Wednesday, January 08, 2014

2014: Bridging The Republican Divide

This blog is eight years old. It has never known a time free of effective, coordinated media+Democratic attacks on Republican leaders.

In spite of Obamacare’s trials, Republicans are today on the wrong side of a successful national elite effort to define the GOP as the enemy of the people, the other side of the party that cares. Unfeeling (or crazy) Republican enemies over the past two decades include--1995-98: Newt Gingrich; 1999-2005: Tom DeLay; 2003-09: George Bush; 2008-10: Sarah Palin, 2011: John Boehner; 2012: Mitt Romney; 2013: Ted Cruz.  Democrats shared power from 1994 to 2002, from 2006 to 2008, held full power from 2008 to 2010, have shared power again since 2010, and in 20 years were only out of power from 2003 to 2006. Always, though, the national elite pounded away at symbolic Republican villains, constantly blaming the nation’s problems on the unfeeling or crazy Republican figures, never on Democrats. It was the other guy.

The assault has taken its toll on the GOP image, leaving Republicans divided about how to respond to the pounding. At least Republicans know they face a challenge. From former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson of the Washington Post:
The central problem for the GOP is a split political personality. For congressional Republicans, ideological timidity is a reasonable, short-term electoral strategy. For Republicans concerned about retaking the presidency in 2016, it is wholly insufficient. There is an urgent need to reposition the party with minorities, women and the young. Pointing and laughing at the failures of Obamacare will not be a sufficient governing vision.
Yet here is Bill Frezza, in Forbes taking aim at the Michael Gersons of the GOP, and thereby proving how split the party is:
Should a 2014 sweep be followed up by a 2016 return of a Republican to the White House, the Stupid Party will face a difficult choice. Will it allow the old guard to continue expanding government, seeking to make the most of its turn at the trough? Or will it finally make the painful political choices required to avoid the impending bankruptcy of our underfunded entitlement systems? Only the latter will prevent progressives from rising from the ashes of the Obama presidency, and only if pro-growth fiscal and regulatory policies start delivering visible results before the pendulum swings again. This will require the emergence of a Great Communicator who can articulate a positive vision of the future based on the proven principles of the past. Good luck with that.
The much maligned former GOP speaker Newt Gingrich instructs us that
every Republican should embrace [Pope Francis]’s core critique that you do not want to live on a planet with billionaires and people who do not have any food. I think the pope may, in fact, be starting a conversation at the exact moment the Republican Party itself needs to have that conversation.
But that Gingrich plea draws no water from the Washington Examiner’s conservative columnist Byron York, who would waste little time on the pope’s poor:
discussing poverty to soften their image and re-position the GOP as a more compassionate party. . . makes [little] sense. President Obama almost never talked about poverty in the last election. . . Instead, in speech after speech, rally after rally, commercial after commercial, Obama and his fellow Democrats targeted the great American middle class, wracked by economic anxieties and concerned about maintaining its style of life in a terrible economic downturn. For Democrats, the election was middle class, middle class, middle class.
In the neoconservative Commentary, Michael Medved and John Podhoretz plaintively ask in “A GOP Civil War: Who Benefits?”:
Republicans will win meaningful victories only when they lose their appetite for martyrdom and fratricide and concentrate on forcing the other side to pay a political price for its own incompetent performance and dysfunctional ideology. Most Republicans, as the history of the last 40 years demonstrates, want precisely that. The question now is whether this real majority will be overrun. If that happens, the truest beneficiary of the intra-Republican civil war will be the Democratic Party, and those who divided the right will deserve some share of the blame for the advancement of the very policies and principles they claim to abhor.
Conservative Jonah Goldberg, writing for the Los Angeles Times, seems more worried his side is simply clueless about Democratic influence:
the right often seem[s] to take it for granted that there’s a vast silent majority of Americans pitted against a small cabal of elitist pinheads and would-be social engineers. As a conservative, I believe there are a lot of pinhead social engineers. But I also understand — or at least try to — that there are millions of Americans who see these people as leaders who speak for them and address their needs. . . Conservatives have become far too insular, too often rejecting the need to persuade those who don’t already agree with them, arguing instead that ever bloodier doses of red meat will grow the coalition.
Speechwriter Gerson has enlisted another Bush administration veteran, Peter Wehner, now a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, to pen a lengthy National Affairs article that seeks to pull anti-government types over to their side. Gerson and Warner agree that “the Obama vision of Americans' appropriate relation to their government” appears to be “atomized, defenseless individuals sustained by the enfolding embrace of the state.”

It’s a chilling vision. But Gerson and Wehner remind Republicans that while our:
federalist founders were indeed wary of the concentration of power in the federal government. . .they did not . . . view government as an evil, or even as a necessary evil. Indeed, the most influential of the founders scorned such a view, referring to the "imbecility" of a weak central government compared to a relatively strong central government (the Constitution created). In their view, government. . . was essential to promoting what they referred to as the "public good." . . The case against the aggrandizement of federal power must be made in the context of the case in favor of appropriate federal power — not in the service of a theory that leaves far too little room for genuine self-government.
Republicans should recognize that:
economic mobility has stalled for many poorer Americans, resulting in persistent intergenerational inequality. This phenomenon is more complex than an income gap. It involves wide disparities in parental time and investment, in religious and community involvement, and in academic accomplishment. These are traceable to a number of factors, including the collapse of working-class families, the flight of blue-collar jobs, and the decay of neighborhoods that once offered stronger networks of mentorship outside the home. Dysfunctional institutions routinely betray children and young adults. Children raised in communities filled with chaos and disorder — where the schools are broken and the streets are violent and drug use is prevalent — face enormously difficult odds. The consequences for children who come from failing communities are all the more severe [in] an economy that favors skilled over unskilled labor.
Even on health care, and in spite of Obamacare’s faults, there is a role for government:
ensure broad access to modern health care [and create] an alternative health-care plan that doesn't centralize all power in Washington and that keeps costs down, [insures] those with pre-existing conditions, and reduces the number of uninsured.
Gerson and Wehner quote the late conservative social scientist James Q. Wilson’s admonition: "Telling people who want clean air, a safe environment, fewer drug dealers, a decent retirement, and protection against catastrophic medical bills that the government ought not to do these things is wishful or suicidal politics." And they quote American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks recently noting that the "government social safety net for the truly indigent is one of the greatest achievements of our society....We have to declare peace on the safety net."

The two make this final plea:
Conservatives are more likely to be trusted to run the affairs of the nation if they show the public that they grasp the purposes of government, that they fully appreciate it is in desperate need of renovation, and that they know what needs to be done. The American people are deeply practical; they are interested in what works. And they want their government to work.
Henry Olsen is a colleague of Wehner’s at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Olsen makes a pitch similar to Gerson and Wehner, writing more bluntly in National Affairs that national campaigns revolve around “one central question: How can we best give average people respect, dignity, and an opportunity to make their way in the world, tyrannized neither by government nor by private individuals?”

Olsen worries that conservatives
would like to dismiss their [2012] defeat as an aberration. They proffer many excuses: Governor Romney was a bad candidate who ran a bad campaign; President Obama's technology-driven ground game made the difference; Hurricane Sandy stopped Romney's momentum at the worst possible time. . . all miss the major point of the election results: The president made the campaign into a choice between two clear visions of America, and Americans preferred his vision to the Republicans'.
The Republican denial of this simple truth stands squarely in the way of their pursuit of the presidency. Republican renewal can start only when the party understands that it lost because its vision has slowly drifted away from the concerns of most Americans.
Olsen reminds government-hating conservatives that Ronald Reagan had
a profound respect for the aspirations of the common person [who was] not a stereotypical frontiersman seeking personal independence. He was merely "a simple soul," someone "who goes to work, bucks for a raise, takes out insurance, pays for his kids' schooling, contributes to his church and charity and knows just 'ain't no such thing as free lunch.'"
Reagan, Olsen tells fellow conservatives,
did not speak about government power; he spoke about justice. He spoke about how government could help average people do things that they could not be expected to do for themselves — and how it should expect average people to do those things that they could. The American government would neither keep its hands off nor heavily place its hands on; it would offer everyone a hand up.
Olsen believes Reagan was most noted for his Normandy 40th anniversary praise of the average people who stormed the cliffs under withering German fire, farmers from Kansas and bricklayers from Charleston and teachers from Brooklyn, who went up under orders and took the cliffs and saved Europe. Reagan called them "the boys of Pointe du Hoc."

Olsen writes that conservatives have strayed from Reagan, tending to follow Jack Kemp in seeing America as a land where anyone can make it big rather than as a place where anyone can live the life he seeks. To Olsen:
This small but crucial difference has thrown conservatism off course. Modern conservatives have tended to discount the moral value of the average person, focusing instead on extolling the moral superiority of the great. The sense that the average person has a moral life that is worth leading and pursuing — and that he sometimes needs government to help him on his way — is central to American political identity but is disconnected from much of today's conservative thought. The Obama campaign created its majority by exposing this disconnection relentlessly.
Finally, Olsen, as do many conservatives, feels Republicans ignore at their peril the strong role race played in drawing the growing nonwhite minority to Obama:
The empathy gap is made more crucial because [n]on-whites are particularly likely to believe they need a hand up to join the American mainstream, and their share of the electorate is expanding. The 2012 election was clearly decided by the non-white vote for the first time in American history. . . No presidential candidate in American history had ever carried 59% of the white vote and lost. Yet Romney lost the election by four points because he lost the non-white vote by 63%.

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