“I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon. If I can seek opportunity, not security, I want to take the calculated risk to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for dole. I prefer the challenges of life to guaranteed security, the thrill of fulfillment to the state of calm utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, save my God. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid: to think and act for myself, enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the whole world boldly and say, ‘I am a free American.’ ” —Republican Creed
If you were not aware that the Republican Party has a creed, you are not alone. I don’t generally hang around with Republicans in large numbers, and the thought of hearing a roomful of GOPers reciting this maxim in unison puts chills on the back of my neck. But a friend of mine attended a recent GOP meeting and heard the recitation. A copy of the creed was printed on the back of the meeting program for the benefit of those who had not committed it to memory. As he later told me, “This could have been written by Ayn Rand.”
Yes, I guess it could have, now that I think of it. But what first struck me was that little of this creed describes the actual Republicans I know and hear about. Most of those GOPers have little in common with the almost Nietzschean Übermensch represented by these words. The Republicans I know are rather plain little people who live in their plain little houses and go to their plain little jobs, all of which are designed to protect them from the vagaries of a rambunctious economic system and from the social and cultural nonconformity inherent in a free society.
Indeed, much of the energy of the modern Republican Party comes from their fervor to ban and punish behavior they find offensive. In earlier decades, GOPers were closely associated with loyalty oaths and with the anticommunist hysteria of Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon. They have brought their hysteria into the 21st century with their anti-terrorist hysteria and their acceptance of warrantless wiretaps and “enhanced interrogation.” Fear is the glue that holds the Republican Party together.
What I do not see in this creed is any aspiration to excellence of mind or character. The GOP has become the party of anti-intellectualism and anti-scientific thought. Leaders like Jim DeMint and Sarah Palin use the blunt instrument of populist rage against what they term “elitism.” What could be more at odds with the spirit of the “uncommon man”?
Nor do I see in this Republican statement any affirmation of community, an acknowledgement that other human beings are part of this society in which the Republican lives and a part of this economy with which he is so deeply enthralled. Anyone who can recite this creed has clearly come a long way from the patriotism of John F. Kennedy, who told his fellow Americans, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
Also missing in this creed is any acknowledgement of a responsibility to our living environment. I know that it is religiosity that keeps many Republicans focused on the hereafter, completely ignoring any obligation to the biosphere in which their children and grandchildren will some day live. But increasingly, this anti-environmentalism seems to be ideological. Talk to a Libertarian or “small government” Republican, and he will have glib and easy answers to almost any problem facing the country today. The solution, he will tell you, is less government, more economic growth, more privatization, more individual responsibility. It all sounds so reasonable, so plausible, until you come to the great conundrum no conservative has satisfactorily addressed: How do we protect our environment?
Here the conservative’s cool rationalism turns to simplemindedness or evasion. Somehow the environment will protect itself, he says. Somehow anyone dumping anything into the air and water in the pursuit of profit will make a better world for all of us.
What about the greatest threat facing the world today? What about global climate change? The Republican has a simple answer: There is no climate change.
The denial of climate change, like the denial of evolution and other scientific certainties, is part of the Republican ideology. I’m surprised it is not part of the Republican Creed. And as you read that creed more carefully, you realize that all the bold talk about opportunity, risk, incentive, and freedom is not an ode to human liberty, but a license for unbridled greed.