It's been nearly seven months since the bridge collapse here in Minnesota. Right or wrong, it has become a symbol of our crumbling transportation infastructure.
For several years, transportation has been a burning issue. We were slow to light rail transit, and our freeways, built when the Twin Cities was a much smaller metro area, are full. Governor Tim Pawlenty (a potential VP candidate for John McCain), has taken a strong "no new taxes" pledge to the delight of hard core conservatives. Of course, a government has to do things like maintain roads, so Mr. Pawlenty has decided to use bonding bills to pay for some improvements, which is basically putting things on a credit card to pay someday. The Democrats, with the help of a few Republicans, crafted a bill that would raise the gas tax by five cents (something that hasn't been done in twenty years) , add to the sales tax in the metro area to pay for transit and raise license fees for new cars. The bill was vetoed by the Governor, but was overidden by the House.
The result for the dissident Republicans was that they were punished, losing leading leadership positions and quite possibily facing intra-party challenges.
I share this because it is part of the problem with the Republican party these days: it can't tolerate independence. The party of the man that once said, "The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor," seems more interested in making sure everyone toes the line to what they think is party orthodoxy.
Of course, it is important to have some sense of ideological cohesion. Ideology gives some framework to a political party. But ideology should be loose fitting lest it be a straight jacket.
And the analogy of a straight jacket makes some sense: those who seek purity tend to stop thinking. You don't have to use your brain if all you do is adhere to party tenets all the time.
This is why John McCain is still not loved by the hard core conservatives: he's willing to think for himself. He is definitely conservative, but in a democracy where one works with others who don't share the same views, he works with Democrats to get legislation passed. Things get done, but he angers the hard core because he isn't upholding the party line.
To me, such thinking is proof of a party in decline, a party turned in on itself. Punishing heretics might make one feel good, but after a while people start falling away. That's what has been happening to the GOP for years. People get tired of being called "RINOs" and traitors and walk away. I know a fair number of people who have left the GOP because of such narrow thinking.
Frankly, it's way past time for a Republican Reformation. There need to be new ideas to fit the times. But it might take losing this year and in 2010 and in 2012 for the GOP to see it needs to become the party of ideas again.