It’s Hard to Imagine, But I Could Have Been A Republican!

We are deep into the political season. What political party best represents your value system? How about taking a pop quiz? See if you can identify the spokesperson for the Republican Party who spoke these words in support of his candidates: 

I am going to give you a few reasons for voting the Republican ticket. The Republican party depends upon reason, upon argument, upon education, upon intelligence and upon patriotism. The Republican party makes no appeal to ignorance and prejudice. It wishes to destroy both.

It is the party of humanity, the party that hates caste, that honors labor, that rewards toil, that believes in justice. It appeals to all that is elevated and noble in man, to the higher instincts, to the nobler aspirations. It has accomplished grand things...

The present question is, whom shall we trust? To whom shall we give the reins of power? What party will best preserve the rights of the people?

What party is most deserving of our confidence?

Well, who was it? Newt Gingrich? Sarah Palin? Rick Santorum? Michele Bachmann? One of the former Bush presidents? If none of the above, who then?

Of course the answer is none of the above. What’s more, no person affiliated with the Republican Party today would make such a speech. Contemporary Republicans do not emphasize personal freedoms or champion reason. The Party does, however, appeal to prejudice and ignorance, the opposite of what the spokesperson cited claimed. These words were spoken by a different kind of Republican on behalf of a very different kind of Republican Party. The words are those of Robert Green Ingersoll, speaking in Maine in 1876 on for the state Republican Senator than running for president, James G. Blaine.

The Republican Party is not one that Ingersoll, or Lincoln or any of the Party’s leading 19th century lights would recognize or respect. Today’s Republican Party is hostile to the values of the Republican Party of Ingersoll’s era. The head of the Center for Inquiry CFI), Ronald Lindsay, writes that Americans today have to decide basic questions about their country, owing to the agenda of the extreme Right-Wing theocratic rich people who control the 21st century. Republican Party. The questions are:

* Whose understanding of religious liberty will prevail? The one set forth in our Constitution—or the Orwellian redefinition of religious liberty currently being promoted by the Catholic Church?

* Whose view of the separation of church and state will triumph? The one held by the Founders—or the one pushed by many religious organizations that are continually seeking new ways to circumvent the First Amendment?

* Whose conception of human rights will win out? That of humanism, which respects individual autonomy and fundamental freedoms—or that championed by religious dogmatists who would suppress speech critical of religion and deny same-sex couples the right to express their love through marriage?

* Whose view of science will influence public policy? The one supported by those who value evidence-based reasoning—or the one accepted by those who disdain science in favor of pseudoscience with respect to climate change, alternative medicine and many other issues?

CFI is asking its supporters to do all they can to work for the advance of science, reason and secular values. CFI does not take endorse candidates. However, it can and does ask such questions as this: “Given some of the positions of the Republican Party on social issues, is it inconsistent to be both a Republican and a humanist?” Lindsay asks because he believes that being a humanist implies not only rejection of deities and spirits but also acceptance of certain fundamental principles, including “critical thinking, respect for individual autonomy, an ethics that is broadly consequentialist in nature” and other positions supported by evidence-based reasoning.

Ingersoll strongly promoted a strict separation of church and state. If this Republican “Great Agnostic” were making speeches for candidates today, you can be sure they would not be on behalf of any candidate whose policies would restrict a woman’s ability to make her own decisions about children and marriage or who would impose religious dogma on the entire populace. Ingersoll would not suffer theocrats in American bedrooms. I’m confident that he would lend his oratorical gifts to the Party that promoted women’s choices (e.g., access to contraception), to same-sex marriage, to cohabitation without marriage, to laws and regulations that protect and promote racial and gender equality, to freedom of expression and to universal suffrage - as he did in his own time on such matters. (See Lindsay’s editorial on humanism and politics in the current edition of Free Inquiry, August / September 2012, Volume 32, Number 5, the source of much of this material.)

Maybe someday the Republican Party will transform itself and once again become a force for decency and humanist values. I hope I live to see it, but to improve my chances, I’m not going to hold my breath. For now, I’m stuck with the Democrats and, by comparison with the non-Ingersollian Republican Party of yesteryear, that’s a dramatically clear choice for the better.