On 9 December, Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, new chairman of the House Republican Conference, published an op-ed proclaiming that the Republican party must offer a “better hope built on … the desire of every citizen to live the American dream unfettered by high taxes and government red tape.” This is an appeal to the people who are already comfortable – to people who already make enough money that the amount they pay in taxes is big enough to hurt. This is an appeal to people who see their tax bill as one of their biggest problems.
We all should have such problems – but for most Americans, tax payments are not their biggest problem. Pence asserts that the Republican party must take its “vision and agenda to every American regardless of race, creed, or past political affiliations” but it is a message that recalls Anatole France’s famous put-down of the supposed equality of the laws: “The law in its majesty forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” (“The Red Lily,” 1894). I am white, not African-American, but I suspect that to America’s 39-million-member African-American population, the Pence doctrine offers a stone to a family that needs bread.
Pence sets up a false choice when he says that the alternative to the conservative “give them a stone and call it bread” doctrine is “European style paternalism.” The Republican party must stand for more than just conservatism.
Government leaders can be a megaphone for change even if they are advocating that the people change themselves, rather than the government force people to change. Government leaders can urge everyone to commit meaningful efforts to racial reconciliation and the development of friendships between white Americans and African-Americans – without at the same time saying that the government has to force people to do this, that, or another thing. I am convinced from personal experience that conservative white men and African-American men have far more in common than either would expect – if only the white men could get over their damnable prejudicial attitudes. The strong Christ-centered theology of the core of the Black churches is far closer to the faith of conservative white men than is the politically-correct preaching of the liberalized mainstream denominations – but because the Black churches worship with the heritage of gospel singing and congregation participation, the white men can’t get into it. More could be done for racial reconciliation if African-American men in their churches would politely pretend that “whitey got rhythm” than any government program. And more could be done for racial reconciliation if conservative white men would invite a few African-American men to go sheet-shooting, dove hunting, and bass fishing with them, and not make cracks about bad aim or lack of touch.
It was a Republican president – Teddy Roosevelt – who said that the Presidential office is a “bully pulpit” for declaring the ideals and aspirations of what the American people can aspire to be. It was a Republican president – Ronald Reagan – who was called the “great communicator,” using the “bully pulpit” to inspire Americans to use their voluntary efforts to make America an inspiration to the world by being a “City on a Hill” setting an example for the world. The chairmanship of the House Republican Conference is another “bully pulpit” and Mike Pence needs to put some heart and soul into what he says when he mounts that pulpit and speaks to America.
— written by Edward Sisson (“sissoed”)