A new ideological witch hunt is on in Wyoming. In place of the “big tent” philosophy of Ronald Reagan’s Republican party, open to all comers, the Conservative Republicans of Wyoming (CROW) would impose the “big test” of an ideological litmus test upon all prospective Republican candidates for office.
Where have we seen this before? The anticommunist crusade of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s? How about the “permanent purge” of McCarthy’s ideological nemesis, the other Joe — Joseph Stalin?
The irony is not that such a movement would surface in these conflicted times, but that it would surface here in Wyoming. We in Wyoming pride ourselves on our individualism and our independence. Ours is not a mentality which would segregate ourselves into communities of political correctness or ideological conformity.
But if the idea is actually to get something done, then it may help to take into account the obvious fact that others may have different objectives which need to be accommodated. It is often more effective to do this, not by appealing to ideological principles, but by building a broad-based coalition that can come together on the basis of their common interests.
Lest anyone think the “big test” approach is a monopoly of the Republican Party right wing, they only need to look across the border at our neighbors in Colorado. There an alliance of hard-line environmental groups is posing an ideological challenge to a simple measure that could actually help advance their own goal of combating climate change.
The measure involves methane emissions from coal mines. Including these emissions as a clean energy source within the state’s “renewable portfolio standard” would provide an incentive for electric power companies to take this greenhouse gas (20 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide) and burn it in power plants, instead of simply releasing it into the atmosphere.
But as pointed out by Allen Best in a recent article in the Star-Tribune (“Sometimes Environmentalists Miss the Boat,” June 30), environmentalists who are opposed ideologically to any further mining or use of coal see this as contrary to their goal of shutting down coal altogether. So in the name of ideological opposition to coal, they resist a measure that could actually cut down carbon emissions from coal while coal still continues to be used.
Contrary to Richard Mourdock, the tea party member who recently defeated longtime Sen. Richard Lugar for the Republican Senatorial nomination in Indiana, politics does not have to be a zero-sum game aimed at defeating one’s opponent. There is such a thing as “win-win solutions,” in which everyone comes out ahead. For example, a number of groups in Wyoming have come together in common support of more widespread deployment of natural gas vehicles and infrastructure. These groups have varying objectives. Some have commercial interests in building the market for natural gas, others have clean air or climate change concerns, others want to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. But they all have come together within a unified framework — the Wyoming Natural Gas Vehicle and Infrastructure Coalition — to “correlate but pursue their own objectives,” in the words of one of their leaders.
A “big tent” approach does not have to preclude ideological consistency. Another broadly based organization within the state, the Wyoming Tax Association, pursues a “big tent” approach to tax policy by applying a few simple but consistent yardsticks: e.g., balance, equity, stability, and transparency.
WTA Executive Director Erin Taylor describes these yardsticks as providing the “backbone” of WTA, helping it to insure against bias in making its policy recommendations. Rather than predisposing the organization toward any particular set of policy recommendations or outcomes, the yardsticks provide a set of neutral criteria by which any set of policy recommendations can be evaluated. Most of all, the yardsticks are intended to apply to policies, not people. Their purpose is not to single out particular individuals for ostracism or stigmatization.
Based on this approach, the association has brought together a broad-based coalition of energy, agricultural, tourism, construction, and other groups in support of a fuel tax increase to finance highway maintenance and construction in the state. Explaining this approach in a recent article in the Star-Tribune (“Fuel tax hike is best source of funds,” June 9), Taylor invokes the principle of equity: like a users fee, a tax increase at the pump would fall most heavily on those who benefit most from use of the highways.
Just as it is possible to have a “win-win” approach to politics, it is possible to pursue “both/and” approaches, encompassing both the politics of inclusion and the politics of conviction. The true test of the salience of a political ideology is not how rigidly it can be interpreted. It’s how many diverse interests can be gathered to its fold.
David Wendt is president of the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs.