Disagreement in the arena of public policy has a much longer and richer history than the contention that has lately rocked the Utah Republican Party.
The United States of America, a republic founded on centuries of thought, legal development and bloody conflict, has benefited from robust and often heated debate over crucial issues ranging back to the days of British rule on the continent. Out of the crucible of contention, ideas were refined, through debate and compromise, bringing forth even better ideas and principles than those originally vying for adoption.
Competing interests, from Tory vs. Whig, Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists, or Federalist vs. Democratic Republican, resulted in the bringing forth of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the doctrine of judicial review.
Moving in circles on both sides of the post-Revolutionary American political scene was James Madison, a singular genius with strong influence on the literature and thought of different sides to some of the most critical questions in the framing of American government. Known as the “Father of the Constitution,” he helped organize the Constitutional Convention and developed much of what would become the Virginia Plan. Later, in the ratification phase, he wrote in favor of the new Constitution, with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, under the pseudonym “Publius,” authoring what are now known as the Federalist Papers. He also drafted and helped with the ratification of the Bill of Rights, which were vitally important to the Anti-Federalists.
Still later in his career, he collaborated with Thomas Jefferson in authoring the Kentucky (Jefferson) and Virginia (Madison) Resolutions, as part of a bid to combat the Alien and Sedition Acts. Through his involvement in the Supreme Court case Marbury v. Madison in 1803, and the fight to nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts, the doctrine of Judicial Review was born, answering the question of how to invalidate unconstitutional laws. As evidenced by their time serving in George Washington’s cabinet, Hamilton and Jefferson sharply disagreed with each other, to the point of being unable to work together. But Madison was able, throughout his career, to work with them both and develop significant contributions with each.
In the earlier examples, opposing factions were mentioned. But looking deeper, we can see that there exists true ideological opposition and a more superficial or methodical disagreement. For example, the Tories sided and sympathized the king and Great Britain. They were the true opposition.
Then there were the Whigs, consisting primarily of the moderates who embraced most of the Whig ideals, but held a strict view on when the people have the right to revolution. Also included in the Whig side are the “radical” Whigs, like Samuel Adams or Thomas Paine, who believed the same general things as the moderates, but thought the time had come for revolution.
Only after King George rejected the Olive Branch Petition and declared the colonies rebels did the Whigs unite and adopt the Declaration of Independence, an idea that would have been laughed out of the Continental Congress only a year prior.
In local politics, perhaps the most troubling and divisive question has been regarding how a candidate gains access to the primary ballot in the state of Utah. In this case, the true opposition is the Democratic Party, and the special interest group Count My Vote, a nonpartisan group advocating for open primaries accessible via gathering a predetermined number of voter signatures.
Then, there are the factions within the Republican Party such as the “Buckshot caucus,” supporters of SB 54, a dual-path compromise law that allows signature gathering or the traditional caucus/convention method of ballot access, and a group of State Central Committee members, sometimes known as the “Gang of 51,” along with those who support Keep My Voice, an interest group advocating for the preservation of the caucus/convention system.
These competing factions can both claim virtuous and worthy motives for their positions and actions, but in the chaos and argument concerning the issue, the party has suffered losses in unity, funds and even registered voters. The party is better than this. We, as party members are better than this.
The time has come to elevate the dialogue, to contribute meaningfully and thoughtfully to the literature, to be civil in our disagreements and to submit ourselves to the marketplace of ideas, while being able to accept the outcomes as they come. To communicate and to truly understand each other, and to work to further those goals we agree on, and to accept input from all of our fellow Republicans with the same consideration and respect we would like to receive ourselves. In the absence of a modern embodiment of James Madison, let us all at least try to be a little more like him.