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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Donald Trump 2015 by Michael Vadon on Flickr

Donald Trump, Conservatives, and the Obama Effect

Many in the Republican Party leadership are trying to understand the phenomenon of Donald Trump. And the question on the minds of many of them is what is his appeal to conservatives, particularly the social conservative, religious-right Republicans? I admit that I have no scientific polls and no Trump-voter psychological profiles upon which to base my thoughts, but here are five things I’ve observed.

The first is nothing really surprising. Many conservative Republicans are extremely angry with the Republican Party. I understand that. Even though many and perhaps a majority of those in that camp are supporting Carson, Cruz, or Rubio, the fact is that a significant enough percentage of them support Trump—and that is making a difference.

A second, related factor is that a number of conservatives simply don’t want anyone connected at all with Congress or Washington politics. Period. They no longer trust anyone associated with Washington. I think that’s the baby-and-the-bathwater thinking, but I understand it.

Third, I think some social conservatives have despaired of “values candidates” actually doing anything in support of their values. They have not lost their concern for the social values that drove them in the past to reluctantly support the Doles, McCain, and Romneys, and the do-nothing-but-make-excuses-for-inaction social conservatives who have been elected to Congress, but they have decided that supporting such conservatives isn’t going to result in those values being reflected in public policy.

So, at this point, I think some social conservatives see no reason to continue supporting candidates who run on those values simply because they espouse those values. They believe history has shown them it won’t matter, so they are voting for someone who talks tough on the other issues they care about. I don’t agree that social values don’t matter, but I understand how some have reached that conclusion.

What we see in the foregoing points is that the moderate, entrenched Republican leadership has driven a number of conservatives to Mr. Trump, which leads to my fourth observation—some conservative Trump supporters are sending a message.

Conservative Republicans have often spoken of not supporting a moderate Republican, supporting a moderate Republican presidential nominee, or voting for another party’s candidate, like the Constitution Party. But perhaps some of the conservatives supporting Trump won’t send the “message” they want to send to the moderate Republican leadership. After all, if they leave the party or vote for a third- party candidate, then the moderate wing of the Party will get its candidate and, perhaps for moderates, that is more important than actually winning the presidency. So, perhaps conservatives supporting Trump are making sure the moderate Republican leadership doesn’t get the nominee it wants and, for them, that message is a stronger message than if they left the party.

A fifth thing driving some of the conservative Republicans to Trump is what I call the “Obama phenomenon.” In 2008 Americans in large numbers knew things were wrong in America and looked at the fact that we were led by a Republican president. Consequently, they were looking for someone to give them hope that things could change.

Similarly, I think the support of some for Trump is reactionary in nature, fed by anger and frustration with Congress and the moderate Republican Party leadership. And, like Obama was for many fearful, angry Americans in 2008, Trump represents hope for change for these Republicans.

In conclusion, my concern in this election, as with any election, is that emotions not drive our decisions, particularly anger. I know from personal experience that anger rarely produces good results.

But beyond personal experience, I also know that the “anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). While we usually apply that verse only to our personal lives, the principle is not so limited. God desires righteousness in civil government, and decisions in the governmental realm propelled by anger will not achieve that righteousness.

As we head to election day, my prayer is that fear, frustration, and blind hope for change will not prevent voters  from examining the values, policies, and character of all those who seek our support and then casting a vote that aligns with those things.

Photo Credit:
Mr. Donald Trump New Hampshire Town Hall on August 19th, 2015 at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, NH by Michael Vadon on Flickr. CC BY

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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stack of books and Republican elephant

Look Who Is Trying to Transform Tennessee’s Republican Party

You will never guess which organization now wants to be friends with the Republican Party in Tennessee and help them promote the “values and traditions” that make our communities and schools great. The idea is really rather laughable, but its efforts are serious, which makes the state Party’s response so puzzling.

The organization is the Tennessee Education Association (TEA). In a recent letter to at least some of our legislators, the TEA touts how it has worked to build relationships with Republican lawmakers. The TEA talks about how it has encouraged its members to vote in Tennessee’s open primaries, noting that “primary participation” was up “markedly” in recent years and that in “key races” member turnout “increased by more than 300%.”

No doubt the TEA wants its members voting in Republican primaries, because there are so few Democrats even left in the legislature to vote for in a primary. The Democrat-Republican balance in the legislature is such that the Republicans in both the House and Senate can have a few members absent and still convene a quorum without any Democrats present. For example, only five of the 33 state Senators are Democrats and all five are from either Nashville or Memphis.

TEA’s Connection to Left-Wing Radical Agenda

Of course, the TEA neglects to mention that it is part of the National Education Association, which annually touts positions that are not in keeping with the “values and traditions” that made our communities and schools great. The NEA, of which the TEA claims to be a “proud state affiliate,” has a well-documented history of promoting radical left-wing ideas. The NEA has repeatedly articulated a view of public education that makes our schools sometimes nothing more than a laboratory for social experimentation. For example, at the national convention this year, the NEA urged its members to support public school programs on the “diversity of sexual orientation and gender identification.”

But that’s not all. The NEA called for the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 and filed a legal brief with the Supreme Court denouncing Tennessee’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman. With its view of marriage, it’s not too surprising that the NEA has also refused to adopt any safeguards for the religious freedom of teachers and even ratified an agenda item allocating resources to fight state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Acts that protect Christians from legal liability when they decline to participate in gay “marriage” ceremonies.

While one could say that the NEA is not the TEA, the fact is the TEA pays regular dues to maintain its affiliated status with the NEA. Additionally, the two organizations routinely share resources, exchange information, and collaborate on various political and lobbying activities. To say that the TEA more closely aligns with Republicans and the values of average Tennesseans than it does with the NEA is just not very believable. When the TEA renounces its affiliation with the NEA, permanently stops sending any money to the national union’s coffers, and comes up with its own independent platform, then I’ll believe its propaganda.

The Republican Response

But what is even more surprising than the TEA’s newfound affection for the Republican Party in Tennessee is the Party’s insistence on not closing its primaries, having rejected such an effort earlier this year. In keeping primaries open, the Republican Party’s state executive committee continues to allow the seeds of its demise in terms of its values and platform to be sown.

Maybe instead of conservatives trying to elect more Republicans to the legislature, its time for them to turn their attention to electing more conservatives to the Republican Party’s Executive Committee who will close the primary. Then we may be able to keep future conservatives from being defeated in Republican primaries by Democrats.

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

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

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