I want the Republican party to get back on its feet, for the same reasons I was so distressed with the idea of them running everything: echo chambers are not conducive to good governance, and a variety of ideas and points of view are necessary in order to pluck the best ones from the crop.
For the future of the Republican party, I like what I see from Gov. Pawlenty of Minnesota:
Not because of his specific policy proposals, which are rather vague in this article, but because he gets it: he understands that if a hammer is only making things worse, the answer isn’t a sledgehammer. Just because the hammer got the job done when the job was to nail some plywood to a 2 x 4 doesn’t mean that the hammer is the right tool for setting glass plating.
Basically what I’d like is to have two political parties who both have a number of good ideas hashing them out together and coming to a consensus on which ones are best. Seemingly what we have now are the Republicans, who believe that every problem can be solved by cutting taxes or blowing up another country, and the Democrats, who believe that every problem can be solved by some new government program. Neither view is correct.
A couple of places where I think the Republicans can start:
1. Universal health care is something that Americans want, whether Republicans do, or not. However, I don’t necessarily think that a big new government bureaucracy is the way to go, especially with our massive existing federal deficit. The Republicans could fashion something workable that would be free market-based and managed at the state level. The problem with many of the Republicans’ health care proposals to date have been that they’re either designed to fail or don’t address the actual problems. If the Republicans could come up with something like that, they’d be competitive again by 2012.
2. The inequitable nature of public education is a long-standing problem in this country, dating back to segregation. The Democrats have largely tried to bail out the Titanic with a Dixie cup on this issue, and Republicans’ sole policy proposal has been to man the lifeboats by giving out vouchers. However, once again, manning the lifeboats doesn’t address the actual issue: there is no reason that public education cannot be as high quality as private education. I’ve seen that in Green Bay: we had high quality public schools in that city, mainly because the people and the government made it a point to deliver high quality education in their schools. The Republicans can take the lead on this issue by discontinuing their efforts to simply abandon the public school system and begin to work at the local level to fix the system. Once again, I don’t think a massive federal program can fix this: it has to be the people on site doing the job, but the Department of Education can coordinate by studying school districts like Green Bay to figure out what they’re doing right and then studying school districts like Milwaukee to figure out what they’re doing wrong and then providing actual guidance (not just testing) to those failing school districts to get them back on track.
3. The programs of the Great Society failed to fix the problem of poverty and have instead institutionalized it. Kudos to LBJ for trying, but it didn’t work. Unfortunately, the Republicans have offered little more than “let the churches handle it” as an alternative solution to the problem. This is a messy issue, and no one big sweeping program will fix it. It’s going to take a number of approaches, and I really do think the Republicans do have some potential to offer some constructive input on this front. The Republicans are terribly fond of telling people to pull themselves up by their boot straps. They should take it a step further and show people how. Work with the business and religious communities to change people’s mindsets from one of dependency to one of empowerment. Take the “homeless shelter” model and take it a step further: help those who want it, even those who are not homeless, to overcome drug and alcohol addictions. Offer work to those want it in exchange for a minimum wage, shelter, food, and job training. Don’t just hand it out to them: make them earn it. There is always litter to pick up and graffiti that needs to be painted over. If they do good work, provide letters of recommendation for prospective employers. Don’t just feed them hand to mouth: make them productive citizens. I think everybody wins in that arena. And give the churches and private charities the freedom to operate as they see best, with some bare minimum standards in place to prevent unlawful discrimination. Each community’s needs are going to be different, so too stringent of standards will only ensure failure.
4. The Republicans need to address the perception that they are a “whites only” and “Christians only” party. The percentage of people in this country who are other than white or other than Christian is growing, and if the Republicans don’t get on board with that reality, they’re going to be left in the cold. The first step in addressing that perception would be to shun the racist and Christianist elements of their party. In the short term, that will cost them some votes in the south, but one thing I’ve learned is that one need not be white or Christian in order to be socially conservative. I’ve met atheist Republicans and black Republicans. It’s the people who are saying, “you’re not like us, you’re not welcome here” who are creating this problem in the Republican party. Following the nomination of Barack Obama, we had a number of closet racists in the Democratic party (“PUMAs”) bolt for McCain. Good riddance, I say. Let the Republicans and Democrats once and for all say to these people, “You have no place in our party. Make your own party.” And here’s the thing: the Republicans don’t have the monopoly on racists. There were plenty of racists in the Democratic party, but the Democrats didn’t try to pander to them the way the Republicans have with their “southern strategy”. Well, the southern strategy has come full circle: the Republicans are now officially the Party of Dixie, since they weren’t able to consistently win outside of the old CSA and flyover country in the Midwest. New England, the Great Lakes states, and the west coast are all lost to them. The first step to fixing a problem is admitting that you have one. If the Republicans keep trying to act as though this is a simple question of marketing or that “those darkies are too stupid to know what’s good for ‘em”, then they’re going to continue losing ground with minorities, and thus with the country as a whole.
5. Finally, having a firm hand on the world stage doesn’t mean slapping everyone who looks are you cross-eyed. Not everybody who says mean things about us is automatically our enemy (France and Venezuela come to mind) and we should be receptive to at least saying, “Okay, I’m not saying you’re right, but let’s talk about this.” If Nixon could go to China… if Reagan could talk to the Soviet Union… then there’s no reason Obama shouldn’t be able to meet with the Iranian president, is there? Finally, if the Republicans can finally make a distinction between world leadership and world domination, then I think that would go a long way in making them credible on the world stage again.
Republicans are going to have a choice in 2012, and I think it’s going to boil down to Pawlenty vs. Palin. Will they be a party of substance or will they become, as it was put in The Economist recently, the “stupid party”?
I’ll be frank: Pawlenty in 2012 doesn’t guarantee a win for the Republicans unless Obama’s first four years are marked by a Katrina-like disaster for which Obama takes the blame. Barring that, if Obama’s first term is even marginally successful, I think he has a good shot at getting re-elected in 2012. However, it would be an important first step in the right direction for the Republicans and set the stage for a Jindall candidacy in 2016 (I regard him as too young to be a credible candidate in 2012). I believe that a Palin candidacy would solidify the Republicans’ “stupid party” label and set the stage for a generation of Democratic presidents and Congresses. I don’t think Palin has the good sense to lay low and brush up on her understanding of world and national issues to be a credible threat to Barack Obama in 2012, even with a Katrina-like disaster. She’s going to keep running her mouth in the press to try to get face time with the American public, and the press will continue handing her the rope with which to hang herself.
As to the question of whether the Republicans have been “too conservative” or “not conservative enough”, I think the real answer is that they need to dispose of the “left vs. right” paradigm and start thinking in terms of pragmatism and good government. The modern Republican party is simply too caught up with labels and dogma to govern effectively, which is why they haven’t and why it was best that they lost this election resoundingly. However, if the Republicans are left to lie in the gutter for too long, then the Democrats will simply become what the Republicans have been. We need a viable opposition party in this country to keeping the majority party in check, and the Republicans right now are a complete mess. Their ideology is morally, intellectually, and (of late) financially bankrupt. They need to go into the back room and do some serious re-thinking of their platform. Hopefully the ideas I’ve presented above can help.