The Republican Civil War


Thomas Sowell beat me to this by a week…oh well.  I swear that I have been working on this for weeks.

We all know it is coming.  There has been a rift between the moderates and conservatives in the Party for years.  President Bush personified this rift by being socially conservative, at the same time spending like a Democrat.  Moderates have been attempting to become more liberal on social and fiscal issues to supposedly move to the middle.  Conservatives are looking to Ronald Reagan as their barometer.

I reject both views.

The moderates are doing what most in parties out of power do: looking to the majority party for answers.  That, of course, is a losing strategy.  No Republican will ever out ‘liberal’ a Democrat.  Historically there are other examples.  In 1994, the Republican party was the minority party.  Instead of moderating, they took conservative principles and applied it to the problems of the day.  And they succeeded.  Even more recently, look at the Democrats in 2004.  They did not moderate.  They took a liberal agenda, presented to the American people, and have won two consecutive election cycles because of this.

Conservatives should not be looking to Reagan, and I stated in a piece last month.  This is another era, and conservatives must find answers for the problems of today.  Sure, we need to uphold our beliefs when need be, but the reality is that abortion is not going to be made illegal any time soon, stem cell research will (and must) go forward, and illegal immigration is an issue that must be confronted with real world solutions.  Additionally, conservatives need to stop fighting social battles in the legislative and legal forum as much as possible.  And we should stop allowing Democrats define us.  The entire ‘we want Obama to fail’ trap is absurd; we don’t want Obama to fail, but we want him to support ideas that will succeed.  Bobby Jindal and Fred Thompson dived into this debate this week, and it is about time conservatives fought back on this.   We just don’t believe he has the right ideas.  It is like your momma told you; if your friends all jumped off the cliff, would you too?  We shouldn’t even play the game; we should elevate the dialogue to a higher level.

So, I suggest a third way.  First, we must focus on the problems at hand.  One thing we can all agree upon is that their is currently a fiscal crises.  Our policies should be directed at answering the emergency first, all else second.  This is the greatest failure of the Obama agenda.  He is trying to do everything, without doing anything well; a jack of all trades, master of none.  Republicans can take a lesson from Mr. Obama over the past 50 days:  the stimulus plan now gets mixed reviews, the bank bailout is flailing, the budget plan is roundly denounced…while he is still talking about health care, education, carbon taxes, and global warming.

The beauty of the 1994 Contract with America was that it pinpointed exactly what Americans care about.  It didn’t focus on social issues; it focused on the economy, taxes, welfare reform, and the budget.  These are the issues that really matter to people on a daily basis.  What we need is a new agenda like the Contract.  It doesn’t have to be a sequel; we could take a new approach to presenting our agenda.  But the best and brightest in the party must come together and at least agree on the basic principles to take us forward.

I honestly believe the Republican party is within grasp of reclaiming power to some extent.  The Democrats, and Mr. Obama in particular, have overstated their mandate.  They do have a mandate; their mandate is ‘Don’t be Bush’.  That is it.  If Mr. Obama had been honest during his campaign and presented his current budget then, I have serious doubts whether he would have won the Presidency.  He portrayed himself as a moderate, and is presiding as the most liberal politician in decades.  This will come back to haunt the Democrats.

Ultimately, the Republicans will stay in the wilderness until they have a reasonable, practical plan available to confront the economy, unemployment, the credit crisis, foreign affairs, the envrionment, and energy.  Right now, there are no leaders in the party…I say we don’t need any leaders right now.  That is the wrong approach.  Get the major players in the party together, and come to a consensus on five major policy initiatives have can move the country forward.  Leaders will emerge, but ideas must be constructed, slowly and methodically.

The Democrats, led by Mr. Obama, are showing us the way.  Mr. Obama had a mandate, to be sure:  to lead as a moderate, non partisan President who would lead from the middle, and ignore the radicals on both sides.  He and the Congress are governing like extreme liberals, with an open checkbook and no checks and balances.  The anger arising from the public over the past few weeks is partially to the appearance of government constantly handing out trillions of dollars for no good reason.  But Mr. Obama and his team have not have a good answer for this as well.  When they made a mistake (the AIG mess was of their own doing), they should have just admitted fault; instead, they have looked everywhere for excuses.  When Ed Henry of CNN asked Mr. Obama why he waited so long to answer the questions about AIG, Mr. Obama responded that he only talked ‘when he knew what he was talking about’, which makes you wonder if he thinks Democrats on the Hill knew what they were ranting about all last week.

Republicans should have an answer to these questions.  They cannot just be the ‘anti-Obama’ party, because that is a party that stands for nothing.  They should not just be against the bailouts and Obama’s budget, among other things; they should have a better plan, and better ideas.  They also should be able to convey those ideas in a simple, intellectual rational way to the public, something Mr. Obama has failed to do.  Until they do, they will be irrelevant.