Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Back to Basics

Much post-election political commentary has focused on the alleged need for the Republican party to "broaden its appeal" to attract the young and minorities and that it needs to abandon stances on issues, like abortion and immigration, that alienate these groups. It also needs to shed its reputation for penny-pinching and loosen up the public purse-strings in order to woo the poor into the party.

All of these recommendations are silly. They amount to saying that if Republicans want to compete with Democrats why, then, they should become Democrats. It amounts to selling their soul for a mess of political pottage, and it wouldn't work anyway. The Republicans have not fallen into disfavor because they hold to the wrong principles. They've fallen from grace because they don't appear to stand for any principles at all.

What Republicans need to do to regain the public's confidence is three things: First, they need to stop running old men for president. Beginning in 1992 with George H.W. Bush Republicans three times run seemingly out-of-touch, superannuated candidates against younger, more charismatic opponents and they've lost every time. The two elections in which they prevailed (2000, 2004) the GOP candidate was the same age as the Democratic candidate. If the Republicans want to get the under 30 vote they're going to have to bend to a sociological reality: Young people love and admire their grandfathers, but they prefer their presidents to be youthful, intelligent, articulate, and energetic.

Secondly, Republicans need to return to their principles. George W. Bush has spent money as though nothing was more abundant and what has it gotten him? He has a popularity rating that can only be measured with sonar and an economy which will probably ruin his presidential legacy.

Republicans need to stand firmly for spending discipline, they need to go cold-turkey on their addiction to earmarks, and they need to stop sounding an uncertain trumpet on social issues. Voters rightly wonder, if their choice is between a genuine liberal Democrat and a GOP knock-off of a liberal Democrat, why not just vote for the real thing? Meanwhile, conservatives stay home in disgust. McCain got five million fewer votes than Bush did in 2004 largely because McCain's record in the Senate failed to inspire confidence among conservatives that he was the genuine article.

Thirdly, and perhaps most crucially, Republicans need to see themselves as educators. George Bush's biggest failing, aside from his economic profligacy and border apathy, was his failure to educate the American people as to why his other policies were right. Whatever the quality of his leadership in the White House may have been, he was often AWOL on the public airwaves when the people needed to be inspired, assured and instructed as to why they should follow him on the course he was setting.

A Republican leadership made up of the same anonymous mystery men who guided the campaigns of Bush the elder, Bob Dole, and John McCain will almost certainly guarantee the party an extended vacation in political Siberia. The reason why so many people were drawn to Sarah Palin and willing to forgive her her short-comings was that she was such a breath of fresh air in her declarations of her convictions. The cavils of a derisory media notwithstanding, those convictions are almost exactly those of the vast majority who comprise the GOP base and, indeed, many Democrats as well. Palin was a resonant trumpet to McCain's dubious kazoo and many people were grateful to her for that.

By all means Republicans should seek to attract those outside the party, but they should do it by promoting conservative principles, not abandoning them, and by selecting younger, attractive advocates for those principles. They need to make the case for their principles with such power and clarity that not even a media fully committed to doing wahtever it takes to neutralize their voices will be unable to prevent the message from eroding popular support from the Democratic ranks.

Just as I was finishing this post up I came across this article by Karl Rove which says much the same things only he says more and says it better.