Drain the Swamp

As much as Donald Trump’s “Make America Great” appealed to many Americans, “Drain the Swamp” had more appeal to me. It will be hard to make America great again if the congressional swamp is not drained. I did some digging and found out how to identify the plug and drain the swamp. Are you ready to insist that the plug be pulled?

To drain anything, you first have to find what is plugging things up. In the swamp we call Congress, it seems to me that the greatest “plug” is the U.S. Senate. The U.S. House passes good legislation that goes to the Senate to die. I have gotten to the point that I almost don’t care what the House does because it’s DOA in the Senate.

Is Cloture Really the “Plug”?

It dies there because of another “plug”—the cloture rule that requires 60 U.S. senators to vote to cut off debate in order to get to the vote on the underlying bill. The Republican majority has told us for eight years that they have not been able to get the 60 votes they need to vote on a budget or a repeal of Obamacare.

We’ve been told that the only way around the cloture rule was the “nuclear option,” by which the Senate president (or presiding officer) and the majority simply “rule” based on a strained reading of another rule that only a majority vote is required. This was called the “nuclear” option because manipulation of the rules would “blow up” the rule book, so to speak, and forever do away with cloture. This, we were told, was the only way out, and it would be “bad” in the long run.

In keeping with my personality, I couldn’t accept the possibility that the majority in the Senate had not left themselves some way out under the tyranny of the minority. So I began to research the U.S. Senate rules and began to make some phone calls.

We’ve Been Hoodwinked

It seems you and I have been hoodwinked. The fact is a simple majority can bring about a vote on a bill. Sixty votes is not an absolute requirement if the Republican majority is actually willing to do its job.

All that is required is for the president of the Senate to strictly enforce what is called the two-speech rule on motions to proceed to whatever bill it is the majority wants an up or down vote on. This is not “blowing up” the rules by manipulating them, but actually following the rules.

The two-speech rule means that a senator can speak to a motion only two times. Once there is no one remaining who can speak (they’ve had their two speeches) or wants to speak, the majority can vote to proceed to a vote on the underlying bill. Republicans need to just let the Democrats exhaust themselves physically and, in the public’s eye, politically.

We should not be hoodwinked into thinking this means marathon sessions, without food and sleep for days on end. The two-speech rule does not have to look like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

From what I understand, the majority can determine how long the Senate will remain in session each day. Late-night and/or weekend sessions are not required. Republicans just need to keep a majority available while they are in session to come to the floor to repeal any procedural motions the Democrats might make.

That could mean that Republicans can’t go out on the town for drinks; it could mean that they need to stick to their offices for a couple of days, maybe sleep on the couch. With many in our military sleeping on cots in the desert, that should not be too much to ask, given that being a senator is a “tour of duty” for which they ran.

If the Republican senators really wanted to vote on something—like a budget, the repeal of Obamacare, or a Supreme Court nominee—they just have to be willing to stay on the motion to proceed for as many days as it takes until the obstructionists run out of speeches they can give.

The Real Plug: Republicans or Democrats?

If the Republican leadership in the Senate is unwilling to invoke the two-speech rule because it would be too inconvenient for their members, then we’ll know that they are the real plug keeping the swamp from being drained, not the Democrats. But if Republicans are disciplined, and Democrats go on for days, Americans will know that they are the plug.

I’m for finding out which party is the real plug in the U.S. Senate I’m for pulling the plug by invoking the two-speech rule. What about you?

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Republican elephant

Republican Parallels to the Democratic Demise?

The rhetoric within the Republican Party in Tennessee continued to escalate this week over Common Core with one Republican legislator calling the Governor a traitor to the party. As I read some of what’s been said about the role Common Core may have had in Republican primaries, I couldn’t help but think about the similarities to other issues that changed the complexion of Tennessee politics from blue to red.

The Income Tax

One issue that changed the complexion of Tennessee politics from blue to red was the income tax. During 2001-2002, leaders of the Democratic Party, along with the help of a few Republicans, including the governor at the time, pushed for an income tax. Ultimately, an income tax bill was voted on in the state House. It did not pass, but it got enough votes to make Tennessee voters really mad. And their anger played out in the coming elections.

As I reviewed the list of my former colleagues in the General Assembly during those years, one thing that seemed to be common to the Democrats who lost re-election or chose to retire was their support for the income tax. That issue was a bell-weather issue and remains one to this day.

But another issue worked against the Democrats and played to the Republican’s favor; it was the life-abortion issue.


Beginning in 2001, Republicans, me being one of them, began to push what is now known as Amendment 1 that will be on the ballot in November. Amendment 1 is an amendment to the state constitution that would reverse the decision of our state Supreme Court in which it found a “right to abortion” and struck down a number of our laws designed to protect women and the unborn.

Not being for the legislation that was the precursor to Amendment 1 on the ballot was a death knell to a number of Democrats (in addition to the one Republican who ever voted against putting it on the ballot).

The Ladder to Republican Success

The income tax and abortion were the electoral issues that really began to change the complexion of the General Assembly. Republicans rode to the majority on the back of fiscal and social conservatives. One cannot deny the role that gun rights have played in the Republican party in recent years, but the two legs of the ladder on which the state’s Republican Party rose to its current dizzying heights are fiscal and social conservatism.

A Deepening Divide?

Like the two issues that divided the Democrats from the Republicans, if Republicans are not careful, Common Core and traditional social issues may divide the Republican Party itself. In this last election cycle, it seemed that the divide in the party between fiscal and social conservatives became more pronounced. Though one might not readily see how Common Core fits that divide, it does.

Those who push Common Core seem concerned that our students are not learning what is needed to have a strong economy in a global marketplace. They tend to be fiscal conservatives.

On the other side are those who seem concerned that Common Core elevates political correctness over our founding principles and gives too great a nod to big government, particularly the federal government, and to globalism.

However, many in this latter camp are also those we might call “traditional” social conservatives, those concerned about abortion, parental rights in education, the homosexual agenda, and threats to religious liberty. The two “sides” are not identical, but that’s what makes things so explosive politically—when you add them together, you begin to find a lot of upset people.

Finding a Way Forward

The bottom line is that Tennessee Republicans must find a way to address the issues social conservatives care about. Personally, I don’t think we have to choose between high academic standards and keeping liberal political philosophies and political correctness out of our schools. I also don’t think we have to choose between being socially conservative and being fiscally conservative. In fact, the former makes the latter possible.

But I do think this: Smiles of feigned concern and pats on the head of social conservatives by Republican fiscal conservatives may not work to keep everybody in the hoped-for big tent of the Republican party happy. In this last election cycle the rumblings were audible. If the trend continues, expect the rhetoric to escalate and for there to be more political bloodshed in the 2016 primaries.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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FACT Report: April 30, 2014

Squeezing the Middle Class (April 30, 2014)

With the buying power of the middle class shrinking, each political party blames the other and claims its own economic policies are the solution. But economists say part of the squeeze is coming from skyrocketing food prices caused by natural disasters.

The effect on the economy of things outside man’s control should remind us that God is ultimately in control. In fact, the Bible tells us that God sometimes used nature to express His judgment on unrighteous nations. Of course, not every natural disaster is God’s judgment on a group of people, but for those who take the Bible seriously, can we ignore the possibility in view of our nation’s cultural degeneracy?

Such a thought will make the scientific man of today laugh, as well as many Christians. That’s all right. They probably laughed at Noah, too.

More On This Issue

Read David’s related commentary, also called Squeezing the Middle Class.

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