Republican Swine agrees! Because They Are Empty of Ideas, Ethics, and Competence!
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a big problem in the GOP. If the primaries didn’t establish this (see Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, et al), then Mitt Romney’s so-called “rolling calamity” of a general election campaign certainly has. In the midst of an incredibly important election to determine the future of America, the Republican party is in the throes of an identity crisis.
To be sure, Romney is an imperfect messenger. But he’s not entirely to blame for this inability to articulate a sufficiently compelling narrative beyond the “Not-Obama” position. In many ways, he’s a victim of the times. The Republican party has spent years suffering from unaddressed, systemic problems.
It boils down to a lack of leadership, vision and unity. This is, of course, interrelated: visionary leaders use rhetoric to inspire unity, and a party or movement that lacks visionary leaders will quickly spiral out of control – into a negative cycle of infighting, score-settling and petty vindictiveness. As Paul Ryan lamented earlier this week to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
“I think that’s just the nature of conservative punditry is to do that — to kind of complain — about any imperfection they might see.”
Perhaps indicative of this remark, Michelle Malkin and David Frum recently engaged in precisely the kind of feud characteristic of a movement that is very unhappy about its position and looking for someone to blame. Conservative commentary today is essentially bifurcated between the red meat-hurling carnival barkers who pander to the base and the mainstream media quislings who cater to the Georgetown cocktail circuit and the cable TV bookers looking to book a “token” conservative to fill out their Sunday morning panel.
As I recently noted in a Daily Caller column, both sides are destructive in their own ways. The quislings undermine our Republican candidates today by criticizing them, while the demagogues ensure the long-term structural changes aren’t addressed. Just try to talk about comprehensive immigration reform as a Republican and see how long you last.
But to blame Republican opinion-formers for not being positive enough about the party they inhabit is surely a case of shooting the messenger. Robust debate can be a sign of intellectual self-confidence, but this sort of divisiveness between conservative pundits is symptomatic a larger crisis of identity and ideas. It’s time for Republicans to ask the big questions that Admiral Stockdale made famous in that debate so many years ago:
“Who are we – and why are we here?”
The GOP is running on fumes. Like a copy of a copy of a tape, conservatives have been living off the legacy of Ronald Reagan for decades.
The cold war was the glue that united the conservative movement. Each leg of the stool – social conservatives, fiscal conservatives and national security conservatives – had their own reasons for uniting to defeat the Communists. Reagan benefitted from this unity, as well as from his own ability to inspire, and knew how to play it.
But George W Bush managed to put the final nail in the coffin of the decades-long “Reagan era”, and so it’s time to start anew. Bush invented a new Republican brand, but then ensured it couldn’t be used again.
The “compassionate conservatism” that helped get him elected in 2000 ended up being overlooked by an administration distracted by the neoconservative overreach of two foreign wars, combined with increased spending that blew out the deficit and helped create an economic crisis for which many voters still blame President Bush, rather than President Obama.
Today’s GOP is in need of serious intellectual renewal. For one thing, it’s mostly the fiscal leg that supports the three-legged stool these days. The New York Times’s David Brooks makes a good point about the GOP’s current focus on economic issues:
“The Republican party has abandoned half of its intellectual ammunition. It appeals to people as potential business owners, but not as parents, neighbors and citizens.”
And this lack of inclusiveness underpins a lot of the Obama campaign’s success in tagging Romney as a private equity guy who’s only going to look after the prosperity of the super-rich elite. It’s been hard for out-of-work “Reagan Democrats” in places like Ohio to identify with Mitt Romney.
This is not to say economics can be ignored, but Republicans have to articulate the moral case for free markets. It can’t be framed negatively, as necessary “austerity”, or explained in purely wonkish terms. Too often that happens. As one GOP official, giving advice to Mitt Romney, recently told CNN.com:
“Don’t make your campaign about marginal tax rates. Make it about your children and your grandchildren and the future of this country.”
Some of this is messaging. But there are other not-obviously-ideological ideas that could.
Why not support an e-Congress that would allow members of Congress to vote electronically from their districts? Republicans could carry the torch of putting a man on Mars by 2019. And pledge to pass legislation to make eradication of cancer the nation’s top national health priority. Or how about championing the kind of education reform that we’ve seen in films like “Waiting for Superman” and “Won’t Back Down”?
Whether it’s finding a way to fix education, deal compassionately with immigrants, or other bold and visionary conservative ideas, America can once again be that “shining city on a hill” Reagan famously spoke of. It’s time for Republicans to once again be the party of the future – and of the middle class.
But vision is not just about policy; it’s time for conservatives to rediscover poetry. My guess is that one of the reasons speechwriters like Peggy Noonan have been so critical of Mitt Romney’s campaign is that it has lacked any romance or poetry.
Conservatives must have a leader who can inspire and can be afforded the luxury of introducing new, unorthodox ideas. In this regard, I’m partial to Senator Marco Rubio, who can eloquently talk about the American Dream, and we have a fresh crop of inspirational possible future leaders: besides Rubio, Representative Mike Pence (a gubernatorial candidate in Indiana) and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, to name but three.
But leaders come and go, and leaders will be found. First, conservatives need to rediscover why it is they want to govern in the first place.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010