Most of you who read my blog realize that I vote Democratic rather than Republican, but what you may not know is that I do so because I am a philosophical liberal who believes in an activist government.

In this age of big money and corporate power, I find the concept of small government incredibly näive. That’s what we had before the Great Depression and it ruined the country. There has to be a watchdog on corporations and special interests to protect people from exploitation and manipulation and government is the only one that can do it.

Making government smaller and weaker gives the wealthy few more power which works against the interests of the majority of Americans. Politicians can be bought, for sure, but they can also be voted out. When used, the power of the vote is how ordinary people have a voice.

There used to be philosophical Republicans who believed in small government, making it possible for Democrats and Republicans to disagree on how best to serve the nation, but willing to use compromise to find common ground.

Small government Republicans and activist government Democrats negotiated with each other because they knew they couldn’t have things their way all the time. They were reasonable and flexible, tough, but fair.

Some of the philosophical Republicans I remember were leaders like Senators Everett Dirksen of IL, Jacob Javits of NY and Mark Hatfield of Oregon, NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Michigan Governor George Romney, Mitt Romney’s father, Senators Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, John Warner of Virginia, Howard Baker of TN, and Arlen Specter of PA, along with Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, PA Governor Tom Ridge and New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman.

All of these Republicans were conservatives, but they were respected by members on both sides of the aisle. Everyone knew they loved their country and wanted only the best for all Americans, not just some.  

The reason they were the leaders they were was because they were not ideologues. As leaders they were guided by a political philosophy of small government that shaped their view of how government should function.

Philosophical conservatives (and liberals, for that matter) were flexible because they were reasonable. They were humble enough to know that their way was not the only way, their view was not the only view. Their goal was to do what was good for the country, not simply getting their way.

Those days are gone because Republicans are now driven by ideology rather than philosophy. They have no flexibility, no sense of compromise. Like all ideologues, they want to rule rather than govern.

Mitch McConnell played a primary role in Republicans abandoning their philosophical approach to governing when he turned the Senate Republican caucus into ideologues who refused to work with President Obama on anything. Their only goal was defeating him.  

That had never happened before in the modern era, and it changed the political landscape by giving ideologues permission to hold extreme positions without consequences within the Republican party.

When Trump was elected, ideology took complete control of Republicans in Congress. He was a president who wanted to rule rather than govern. Only ideologues mattered to him because they supported his quest to establish an autocracy. Philosophical conservatives either left the party or chose to remain silent and let the ideologues run the show.

Republican supermajorities in red states are a graphic example today of the triumph of ideology among Republicans. They make no pretense of functioning as democratic bodies, choosing instead to rule as autocracies, passing law after law that polls show the majority of the citizens of their states don’t support. They don’t care because they have Gerrymandered their states so that they can rule rather than govern and pay no consequences.  

This is the kind of political extremism the Republican Party now embraces, and too many Republican voters either aren’t paying attention, don’t care about what’s happening, or support it. In each case the country is suffering the consequences and we all feel it.

It is not surprising, then, that 150 members of Congress, including Senate Minority Whip John Thune and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise wrote to the Supreme Court this week urging the justices to uphold the Texas judge’s ruling on Mifepristone. They want to ban abortion nationwide.

Nor is it surprising that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is willing to force the U.S. to default on its debt unless House Republicans get their way. Political theater seems to matter more to them than the economic price most Americans will pay if our government defaults on its debt.

This is what happens when ideologues hold political power. They create chaos and division. Throw theology into the mix and it becomes a holy war that tears at the nation’s social fabric.

I think it is safe to say that former Republican leaders not only wouldn’t recognize the Republican Party of today, they wouldn’t be welcomed in it.

I wish we could go back to the days when a President as conservative as Ronald Reagan was and a Speaker of the House as liberal as Tip O’Neil was could be the best of friends as they were.

That day is gone, at least for the foreseeable future, but the situation may not be hopeless. As more Americans realize how serious the political situation in our country is, the greater the chance that ideologues will be defeated.

The one thing we cannot do is to do nothing. As the great C. S. Lewis once wrote: “If you’ve taken a wrong turn, to keep going in the direction you’re going gets you no nearer to where you want to be.”

Knowing where you want to be is the first step to getting there. Realizing you’ve taken a wrong turn is the second one. The third is to turn around and head back to the fork in the road and then take the right road.

Perhaps the fourth step is to understand that there is no time to waste.