For most of my political career I have been a right-wing Republican. On a shelf in my home office is a nearly 40-year-old framed cartoon from Malcolm “Mal” Hancock of two amorphous people, one saying to the other, “The way I figure it, I’m somewhere right of ultra-right wing.” My right-wing pedigree is long, distinguished and impeccable. Only Utah GOP politics could make me question that pedigree. Today, next to the Mal cartoon, on my office shelf sits another cartoon showing an older couple watching Hannity, Limbaugh and Coulter ranting and raving on television and the man lamenting, “I miss William F. Buckley.”
Bill Buckley not only set the standard for modern conservatism, he and his legendary colleagues at National Review used their substantial pulpit to define the boundaries of conservatism and to aggressively exclude people or ideas or groups they considered unworthy of the conservative title. I have tried to do the same here in Utah over the past 17 years. Setting these boundaries matter because freedom matters.
In 2004, in a speech titled “The Poison of Extremism,” I said extremism is alive and well in Utah, I was committed to fighting it and, for the untrained eye, offered eight characteristics of Utah extremism. I repeated this warning publicly in 2011 during the debate over immigration, and from that experience added three more characteristics to the list. Today, facing a strident, Pharisaical, still nativist and now broke and increasingly marginalized Utah GOP, the song remains the same. But today we can do something about it.
The 3rd Congressional District Republican primary provides a classic example of extremism versus moderation as Chris Herrod tries to overcome front-runner Provo Mayor John Curtis, respectively. If ever Utah political extremism had a face, that face today is Chris Herrod. And if 3rd Congressional District Republican voters have a reasonable bone left in their body, they will choose John Curtis.
Herrod is a self-described “platform Republican” which is code for all sorts of political emotions including disdain for collecting signatures to get on a ballot (the path chosen by Curtis) and contempt for undocumented immigrants. Most Utahns would support a majority of the planks in the Utah GOP platform, I suspect. The sentiments behind the principles are not problematic. Most Utahns, like John Curtis, believe in limited government, private property, free markets, the sanctity of life and the Second Amendment. The platform is not the problem. The problem is what that platform means to extremists.
Pharisees are always textualists. But freedom’s faithful are always contextualists. These GOP extremists strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. The faithful focus on the weightier matters at hand. For example, take a good look at the Utah Republican Party state platform, just its preamble. Adherents say they support government based on “moral and spiritual foundation[s].” What are those and are they commensurate for everyone? If, indeed, these adherents affirm “freedom for every individual” as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, how does this sentiment apply to undocumented immigrants? Oh, wait, the answer to that question follows with “We support the ‘Rule of Law’ and believe in upholding the law of the land.” But how do you sustain a law based on a wrong rule? Do they even know what the rule is?
Constitutionalist Pharisees are positive they know what all of those words mean and insist on their specific definitions. But from the bottom of my tried and true conservative heart and standing on my solid right-wing pedigree, I can assure you Herrod and his followers have little clue about the deeper meanings and historical, legal and experiential context for these expressions of affirmation.
The real problem for Herrod and his ideological band of followers is they have separated the values upon which they claim to live from the strident policies they seek to promote; they celebrate naïve civic participation but fail to appreciate true civic character; and, lastly, the wind beneath their wings is the scorn they breathe over anyone who dares to disagree with their myopic worldview.
I encourage my 3rd Congressional District neighbors to vote for John Curtis.
Paul Mero is founder of ptmstrategies LLC.