The May 12, 2009, debate between Steve Lonegan and Chris Christie, the main gubernatorial candidates for the GOP nomination to oppose Governor Jon Corzine in November, highlighted the fundamental challenge confronting the Republican Party.
In a column in the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Paul Mulshine declared that Lonegan is "winning the ideological debate". I would ask; what debate, exactly, is he winning?
The fundamental ideological devide in America today is--the individual against the collective.
Throughout the entire debate, I did not hear the two words that would signal firmly the end of me-too republicanism--individual rights. Individual rights, as conceived by the Founding Fathers, are guarantees to freedom of action coupled with the sole obligation to respect the same rights of others. They are not an automatic claim on the earnings, wealth, or property produced by others. (A full philosophical defense of rights has been provided by 20th century philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand.)
So I was very disappointed in the two candidates, particularly Mr. Lonegan, who is running on returning to republican principles. Despite calling Mr. Christie "democrat light", he specifically endorsed a basic government-imposed social safety net. His flat tax is great, but he still endorsed its purpose--state-distributed school aid. The candidates' support for state-funded vouchers not only leaves government in charge of the schools, but expands that control to private schools. When government money pays, government sets the terms. Real school choice means people paying for schools using their own money (such as through tax credits).
Mr. Lonegan stated repeatedly his opposition to redistributionism. But welfare statism (no matter how limited), the income tax (even in flat form), and government-funded vouchers are all forms of redistribution. All are a violation of individual rights.
The principle of individual rights is what defines America. It is the limiting factor in limited government. Without individual rights, the concept of limited government is meaningless. (A full philosophical statement defining the proper role of government has also been provided by Ayn Rand.)
The democrats have come down squarely on the side of the collective society, socialism, and omnipotent government...though they dare not admit that openly. The only ideological alternative is individual rights, capitalism, and a limited government in its original American meaning of protector of those rights. The end of me-too republicanism will have arrived when those principles are explicitly and proudly declared as the GOP's guiding principles on all issues.
Today, there is no one in the political arena defending individual rights. That is the challenge...and, I believe, the opportunity for its revival...now before the GOP. If the Republican Party doesn't stand for individual rights, capitalism, and limited government, it stands for nothing.