Bruises are still tender from the Democrat drubbing Republicans took on Election Day. The bad news is there’s plenty more where that came from, only this time from within. Less than 12 hours following the California returns, congressional and party leaders huddled separately in basements and on impromptu conference calls and began plotting a way out of this deep, yawning ditch they’ve managed to drive the party bus into. Perhaps there was less plotting and more commiserating.
There’s no question the Grand Old Party is now wandering in the wilderness. But unlike the scores of conservative soothsayers who will want to look over their collective shoulder and blame the McCain campaign or the political arms of the party such as the RNC, I will not. The party’s problems run deeper and wider than that.
John McCain had nothing to do with this nosedive. The party was headed in that direction long before he came on the scene to run for president. I do believe, however, that a McCain administration would have continued many of the behaviors that contributed to the predicament they find themselves in. Fifty percent of Americans felt the same way; and they said as much when they told exit pollsters on Election night that they believed McCain would continue the policies of President Bush.
For the good of the country, we need a Republican Renaissance — a re-birth of ideas, people and plans to address the changing needs of everyday Americans. Now, I’m not going to pretend to offer specific policy proposals. Frankly, they promise only to treat the symptoms of something larger that is wrong with the party. Judging by what happened in the wake of 2006, Republicans didn’t learn anything. No, what needs to begin today is a fresh perspective that folds in the challenges of living in this country, the concerns, the fears for one’s safety, and the hopes of a better life as well.
Those words may seem like amorphous, lofty platitudes. Republicans may counter, “How does a party establish policy positions based on that?” That’s exactly the problem! Republicans have spent too much time focused on the content of bills and laws, and not enough on those it would impact and affect. How can voters ever begin to identify with a political party that doesn’t first identify with them?
More than ever, this new perspective holds a calling for conservatives as well. We know “Republican” and “conservative” are not synonymous terms. I respect that; always will. But this new calling goes beyond simply defending a neatly-designed construct such as the “values voter.” That person does not exist as we knew him/her five years ago.
We are supposedly experts in what conservatism truly means. Less government. Personal responsibility and accountability. Rugged individualism where a person should rise and fall on their own merit. Faithfulness to God our father and our earthy brothers and sisters. In the latter we must have a better and more tolerant understanding and relationship with everyday human beings and the constant and demanding issues they struggle against.
Here’s what conservatism doesn’t mean. Brace yourself, because I’m about to commit what some liken to political heresy. Conservatism of the future cannot keep appealing to the past for its ideas and vision. Ronald Reagan was a great president, in the top celestial echelons of history. Yet I’m not convinced Ronald Reagan would be the same president today that he was nearly three decades ago. The world has changed, our economy has changed, and even our people have changed. Yes, the Reagan principles of limited government, individualism, and even his monetarist views of a strong dollar are still viable, but folks, we need a new standard bearer.
To appeal to a man who served in the White House before many voters this year were even born is nostalgic at best and political folly at worst. It’s also a poorly-constructed crutch that serves to dampen the creative juices in the Republican ranks. I refuse to believe that no Republican has developed an innovative public policy idea that he couldn’t directly tie back to the Reagan administration. In fact, I know they have. Look at George Allen and his parole abolition reforms while governor of Virginia. At a time in the early 90s when crime was rampant and apologists wrung their hands, Governor Allen took a bold step, put his political neck on the line, and enacted truth-in-sentencing laws. He didn’t have to invoke the Republican pantheon to get credit (or even permission) for that move. He simply did the right thing.
For the past few years, however, the Republican idea factory has shuttered its doors.
A new direction for the Republican Party also means trusting your base will remain loyal. Pollsters.
Noticed how I have not mentioned that other party, the Democratic Party. They’re irrelevant to this conversation, and that, too, has been the Republican Party. They got too good and grew too comfortable in defining success for American families by defeating the other party. I can’t count how many times I heard Republicans say, “If they’re losing, then we’re winning.” That’s a great strategy if you’re fighting Philistines in the 12th Century B.C., but it won’t work today.