Monday, April 30, 2007

Weekly Podium: How The GOP Went Wrong (And Can They Fix It?)

In the year 2000, the Republican Party gained something they hadn't enjoyed in several decades. They were fully in charge of the federal government. George W. Bush had just been elected in one of the most controversial elections in American history. The House and Senate were already under GOP control from the Republican Revolution of 1994.

After being pretty well left-for-dead in 1992 after losing the presidency, the Republicans regrouped, and powered by the "Contract With America" and voter dissatisfaction with how Clinton and the Democrats were running things, the Republicans swept into the majority in both the House and the Senate. Six years later, George W. Bush claimed the White House, and by January of 2003, the Republicans held power in both the Executive and Legislative branches of the U.S. Government.

This, of course, changed last November. The GOP lost their position of power for various reasons. Many are inclined to blame President Bush, but I believe that there is much more to this than simply blaming Bush.

First of all, the Republicans have always worked well as “the underdog”, in a sense. During Clinton’s administration, the Republicans were very good at rallying public support for their conservative agenda and control of “big government”. Along the same vein, Ronald Reagan was able to push through many of his initiatives despite facing a large Democratic majority in the House (as well as a Donkey majority starting in January of 1987).

When the Republicans attained the power that they had not been used to, it almost seemed as if a sense of revenge, power-greed, and lack of PR tact combined to bring them down. Republicans attempted to bull-rush bills into fruition, using their majorities to push their initiatives through. These were the same tactics that people did not like about the Democrats from 1993-1994, which led to the Republican Revolution in the first place.

In 1994, Republicans realized that they were entrusted with this kind of majority power by the American public because the American public was disenchanted with the Democrats. Middle America was tired of big government, and moved in favor of a more moral-based, smaller-government party who would bring some sense of personal responsibility and morality to a White House that had been riddled with sexual, moral, and personal scandal for the previous 8 years.

However, 9/11 changed the political climate. Bush, who ran on a domestic-policy platform, was now forced to become much more of a foreign-policy president than he (and the party) could have ever planned on.

After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Bush and the Republicans pushed through initiatives to help safeguard our country from future attacks. Perhaps emboldened by the success of these initiatives, the Republicans began enlarging the size of government. It seemed that the mentality to expand the government’s powers to increase protection against terrorism now seeped into other aspects of Republican policy.

While they never approached the size and scope of governmental expansion that the majority of Democrats tend to stand for, the shift away from the appealing principles of Republican conservatism has alienated many moderates, who had swung in favor of the GOP between 1992 and 2004.

The Iraq War has not helped Republican causes at all, and has given the Democrats a rallying point for public support. However, I’ve always thought that Democrats would not be so strongly opposed to this war if it had been advertised as “military action to stop the Kurd and Shiite genocide by Saddam Hussein.” Democrats love military actions that stop genocides (see Bosnia in 1995, Kosovo in 1999). But I digress…

This shift, however, was not necessarily completely the fault of the Republican politicians, though.

The Democrats, reeling from the loss of Congress to the Republicans and the subsequent loss of the White House, spent several years regrouping and shuffling the party’s leadership, bringing fresher faces to the forefront. Since the nation began it’s recovery from the 9/11 attacks, the Democrats have worked to rebuild their party structure and began unifying their causes with two goals in mind, regain the Congressional majorities and regain the White House.

So far, the plan has worked, but it has not been as victorious for the Democrats as they would hope. As I have observed previously, poll numbers are not necessarily great for the Dems, evidence that the American public voted “against the Republicans” in 2006...not “for the Democrats.” With the GOP mired in a popularity downfall, the Democrats are out for political revenge. So far they’ve done a pretty good job of casting a critical eye on conservatism in general, even though it has been at the expense of the image of their own liberal ideals.

The Republicans haven’t done anything to promote their own image, Democrats are taking advantage of the opportunity presented to them, and then you have the media…the third prong of the GOP fall from grace.

The general mainstream media, for the most part, is liberal. This tidbit of knowledge is very common, and it supports the aims and goals of the Democrats. Ever since the Vietnam War, the general mainstream media has become aware of it’s own self-importance, and has become increasingly efficient in delivering news with their own proverbial “spin”. While many cry foul of a certain network not being as “fair and balanced” as they say they are, their version of the “spin” is one of the exceptions, not the rule, among the mainstream media outlets.

Nonetheless, the liberal mainstream media’s irresponsibility in reporting the news has been allowed to happen due to the apparent inability of the GOP to handle the leftward spin. It seems that Bush’s administration, no matter what they try, cannot seem to handle the spin. The media, realizing this, has capitalized on this opportunity to further their own agendas, and has furthered the Democratic agenda in the process.

Conservatism in general is under a lot of scrutiny and attack in the media, whether on the talking-head shows, in newspaper op-ed columns, or in political blogs. As my compatriot Hunter Golden has opined to me more than once, “conservatives are losing the propaganda war…badly.” Republicans and conservatives in general are portrayed as war-mongering, selfish, greedy, elitist, bigoted, and religious zealots. This image lingers despite the fact that those who fit the description are on the fringe of conservatism, and are not what constitutes the bulk of conservative-minded Americans.

Due to the current political atmosphere, many good initiatives have fallen by the wayside, One of the biggest reasons why is because George W. Bush has been unable to sell the American public, the media, or key Democrats on his policies in a convincing manner. This is a prime example of the Bush administration’s inability to handle the spin created by the media or the opposition.

To his credit, Bush has attempted to remain optimistic that he can work with the current Democratic majority in forging a bright future for America, despite the fact that the Democrats are not interested in any kind of bipartisanship at this time. It is this kind of optimism for the future that GOP leaders need to carry forward into the 2008 campaign season.

The GOP is in a position to restructure their leadership and rejuvenate the waning support and interest of conservatives and moderates both. New faces are emerging as old stalwarts are on their way out, and there is a growing sentiment amongst conservatives that all is not lost for the Republican Party.

Part of what will be necessary for the GOP to get back to what made them appealing to many Americans in the first place. In a 2006 op-ed piece in the Washington Post, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey best-described what the Republicans have to do to reacquire mass public appeal…

“The leadership must remember that the modern conservative movement is a fusion of social and fiscal conservatives united in their belief in limited government. The party must keep both in the fold. Republicans also need to get back to being the party of big ideas. The greatest threat to American prosperity today is a catastrophic fiscal meltdown resulting from long-term entitlements. Democrats have already lined up behind the solution of raising taxes and reducing benefits. But Americans want more freedom and choice in education, health care and retirement security. Republicans -- too busy dreaming up wedge issues to score cheap points against Democrats -- have lost sight of their broad national agenda.”

Armey later states, “When we get back to being the party of limited government, putting a national agenda ahead of parochial short-term politics, we will again be a party that the American voters will trust to deal with the serious challenges facing our nation.”

These statements are very accurate in their depiction of the road the GOP must take to become the party that America trusts for the future. As the future of the Republican party comes into being, future party leadership must bring something new to the party’s ideology, while still remaining to it’s true base of limited government and agendas built for the long-run.

If not, the GOP (and conservatism as a whole) will be in for a seriously tough time until at least 2016.

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