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Public Theology: It's Not Your Father's Republican Party Anymore
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It's Not Your Father's Republican Party Anymore
Clyde Prestowitz worked in the Reagan administration but as a conservative is alarmed with the current direction of the country.

I was raised in a conservative Republican family. My father worked for the Post Office as a postal inspector. I remember him coming home from work and announcing how much money he had saved the taxpayers that day. So I learned early that government officials were honest and responsible. Later my father became a regional director. He had to resign in 1960 when John Kennedy was elected since the position was a political appointment at the time.

At the dinner table I heard my father talk about his concern about the growth of government; it seems to get bigger and bigger. He also talked about how the rich seem to get richer and richer until finally there has to be a change so real people have a chance to live. In my house the idea prevailed that Democrats were the war party; if you don't want war vote for the Republicans. He was a thoughtful man and based his political views on what he thought was right and good for people.

But the Republican Party my father believed in is not the Republican Party of today. It has been taken over by very radical elements, not the least of which is the irrationality of the religious right wing. And now it is the Republican Party which is the war party, which believes that the military should be used to show who is the biggest and best nation in the world.

I thought about my father as I watched a video at Mother Jonesí Magazine, the first of a series of conservatives opposed to the Bush administration. It features Clyde Prestowitz on October 6, 2004, the transcript of which is below. Click the above link to listen to the video.


Iím Clyde Prestowitz. I was a counselor to the Secretary of Commerce in the first Reagan administration. Iím author of the book "Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions." Iím an elder in the Presbyterian church. Iím a conservative, a registered Republican, and an economist.

I grew up in a rock-ribbed Republican family. Republicanism kind of came in the DNA. In fact, I can remember my father saying that heíd vote for a dead horse if it was a Republican.

Iíve always had a certain idea of the United States. And it was the idea of a country that led by example, that was powerful but didnít abuse its power, that was rich but caring, and that was leading the world into a better place.

Increasingly it seems like the Republican party I knew, that I learned about at my father and motherís knees, is leaving and has gone in a different direction. If you look at the Bush administration, it has given us red ink in our federal budget deficits as far as the eye can see. It has given us big government, not small government. The federal government is now spending more as a percent of our total GDP than any other government. The Patriot Act has been a restriction of individual rights. The states have been given unfunded mandates from the federal government, which most conservatives see as completely abhorrent. And weíre engaged in a war in Iraq against a country that didnít pose a threat to us. Weíre setting as an objective in that war that weíre going to democratize not only Iraq but the whole Middle East. This is exactly the kind of slaying of dragons, messianic foreign adventure that traditional conservatives have always been opposed to. And Iím frustrated by the fact that these policies are being sold as conservative.

A lot of people automatically identify ďconservativeĒ with ďgood,Ē so if you sell this tax cut as a conservative tax cut, then it must be a good tax cut. Well, itís not, and donít confuse the subject by calling it conservative.

The neo-conservative, radical conservative opposition to things like the Kyoto agreement, or to other measures to protect the environment, is frequently based on either a willful ignoring of evidence and facts, or a distortion of those. It seems to me that the essence of conservatism is not being guided by what you wish was the case, or what you hope was the case, but looking at the hard, cold facts. What is science telling us? The icebergs are melting. The polar ice caps are going away. The glaciers in the mountains are disappearing. Why is that happening? What are the facts? And once youíve looked at the facts, then it seems to me that only a fool would not respond in some way to protect the environment.

Also, typically, traditional conservatives have a sense of the need to support the welfare of the society. Widening gaps between rich and poor are things that concern traditional conservatives. The Bush administration is not conservative, because on almost every principle of traditional conservatism, the Bush administration is someplace else. The administrationís use of the word conservative to describe itself is Orwellian, because itís exactly the opposite of what the term means. The administration is not conservative, itís radical. But it uses the term "conservative" to mask what it truly is.

The notion of going to war on the basis of first strike, on the basis of pre-emption, is contrary to American doctrine through generations of presidents and generations of conservative Republican presidents. President Eisenhower, President Nixon, President Ford, President Reagan -- all conservative Republicans -- all embraced the notion of "no first strike." But now, this administration has turned that doctrine on its head to say, "OK, now weíre going to go for first strike." Thatís a radical proposition.

I think that we are less safe today than we were three or four years ago. And Iíll tell you something else: I have recently had discussions with several former national security advisors -- people who were national security officials in former Republican administrations -- who have told me they feel the same way. They fear that the administrationís policies are further endangering and undermining the security of the United States.

I feel very strongly right now that our country is on the wrong track domestically. I think itís on the very wrong track internationally. As a patriot, as a conservative, as a Republican, itís important to try to change it.


This interview was recorded on September 8, 2004, as part of Mother Jonesí State of the Union series.

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Date Added: 10/6/2004 Date Revised: 10/6/2004 10:15:25 AM

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