School Choice Should Replace Abortion and Gun Rights as the Republican Issue
Abortion and gun rights litmus tests for conservative orthodoxy have become crutches for lazy Republican partisans. New issues must emerge to define the Party.
It is hard to criticize one’s fellow partisans. Action Idaho has developed a simple rule for criticizing partisans: no one who criticizes conservatives from the left in the liberal press can ever be trusted, but people who criticize conservatives in conservative outlets should get a respectful hearing. Here it goes.
Conservatives across the country have an abortion and gun problem. Abortion and guns have been hot button issues for conservatives for more than a generation. In Idaho, the issues practically define Republican Party purity. Liberal Republicans like Scott Bedke can, legitimately, tout pro-life and pro-gun bona fides. Voters take the signal and vote in Bedke.
No Republican politician dares to contradict Idaho’s conservative electorate on abortion and guns. If they do, they lose. Conservatives have gained big victories on these issues. Idaho has an abortion ban, though it still needs defending in the Idaho Supreme Court, against cities like Boise who declare themselves sanctuaries for abortion, and against the national government’s efforts to rescind the law. Idaho has constitutional carry, though the federal government may try to bribe the state into eroding that fundamental right through red flag laws and slowly choke it away through regulations. These victories must be defended and expanded, within reason. Republicans should choose candidates who are willing to defend them.
Big victories have been won. These victories define party orthodoxy. This creates problems. First, candidates try to outdo one another in trying to take victories further. Idaho has an abortion ban except for verified rape and incest or the real life of the mother. Greater purity is then demanded. Partisans say that the life of the mother exception must go (there are good reasons for getting rid of it)—and getting rid of the life of the mother exception would then become an issue of party purity. Others might someday say that Idaho should try to investigate and punish women who go out of state to get abortions—and that might be an issue of party purity.
Trying to out-pro-life other pro-life candidates takes people toward controversial, even unsustainable positions. Candidates are tempted to do this because abortion is a matter of party purity and “out-pro-lifing” an opponent seems to be an easier path to victory.
The gun issue has the same logic with a different dynamic. When everyone is pro-gun, it becomes an issue of partisan purity. The NRA has given a candidate the seal of approval, so that candidate is good enough. And the NRA will endorse just about anyone. “Out-pro-gunning” one’s opponent can lead to very controversial territory, but since nearly every real Republican agrees on the gun issue it might present a path to victory.
Please do not misunderstand, again: Abortion victories should be consolidated and defended. Victories on guns should be consolidated and defended. Prudent expansions should be undertaken. Victories are never totally secure in American politics. All at Action Idaho are very pro-life or pro-gun. At some point, however, these issues become tired partisan crutches for lazy politicians. Taking the victories ever further can take parties into dangerous territory. These issues no longer distinguish one candidate over another because partisans agree on 98% of the issue.
For this reason, parties develop new issues and try to make them party orthodoxy. These new issues may break up the party or cause new partisan alignments. Good! They may shake-up a sclerotic party. Good! Elected officials will have to learn new issues inside and out—not only understanding the policies but also understanding how to sell the issue to an electorate. Good! Essentially, the elected must complete the sentence, “I want to use office in order to accomplish XXXX.” They used to say, “to protect guns” or “to protect the unborn.” Good! Now, we need more and other answers.
Several candidates for new issues present themselves. School choice is at the top of the list, in our judgment. School choice provides an opportunity to criticize establishment policies for leading to educational failure and for adopting corrupting policies in our schools. School choice provides an excellent chance to expose the corruption in our government system, as leftist interest groups like the Idaho Education Association dictate terms on education throughout the state.
At a higher level, school choice raises the question of who is in charge of the next generation, the state or parents themselves. No conservative renaissance will ever occur in the country or state until parents see themselves as having the primary duty to raise and educate their children. Many establishment politicians say they are for “freedom” and for “parent’s rights,” and school choice provides the wedge to test their sincerity.
Abortion and guns are not stale issues. Republican victories and Republican unity on these issues generally makes them less helpful in defining conservatism. School choice provides a better, but riskier path. Some enterprising Idaho Republican leader should go down that risky path. Charter schools could go private. Teacher certification could be totally deregulated. Other states have shown the way. It is time for an enterprising politician to pick up the ball and run with it.