There will be lots of talk about unity at the Republican National Convention this week, but one wonders to what degree the concept will define the goals of the Republican Party or, especially, its chief faction, the Tea Party. We can be sure the Tea Party elements will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their GOP brethren on the notion of removing Barack Obama as president. But from that broad goal on down, the checklist grows more and more unclear.
Eliminating "Obamacare?" United
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Replacing it with something else? Not so sure.
Opposing abortion? Absolutely
In every case? Starting to get murky.
Tax cuts for everyone? Sure again.
Everyone? Really? Let's look at the code.
Energy? Environment? Education? Gun control? Now we need to talk.
Medicare? Social Security? Gay marriage? Social services cuts? Even more.
As it applies to unity, the task facing Republicans, no less than Democrats next week in their own way, is to demonstrate that they have not only mouths but ears also -- that they are willing to acknowledge that solutions to the nation's problems require contributions from a broad cross section of often-very-unlike-minded citizens and need to address disparate goals of an immensely diverse population.
The key to that approach can be summed up in two words: moderation and cooperation. And this is where the relationship with the Tea Party gets troublesome.
For both the nation as a whole and the GOP in particular, the emergence of the Tea Party has been a valuable development. It has given voice to a segment of the population that felt ignored and disenfranchised and produced ideas about the nature of democracy that demand attention. So the Tea Party certainly could contribute to GOP strength and authority but for one problematic characteristic of the movement -- an apparent disdain for compromise with or accommodation of opinions a given member doesn't endorse.
One may acknowledge the legitimacy of the Tea Party's strong stance against government spending without necessarily agreeing with it, but the movement's triumphant obstinance -- perhaps nowhere embodied more thoroughly than in McHenry's own Joe Walsh of the 8th Congressional District -- carries a tone that contradicts the values of compromise and accord without which republican democracy cannot succeed.
The Republican Party is and ought to be spending this week laying out the case for its approach to government and why that approach will be more successful than the Democrats', and we of course expect and hope to see the passion of its convictions on display. But ultimately the party can be moderate without being liberal. It can be both inclusive and passionate. Cooperative as well as principled. It can produce a grand vision, not to mention victory in November.
But it cannot do all that unless it convinces a sizable portion of the voting public that there is room for people who can effectively carry the small-government banner without tearing apart either the Republican Party or the country. That, and not merely the agreement on a common enemy, is the kind of unity we hope to see this week.