TAMPA, March 19, 2012 – Give yourself a test. Without doing a web search or whipping out that pocket U.S. Constitution that a wild-eyed Tea Partier handed you, fill in the blank in the following sentence: The U.S. Constitution guarantees to every state in the union a _____form of government.
If you are like ninety percent of the American electorate, you answered “democratic” and you were wrong. The answer is “a republican form of government.” There is an important difference between the two and one would think that the Republican Party would know it. Instead, they are identical to their rivals in not only ignoring the distinction but promoting democracy instead.
In a democracy, the will of the majority is the law. Fifty-one percent of the vote empowers the winners to exercise any power they wish. Not so in a republic. The reason that the founders constructed a constitutional republic was to protect Americans from democracy.
That may sound like sacrilege to most 21st century Americans, but it’s true. Benjamin Franklin mused that democracy was like “two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.” Thomas Jefferson said that when majorities oppress an individual they “break up the foundations of society.”
Republicanism is the logical form of government for conservatives. Conservatism at its best protects property rights from an unchecked majority plundering the individual. Liberalism at its best protects property rights from the wealthy conspiring with the government to plunder the masses. At their worst, both conservatism and liberalism legitimize plunder; the former for the few, the latter for the many.
Ron Paul’s presidential campaign strategy is rooted in republicanism. He has deliberately focused his efforts on the states that hold caucuses instead of primaries because caucuses do not let the majority rule unchecked. Instead of merely pulling a few levers behind a curtain, caucus participants must complete a multi-tiered process that occurs for months after the popular vote before being chosen for the national convention. Who can doubt that these delegates are more informed than the typical primary voter? The essence of republicanism is for reason to triumph over the transient passion of the majority.
Paul’s platform likewise represents what is best about conservatism. Without exception, it protects the individual from oppression by the majority. He is the only Republican presidential candidate that has actually said the words “role of government” during any debate. That’s because he is the only candidate that seems to recognize that the government’s role is limited; that even a majority vote cannot sanction it to exercise power beyond those limits. Throughout all of human history, conservatives have defended this principle against the ungoverned passion of the majority.
Yet, conservatives today sound just like liberals when they decry Paul’s supporters using the republican nature of the caucuses to overturn the decisions of uninformed majorities. Their opposition to both Paul’s platform and his political strategy begs the question: Does the Republican Party still believe in a republican form of government? Do they still believe that the power of the majority has limits? Or are they just Democrats with a different supporter base?
George W. Bush never once referred to the United States of America as “a republic.” He consistently referred to it as “a democracy” and like Woodrow Wilson claimed to be defending democracy all over the world. If he was representative of what the Republican Party now stands for, then how is it substantively different from the Democratic Party?
These same questions apply to the issues. If the Republican Party truly favors the big government alternatives to Ron Paul, candidates who all supported the expansion of the federal government in the past and who refuse to commit to any meaningful cuts now, then what is the debate about?
The federal government doesn’t need a manicure. It needs reconstructive surgery. Make that deconstructive surgery. You don’t turn $1.5 trillion deficits into surpluses by tweaking the way that federal departments are managed. You do so by completely eliminating departments and redefining the role of government. Only Ron Paul is proposing to do so. If there is anything left of what made the Republican Party different from the Democrats, they should support both Ron Paul’s platform and his political strategy.
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.