Monday, May 11, 2009

Advice for the Republican Party

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.


bekster said...

Yeah, I get so sick of people freaking out and making radical conclusions over things that just happen naturally. (Take Global Warming for example.) Life is FULL of (or, rather, is made up of) cycles. When "bad" times come we shouldn't be surprised. In fact, the Bible tells us to expect these things. People just need to chill. First of all, God has everything under control, and any authority a person has comes from Him anyway. Second, if we're concerned (as Conservatives) about how we "look" to others, one of the things we get criticized for is "freaking out." ("Oh my goodness! Harry Potter has witches in it! Let's boycott it!") We need to take the time to look at things objectively and make wise decisions based on what we believe and not just get swept up in the sensationalism of what others are saying. As for actual politicians, it has been said before that there is "too much politics in politics." People (politicians and constituents alike) need to believe what they believe and stick with that. How ridiculous to say that Conservatives should be less conservative! I wouldn't even want Liberals to be less liberal; that is what they ARE! I would rather them be honest so we know where they stand instead of faking a more conservative stance and yanking the rug out later. If there needs to be any "reform" to any political parties, they just need to be more honest. However, I do think we could stand to get a NEW political party that is more in the middle for people who can't go there on either side. I know that would screw up the balance, and third parties split the conservative vote. However, isn't it interesting that they don't so much split the liberal vote? That tells me that there are more semi-conservative-thinking people out there who want something different than the Republican party. So, I say, don't change the Republican party to pander to these people, give them a whole OTHER party. Maybe people are sick enough of Republicans these days (and if Obama screws up enough stuff, people may be sick of Democrats too) that a third party candidate might stand a chance. I don't know. That's probably wishful thinking, but I long for a party that is "fresh" without any baggage. Regardless, I agree with you that the Republicans need a new front man (or woman). Charisma is important, as most Americans are sheep anyway. Meanwhile, we all need to chill... and enjoy our grilled cheese sandwiches. :)

Coach Sal said...

Lots of folks say things about a new party or some sort of a realignment. And it has happened before, and may again. But the trick is, most of the folks who say that are really just wishing some group would take up all of their own personal policy preferences in one bag. In the GOP, for example, there are those whose ideal new party would be all the fiscally-conservative, low-tax stuff, but would jettison those pesky social conservatives who are pro-life and pro-marriage. Then you've got folks like me (and I'll bet, like you, Bekster) who would like to blend the same moral compass that makes us socially conservative with social programs that address poverty and inequality. Both of the parties are nowadays made up of "big tent" coalitions that really don't have structural integrity--it's an accident of history. What I pine for is the Republican party of Theodore Roosevelt or the Democrat party of Harry Truman. Either of these two great presidents would be appalled by some elements of BOTH modern parties. As am I.

bekster said...

That's true; I care more about the moral stuff (abortion) and certain social programs (feeding the hungry, etc.) than I do about taxes and things like that. Of course, like you said, taxes are not as big of an issue now anyway. If they were at 70% I would probably care a little more. The issues change from presidency to presidency, so it makes sense that the parties would change too to become more relevant. BUT, it is important for party members to retain their core beliefs. That's why it's so stupid to want to throw out the moral stuff. It should be the other way around. However, if the party DOES change to exclude the things that are important, the rest of us need someplace to go. It is better to have two different parties than one party that is divided.