Seems like everybody and their cousin has advice for the Republicans these days. Time magazine's cover this week shows the famous GOP elephant with the caption, "endangered species." Bloggers, pundits, and congressmen all are falling over themselves pronouncing doom for the party and prescribing numerous remedies, most of which involve abandoning various positions which conservatives have traditionally held. Most of this is based on the premise that these ideas are old, discredited, and the proximate cause for recent electoral failures--failures which include, but are not limited to, the loss of congress in '06, the election of Barack Obama this past year, and now the defection of Arlen Specter to the Democrats (which, assuming the eventual seating of Al Franken in the Senate from Minnessota, means the Dems have 60 votes, and can pass any bill they want with zero chance of filibuster). Well, I'm joining in. Here's my advice:
First of all, RELAX. Read a history book sometime, for starters. US Politics is cyclical. There have been many, many times when a party (both of them) has been pronounced dead and buried. I think I recall an article or two about the collapse of the Democrats after Bush beat Kerry in '04. And then they come back... almost every time. Look at the drubbing the Republicans took starting in '74 with Watergate. They couldn't win a race for dog-catcher. And the rise of Jimmy Carter was the next big thing. Just one election later, the Reagan Revolution (more on St. Ron later). And it works both ways. After 12 years of Reagan and Bush 41, even Bill Clinton said, "the era of big government is over." Compare that pronouncement with today's budget and see if his prediction held true. It is liberalism's turn, and when their turn is up, the cycles will continue as they have before.
Secondly, the beating Republicans have taken of late are not so bad. Let's be clear--after 2+ solid years of an unpopular war, while led by one of the least-popular presidents in modern history, in the midst of the worst economic meltdown in a generation, and while running a candidate who was Bob Dole minus the charm, against one of the most charismatic campaigners of all time, assisted by a fawning media and a chance for centuries-old racial redemption, the Republicans lost the last election by 53-46%. That's not quite as bad as Bush's dad beat Dukakis. It's nothing like the hurt LBJ put on Goldwater, or that FDR put on Hoover. Shucks, in my class we don't even breathe the word "landslide" until you're well over 56%. And even if you DO win a landslide, that doesn't mean it will last--Hoover, Harding, and Nixon all won big ones, and fell from grace quicker than they rose. Shucks, by some counts, McCain was even or slightly ahead until the economy fell off the cliff!
Third, how can anybody say with a straight face that the GOP's problem lately has been that they have been TOO CONSERVATIVE? To say that Bush and the current Republicans in congress spent (and borrowed) like drunken sailors is an insult to navies full of them. They picked the absolutely least conservative figure in their primary field to run against Obama. Specter may have said that the party's march to the right was the cause of his defection, but PLEASE. The guy's a hack, who switched TO the Republicans back in '66 to win an election, and switched back now for the same reason. And the party he bolted spent tons of money in his last election to defend him against a more-conservative challenger. Consider the source.
So, what to do? Start with the Hippocratic oath: first, do no harm. Don't freak out and make wholesale changes, throwing babies out with bath water. Secondly, don't think that becoming "Democrat-lite" helps anything. If the argument is over which statist party will spend the most and trade the most cradle-to-grave cocooning for your freedoms, the GOP cannot win that bidding war. Remember poor, desperate, failed, Barry Goldwater: he said "a choice, not an echo," and "in your heart, you know he's right." Well, 61% of American's did NOT know he was right in 1964. But 16 years later, those same principles swept Reagan into office. If the ideas are right, the country will realize it in due time. If they are not right, no amount of game theory will make them so.
Finally, a word about Reagan. Conservatives and Republicans (who are often not the same people) like to say that we need a "new Reagan." That is true, to a point--we need an articulate, charismatic, optimistic spokesman for our ideals. As the old adage goes, you can't beat somethin' with nothin', and in the age of Obama, image is as important as it has ever been. But we need to be careful not to think that emulating Reagan's policies is the answer. The Cold War is over (thank God!). Tax rates are no longer at 70%. Inflation is non-existent (for now, at least). There are different issues now, and the "next Reagan" needs to be able to deal with them--immigration, health care, entitlement reform, terrorism. You can apply Reaganesque principles to these issues, but the trick is to apply them in 21st-century ways.
I know, I have not even begun to articulate what conservative principles are (or should be). Maybe I will later. Or I may write about health care. But right now I'm going to go make a grilled-cheese sandwich.