Brexit, Abortion, and the Future of Party Politics

With the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, a political pundit recently predicted that the two major political parties would eventually realign to reflect new policy priorities among voters. As I read the prediction and as I thought about the Brexit vote and the Supreme Court’s abortion decision this week, I couldn’t help but think of another aspect of that alignment that social conservatives may need to consider.

The pundit pointed out that social issues have tended to draw people to one party or the other, even though those people may not have shared that party’s other platform policies. The pundit predicted that, with the “social wars” over, we would now see a “policy realignment” within the parties based on “a clash between nationalists, mostly on the right, and multicultural globalists, mostly on the left.”1

While I don’t think the “social wars” will ever be over, I realized I had touched on this idea several weeks ago in one of my commentaries:

I think some social conservatives have despaired of “values candidates” actually doing anything in support of their values. They have not lost their concern for the social values that drove them in the past to reluctantly support the Doles, McCains, and Romneys, and the do-nothing-but-make-excuses-for-inaction social conservatives who have been elected to Congress, but they have decided that supporting such conservatives isn’t going to result in those values being reflected in public policy. So, at this point, I think some social conservatives … are voting for someone who talks tough on the other issues they care about.

But this shift also seems a bit like the vote that just took place in Britain. I couldn’t help but notice several statements of this type:

But the really important thing is that future Prime Ministers will really have the power to run the country. No longer will they have the excuse that this or that isn’t possible due to some EU directive. Then we will have the chance to throw them out. That is the precious democratic inheritance that our parents and grandparents had which we have recovered and can pass on to our children and grandchildren.2

And I couldn’t help but think how something similar could be said of the United States if the size of the federal government shrunk and the people demanded that the imperialist U.S. Supreme Court be reigned in. Politicians would no longer “have the excuse that this or that isn’t possible due to” some Supreme Court decision or some federal law or regulation. The precious “democratic inheritance” we were given and have squandered could be “recovered” and “pass[ed] on to our children and grandchildren.”

That brings me to the Supreme Court’s abortion decision this week. Pro-life advocates have decried the decision and vowed to continue to fight to overturn Roe v. Wade. As much as I support that idea, it’s fighting the symptom, not the disease. The disease is the judicial philosophy of the Court (and courts at every level) coupled with its lack of accountability. With this judicial philosophy and a completely unaccountable judiciary, we need to realize our “democratic inheritance” is gone.

So how does all this hang together? If the pundit is right about the parties being realigned based on globalist vs. nationalist kinds of ideologies, then a secondary but parallel issue may well be alignment based on whether one party supports a strong national government or a more limited federal government in which states take on an increasing policy function as envisioned by our Founders under the Constitution prior to its reshaping by the Supreme Court.3

The first question in my mind is which party will embrace which of these two competing internal governing structures for the U.S. And the second question is whether social conservatives will, at least for the time being, be content to accept domestic policies crafted at the state level, even if it means some states do some things they won’t like.

The bottom line is that things are changing. Social conservatives would do well to figure out what that change is and where they fit within it.


  1. Michael Lind, “This Is What the Future of American Politics Looks Like,” Politico, May 22, 2016
  3. People forget that the Bill of Rights that the Supreme Court has applied to nationalize the federal government and strike down state policies the Court majority doesn’t like originally only applied to the states. It was not until long after the adoption of the 14th Amendment that the Court began to use the Bill of Rights against the states.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Republican Parallels to the Democratic Demise?

The rhetoric within the Republican Party in Tennessee continued to escalate this week over Common Core with one Republican legislator calling the Governor a traitor to the party. As I read some of what’s been said about the role Common Core may have had in Republican primaries, I couldn’t help but think about the similarities to other issues that changed the complexion of Tennessee politics from blue to red.

The Income Tax

One issue that changed the complexion of Tennessee politics from blue to red was the income tax. During 2001-2002, leaders of the Democratic Party, along with the help of a few Republicans, including the governor at the time, pushed for an income tax. Ultimately, an income tax bill was voted on in the state House. It did not pass, but it got enough votes to make Tennessee voters really mad. And their anger played out in the coming elections.

As I reviewed the list of my former colleagues in the General Assembly during those years, one thing that seemed to be common to the Democrats who lost re-election or chose to retire was their support for the income tax. That issue was a bell-weather issue and remains one to this day.

But another issue worked against the Democrats and played to the Republican’s favor; it was the life-abortion issue.


Beginning in 2001, Republicans, me being one of them, began to push what is now known as Amendment 1 that will be on the ballot in November. Amendment 1 is an amendment to the state constitution that would reverse the decision of our state Supreme Court in which it found a “right to abortion” and struck down a number of our laws designed to protect women and the unborn.

Not being for the legislation that was the precursor to Amendment 1 on the ballot was a death knell to a number of Democrats (in addition to the one Republican who ever voted against putting it on the ballot).

The Ladder to Republican Success

The income tax and abortion were the electoral issues that really began to change the complexion of the General Assembly. Republicans rode to the majority on the back of fiscal and social conservatives. One cannot deny the role that gun rights have played in the Republican party in recent years, but the two legs of the ladder on which the state’s Republican Party rose to its current dizzying heights are fiscal and social conservatism.

A Deepening Divide?

Like the two issues that divided the Democrats from the Republicans, if Republicans are not careful, Common Core and traditional social issues may divide the Republican Party itself. In this last election cycle, it seemed that the divide in the party between fiscal and social conservatives became more pronounced. Though one might not readily see how Common Core fits that divide, it does.

Those who push Common Core seem concerned that our students are not learning what is needed to have a strong economy in a global marketplace. They tend to be fiscal conservatives.

On the other side are those who seem concerned that Common Core elevates political correctness over our founding principles and gives too great a nod to big government, particularly the federal government, and to globalism.

However, many in this latter camp are also those we might call “traditional” social conservatives, those concerned about abortion, parental rights in education, the homosexual agenda, and threats to religious liberty. The two “sides” are not identical, but that’s what makes things so explosive politically—when you add them together, you begin to find a lot of upset people.

Finding a Way Forward

The bottom line is that Tennessee Republicans must find a way to address the issues social conservatives care about. Personally, I don’t think we have to choose between high academic standards and keeping liberal political philosophies and political correctness out of our schools. I also don’t think we have to choose between being socially conservative and being fiscally conservative. In fact, the former makes the latter possible.

But I do think this: Smiles of feigned concern and pats on the head of social conservatives by Republican fiscal conservatives may not work to keep everybody in the hoped-for big tent of the Republican party happy. In this last election cycle the rumblings were audible. If the trend continues, expect the rhetoric to escalate and for there to be more political bloodshed in the 2016 primaries.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Are Today’s Politicians up to the Task?

This week the Navy announced that it was designing a new kind of ship to replace the existing class of amphibious vessels that are nearing the end of their useful life. As I read the article, I couldn’t help but wonder if our “existing class” of political leaders” isn’t “nearing the end of their useful life” as well.

What prompted this thought was a military official’s statement that the amphibious vessels we use today won’t meet the coming need “due to the concept of operations we are under today.” In other words, what worked before isn’t going to continue to work now, because the nature of warfare and the landscape of the battlefield have changed.

And the same is true of our political landscape. It’s changed from what it was in 1776 and even as recently as the 1950s. Those who don’t understand that will wonder what happened when they get run over. But the change is not just a result of technology and political methodologies, which is what most political parties, politicians, and political organizations think. It’s more than that. The whole nature of the political “conflict” has changed.

In the past, American politics operated more or less on the basis of a shared set of fundamental beliefs. The political conflict or divide rested in how to apply those beliefs to a particular problem. Today conflict over application still exists, but the nature of the conflict or divide is different because the conflict manifests at the level of a core fundamental belief.

By “fundamental” I’m not referring to something as superficial as a belief in whether a strong economy is a “good” thing. And by what “divides” I’m not referring to a belief that more government or less government regulation or taxation is what will bring about a strong economy. I’m taking about something even more fundamental than that.

The dividing line today—the new “battleground,” if you will—is our view of the universe itself, namely, is there a God who intervenes in time and space to hold men and the governments accountable for righteousness and justice according to immutable standards of the same? That is the dividing line.

There are some politicians today who would give lip service to that belief, but many of them betray themselves by the way in which they govern. For example, many of those politicians, Democrat and Republican, believe that the “right” tax and regulatory policies by civil government will produce a strong economy, even if on the cultural front we flaunt God’s design for marriage rooted in His very nature, kill our children in the womb, and worship the creation rather than the Creator.

Too many of today’s politicians either embrace these cultural views or run away from talking about them like they were running away from a devil who has set their hair on fire.

For those who believe that this “kind” of politician is fundamentally wrong and not up to the task that lies ahead, we have to ask ourselves: are we going to do what we have to do to train up a new kind of politician, one who is prepared to challenge the prevailing God-is-dead-or-irrelevant view of the universe and who will talk about the issues the current crop won’t talk about?

If we’re not ready to do that, then like warships no longer fit for battle, our ship of state may be sunk.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Keeping Politics Out of the Court?

Judges want us to believe that they are above “politics,” and, in fact, the advertisements running to support the retention of three of Tennessee’s sitting Supreme Court Justices urge us to “keep politics out of the court.” If that’s what they want, then they need to stop responding to voters the way they did when asked certain survey questions by The Family Action Council of Tennessee.

The survey questions asked of the state’s Supreme Court Justices were directed solely at trying to determine their judicial philosophy. For example, one question simply asked which of the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court they most identified with in terms of judicial philosophy. It asked if they agreed or disagreed with certain statements made by other jurists about judicial philosophy.

Here is how Justices Lee and Clark both responded:

It is my policy not to answer questionnaires in order to prevent any appearance that my consideration of a case that comes before the Supreme Court would be influenced by anything other than the record and the law applicable to that case. For that reason, I must respectfully decline to answer this questionnaire.

That sounds really great. Very high-sounding. But are they really being honest with voters?

When you read the survey, you’ll notice that not one question asked for the Justice’s view on any particular issue like abortion, gay marriage, the death penalty, or gun rights. Not one.

Not one question asked what they might do on any particular type of case. In fact, they weren’t even asked if they agreed with any particular decision in any particular case previously decided in any court in the entire world. Not one!

So what kind of “case” were they being asked about that if they answered they would be creating an “appearance” that they were being “influenced” by something other than the facts and the law? The correct answer is “none.”

In light of their answer, now consider this. These Justices are currently running advertisements that specifically tell us that they have upheld a high percentage of death verdict cases and they support Second Amendment rights.

In other words, they are eager to tell us what they want us to know about them, even on specific issues and types of “cases.” However, they want us to believe that judicial integrity somehow compels them not to tell us something as non-case specific as whether their judicial philosophy is more like Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

If that’s true, then they are beginning to sound like a bunch of politicians playing politics by hiding their views from voters on issues they don’t want them to know about. Like smooth-talking politicians, they seem more than willing to tell us what they want us to know, but completely unwilling to answer honest questions about things we want to know.

Consider this as well. The cover letter accompanying the survey given to them specifically cited the 2002 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court holding that judges could not be prohibited by any rule of judicial ethics from “announcing their views on disputed legal and political issues” (Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 [2002]).

Citing the case to them should have helped discourage the kind of answer they wound up giving. If nothing else, it should have put them on notice that the organization asking the questions knew better than to accept the kind of answer they gave. But it seems they didn’t care.

The point, apparently lost on these Justices, is that there is nothing in the law or the canons of judicial ethics that would cause them to say that they “must decline” answering the kind of questions they were asked—nothing except their own unwillingness to do so.

Like real politicians, the judges have done their politicking. Beginning today, voters will now have their chance to judge the politics of judges.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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FACT Report: April 16, 2014

Politics in the Workplace (April 16, 2014)

In the aftermath of the forced “resignation” of Brendan Eich as CEO of Mozilla Corporation, some conservatives commended him for never bringing his political beliefs about marriage into the workplace. But is it really good that the leader of a business is able to leave such political beliefs aside when he comes to work?

Unlike beliefs about the best brand of ice cream, political beliefs about marriage flow from beliefs that go to the very core of how we see God, man, and the world. Aren’t those the kinds of beliefs that should influence the decisions we make, regardless of the context in which those decisions are made?

Thankfully many owners of smaller businesses are standing up for marriage, even at risk of financial loss. When they do, let’s support them, and pray that more will follow their lead.

[fancy_header1]More On This Issue[/fancy_header1]

Read more about this issue in David Fowler’s recent commentary Does Mozilla Have the Right to be Intolerant?

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