Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Party at a Crossroads

Thoughts from the Ride Side
"A Party at a Crossroads"
by R.C. Blogger Christian Stockel

As the Republican Party regroups itself after the 2008 elections, there have been many voices offering their advice on how to “repair” the Republican Party and return them to political relevance. Unfortunately there are some voices that are tempting the party leadership into a direction that will only lead the party (and the conservative movement) to permanent defeat and result in the transformation of our Constitutional Republic into just another social democracy. Former Governor Christine Todd Whitman complained about “social fundamentalists” ruining the party. In her argument, she stated that the Republican party is held hostage by social conservatives that alienate the moderate majority and that future success will rely on Republicans abandoning social and moral issues and focus on economic and “practical” issues. David Frum points out that Democrats won this year because – since 1988 – they have become more economically conservative and the majority of Americans have become more socially liberal. Former Senator Hagel and Senator Bye have made their positions clear as well.

In summary, many are arguing that the Republican Party needs to become less conservative and move away from “moral” or “social” issues that alienate so many Americans. What gives? Did the Republican Party all of sudden develop schizophrenia? Were these people watching the same election I was? What happened to the party of ideas and optimism about our nation and its founding principles? It appears this party has been left by the wayside or its party leadership has become too intellectually lazy to articulate a robust conservative political argument and has decided to find the path of least resistance to relevance. Can someone channel the spirit of Reagan, Lee Atwater, and Lee Marvin and beat some sense into these people?

Listening to some of these arguments, one would think that the election of 2008 was between Barry Goldwater and LBJ and that the electorate voted for Great Society part Deux. If this assessment is accurate, I would really like someone to give me a clue on who the conservative candidate was and when did he show up in the campaign. The simple fact is Senator McCain was and is a moderate who seems slightly embarrassed to be a Republican. He ran as a moderate whose biggest selling point was that he was more apt to go against his own party than Barack Obama would is own. Senator McCain went out of his way to prove he would work with Democrats and compromise on key issues where practical. It was Senator McCain who advocated the government to buy troubled mortgages, he was a champion of the government bailout of the financial industry, and he advocated the ‘cap and trade” policy in an effort to help fight global warming. He was all over the place and had no coherent message. It seems that some in the Republican leadership want to repeat this model hoping for a different outcome. Brilliant!

Meanwhile, Barack Obama focused his campaign rhetoric on plans to give 95% of Americans a tax cut, reducing government spending, and bombing Pakistan into the stone-age if they got in our way going after Osama Bin Laden. Hmmm – who does that sound like? Granted, Obama’s approach was to camouflage his liberal background, policies, and tendencies with Reganesque rhetoric, but to a confused and exhausted electorate it worked. So in summary, the Republicans nominated a man who talked like a New Deal Democrat and the Democrats put forth a candidate that sounded like Reagan and looked “cool”. One can almost reach out and grab the irony, cut a slab out of it, and throw it on the grill with some onions and peppers.

In the end, the American voter was attracted to Obama’s moderate message that was well focused, well articulated, and well delivered. In contrast, the Republicans offered a candidate who couldn’t articulate a clear message, seemed almost apologetic to be running as a Republican, and looked like he was in a bad mood. ”. The American voter could not understand McCain’s message and what his administration would do for the country. The only spark his campaign received was the introduction of Sarah Palin and we all know how well they failed to leverage her effectively. It seems that the conservative and optimistic message still wins – unfortunately it was delivered by a radical leftist who brings with him a left-wing agenda and a party beholden to the MoveOn.org crowd. The fact this bait and switch job could have been sold so easily should alarm the party leadership because it signals that something is really wrong at RNC headquarters and their “strategy.

So where does this leave the Republican Party and conservatives? Well, in all honestly, it leaves us in a precarious position. Republicans are a minority in the House, the Senate, and are on the outside looking in at the White House. In addition, the main stream media has unashamedly aligned itself with the incoming Obama administration and promises to offer very little scrutiny of future policies and his administration in the near future. Unlike the 1964 election, we don’t have a Ronald Reagan who can articulate the foundations of a new conservative movement. We are in great danger of returning to the days of country club conservatism whose only reason for being was that they can run the government leviathan a bit more efficiently using a little less money than the Democrats. As proven in the past, that is a prescription for permanent minority status for Republicans. We might as well take tips from the Conservative party in Britain to map out our future – is John Major still available? More importantly, it robs our nation of an alternative political narrative when the federal government, under the complete control of Democrats, is rapidly preparing a European style welfare state that will bankrupt us financially and enervate us spiritually and morally.

These serious times require that we conservatives develop, articulate, and communicate a bold, clear, and strikingly conservative message. Our message has to be a stark contrast to the one being offered by the Democrats. In addition, the people who are selected to deliver this message should be able to not only state a policy, but also clearly explain how these conservative policies better meet the needs of the people and are more sustainable over the time. As conservatives, we will have to put in the time and effort to argue and explain how limited government, lower taxes, more capitalism, and more private property will address the concerns of Americans better than the “state as Santa Clause” model being offered by the Democrats. We need to expose the liberal agenda for what it is - a cynical attempt by Democrats to buy votes with government largesse to maintain their hold on power – the fate of the nation be damned. We need to do this without fear, without apology, and demand that liberals explain and justify their policy proposals. It is time to turn the tables – and do it quickly. Some will read this and say – “Hey sounds great, but it is easier said than done.” Well maybe not so hard if we Republicans decide that we want to be party of conservative ideas and translate these ideas into concrete policies.

Let’s take education policy. During the debates, Obama complained that the $9-10 billion a month spent on the war in Iraq ‘stole’ resources away from education programs. That was a huge opportunity for McCain to make a solid rhetorical point. He could have reminded Obama that the Department of Education has seen a continuous rise in its budget since its founding in 1977, that the federal government spends more per K-12 student than any other industrialized nation, and that this ever increasing budget has had no demonstrable impact on improving public education in the United States. McCain could have asked Obama to defend the money spent at the Department of Education and ask if any reasonably intelligent person thinks this relatively new agency has any impact on education in the US. McCain could have said the money spent to maintain a bureaucracy in Washington D.C. could be better spent on vouchers allowing low-income families to find schools that better serve their children. McCain could have, but he didn’t – an opportunity lost. Obama also told some real whoppers during the debates about how the excesses of capitalism caused the current mortgage crisis. McCain could have taken the opportunity to remind Obama about the role of misguided social policy (expansion of CRA), lowered FHA lending standards, and Fannie Mae’s packaging of dodgy loans as ‘guaranteed’ government backed paper to the secondary markets in causing this mess. He could have pre-empted Obama’s false narrative about our current economic crisis and clearly explained how more government intervention in the financial industry, the automobile industry, and the economy overall will only lead to more economic disasters. McCain could have also discussed how America’s military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan have gone along way towards re-establishing the credibly of American force and resolve after a decade of retreat and cowering in the face of radical Islam and terrorism. Well – we all know how that went.

What is needed now is one brave, clear voice of reason that will turn to the siren calls of moderation and capitulation and shout “Stop”! If we conservatives want to win, we need to grow a spine, a brain, and a belief in the principles and values that define conservatism. The country club Republicans need to be removed and expunged from the party. The moderates need to be shunned and excommunicated. New leaders with bold and aggressive ideas must to take hold of the party leadership. Conservatism needs to define the debate and drive the political narrative – not play on the field chosen by our opponents. Any other path will lead the party to permanent minority status and permit the slow drift of our nation towards the lazy slumber of socialism and the social and cultural sclerosis that will follow.

My fellow conservatives, can we do it?

Yes we can.
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