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My view: Utah could shape the Republican Party

By Mary Barker

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 2 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

As a (mostly) liberal American, I envy Utah Republicans. They have a unique opportunity to shape their party in a way that I can’t shape the one I most identify with.

This is because Republicans are in the middle of a civil war. And while this may not seem envious in the flux of an unstable situation, there is room to fashion the future. No one knows what the party will look like five years down the line.

Utahns have a better chance than most to determine that future given the state is overwhelmingly Republican and Utahns have a larger political voice than many other Americans. (Like all other states, Utah elects two senators, and thus a Utahn’s vote is worth about 14 Californian votes in that important body). And given Utah’s relatively small population, a citizen could make his voice heard.

Why should I, as a (mostly) liberal American, care about any of this?

Because "Republican" is not one thing (and neither is "Democrat"), which is why a civil war is possible in the first place. Not only are there various tendencies in the party at any given moment (such as fiscal conservatives, who may have been distressed by the deficit spending of Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Walker Bush; and noblesse oblige Republicans, who may be dismayed at the predatory and exploitative turn that American capitalism has taken), but it also changes over time.

Conservatives, from Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon to Republican icon Ronald Reagan, proposed a national health insurance program, for example, and Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. He also tried to pass a guaranteed minimum income for poor families. The top marginal tax rate under President Eisenhower was a whopping 91-92 percent at the same time that the economy grew at 2.4 percent a year and American well-being was the envy of the world.

As fluid entities, any political party can have moments in which the wiser and more thoughtful voices prevail over the more shallow and ignorant ones, and in which a broader or a narrower social vision defines the party’s landscape.

If you are a Utah Republican, you could be that wise voice. You could expand your party’s vision, and I envy that opportunity.

Moreover, as a (mostly) liberal American, I need you. I need wise and far-seeing conservatives who’ve got my back; who can point out my blind spots and offer constructive criticism and advice. After all, what defines me as a liberal is not the solutions I cling to (big state versus small state, for example), but rather what I care about.

I value conservative insights regarding market competition and the importance of self-reliance, for example, but am alarmed by the current Republican Party’s oblivion to the growing gap between the rich and poor; the way that globalization has undermined labor while the cost of education and health care continues to skyrocket; and full-time workers who still fall below the poverty level.

My exasperation isn’t with conservative apprehensiveness over the expansion of government power and the abuses and inefficiencies that may attend it, but rather Republicans' refusal to see concentrations of wealth (often subsidized by the government) as conducive to abuse and inefficiency as well.

There is a difference between the economic analysis of conservatives like Kevin Phillips on the one hand and Grover Norquist on the other; or David Stockman and the Koch brothers. David Frum’s understanding of working-class ills varies significantly from that of Charles Murray. And whether you get your ideas from Catholic social teaching or Ayn Rand affects how you see your fellow Americans as will whether you get your news from The Economist or Fox.

These differences concern me.

That the party hasn’t come up with a better solution to global warming than the denial of its existence, or to gun violence than arming our teachers, tells me that it isn’t tapping its reserves of wisdom and insight. That it relies on voter ID laws and shutting down the government to prevail tells me that it isn’t tapping its own intelligence and talent.

But I know they’re there.

Not only are they there, but they are needed by both conservative and liberal Americans, and so this editorial. I wish you well.

Mary Barker is a professor of political science and has taught for almost 18 years at Saint Louis University's and Syracuse University's study abroad programs in Madrid, Spain.

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