Republicanism at a crossroads
Kyle Palmer | Monday, April 18, 2016
On March 30, Chris Matthews pressed Donald Trump on his abortion stance; after initially sidestepping the question, Trump stated that women should be punished if they get an abortion, assuming abortion would be illegal at that time. Now, Trump has walked that stance back, “clarified” it, and ultimately restated it, but that’s not the specific issue I would like to address. Instead, I would like to discuss what I see as a crossroads for the Republican Party, one even more drastic than the crossroads it navigated in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with the advent of new movements from tea partiers and libertarians challenging the moderate mainstream. It’s a crossroads between two paths, one that I call hardline conservatism and another I call compassionate conservatism.
For years, and increasingly so during the election cycle, I have been asked what I believe and how I identify politically, from outside or within the Republican Party. I’ve known since 2010 that I was a moderate Republican, but as elections went on it was more and more difficult to explain where and why I differ with the platform of the party or its increasingly harsh conservative tone. What I’ve arrived at is describing myself as a compassionate conservative of my own brand.
To explain, let’s go back to Trump’s comments regarding punishment for women who have abortions. The day after these comments were made, a friend and I discussed them at length. This friend, who is by no means a Trump supporter, explained how he perceived this as the most logically consistent stance that Trump has posited so far. “If abortion is made to be illegal, as many Republicans believe it should be, then why is it so outrageous,” he argued, “to believe women should be punished for breaking the law by having an abortion?” This argument was logically sound, though I definitely disagreed with it. I am as pro-life as they come, I am opposed to abortion, capital punishment and euthanasia, and I believe these practices should be outlawed. Still, I don’t believe that women should be punished for having an abortion. Pro-life groups hold this same position, as they came out against Trump’s comments while reaffirming their pro-life stance.
I proposed an analogy of drug addicts to explain my stance on the issue. In most cases, drug addicts become addicted through the influence of a drug dealer, social pressures or feeling like there is no escape from their personal problems except through the artificial stimulus produced by drugs. Similarly, a woman considering an abortion may only be doing so because her parents, would-be child’s father, or Planned Parenthood representative apply pressure to have an abortion, or she could face the social consequences of being judged for becoming pregnant before marriage. She could have faced pressure from her boyfriend, friend group, or social pressures regarding sex between young adults. In both cases, the victim may have fallen into the unfortunate circumstance of drug use or having an abortion with the fault resting with those who sought to influence the victim. To be clear, I am not equating drug addiction with women who get abortions; I am simply analogizing to illustrate how I view both to be victims of social pressures.
Yes, ideally the victims would have the fortitude to resist such pressures, but given the immense pressure bearing down on them as minors or young adults, they may simply not be able to make that decision. All this goes to say is that I view the drug addict or the would-be-mother as victims of social pressures or, more insidiously, drug dealers or abortion clinicians who stand to profit from the victim’s succumbing to their pressure. As such, I don’t feel that nonviolent drug addicts or young women who believed they had no choice but to have an abortion should be punished. Rather, the punishment should rest on the shoulders of those who force the decision, in this case the drug dealers and abortion clinicians.
This distinction explains why I want drugs and abortion to be banned but at the same time balk at the idea that addicts and women should be punished for receiving them. Instead, these victims need our assistance and compassion. Drug addicts need to be admitted to facilities that can help cure them of their addiction. Pregnant women need to be given the opportunity to make their own decisions free of pressures of anxious boyfriends and abortion clinicians. In both cases, these victims need a bit of compassion from all of us. If we didn’t make harsh judgments of pregnant young women or young drug addicts, then maybe they wouldn’t be so ashamed to ask for help. Crack down on those who encourage this detrimental behavior, the abortion clinicians and drug dealers, but not on the victims who may feel as if they do not have a choice.
Thus is highlighted a difference between what I see as hardline conservatism, which would punish all involved with no exception for violation of the rule of law, and compassionate conservatism, which would seek to understand the issue, help the victims who may have violated the law and punish those who are at fault for the victim’s helplessness. Simply put, compassionate conservatism acknowledges that issues are complicated, and while I have a set of moral principles, I shouldn’t seek to condemn violators of those principles without first investigating who might really be at fault. We Republicans need to reject hardline conservatism and instead seek to understand problems and find solutions that magnify the dignity of all people, like Paul Ryan on poverty or Ronald Reagan, Jeb Bush and John Kasich on immigration. As time goes on, the American electorate will support less and less policies that have no stake in understanding or no purpose behind them. If the Republican Party is to survive the next few election cycles, it needs to adopt a belief in a government that works toward real justice and a tone that inspires people, and it needs to promote those candidates that espouse the same tone and beliefs.
Kyle Palmer is a senior from Dillon Hall studying accountancy. He welcomes any challenges to his opinions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.