Hapless Jim Oberweis and his hired hacks have served the purpose of bringing the failures of the Republican Party to the attention of more political observers. Losing another congressional district in Illinois is just a symptom of a larger illness.
The poll numbers are against us on issue after issue—from whether the war in Iraq was worthwhile—to how we should reform the health care system. If the poll numbers said we should jump off a cliff, most Republican politicians would still not work to change public opinion but would instead line up to lead the leap, thinking that was leadership.
Turning public sentiment in the right direction will require an enormous effort by a lot of people, so any Republican official who is not building towards that end is not leading. We will continue to lose ground if our political and party leaders don’t start doing things differently. They must:
- Use their office to persuade their fellow citizens that the Republican Party platform principles are a guide to the kind of solutions we need.
- Recruit people into the political process, and encourage talented individuals to run for office or to get involved in a myriad of ways, including in their local party organizations.
- Work to build a state and local party that once again can become the kind of force that can help change what is “politically possible.”
Merely winning an office or being a good legislative vote is no longer enough. Twenty-five years ago columnist George Will wrote:
“Statesmen who are unaware of the ideas that shaped the institutions currently in their custody, and uninterested in the ideas that shape the expectations and tolerances of the citizenry, are statesmen governed by forces they cannot comprehend.”
On a less philosophical level, the same point needs to be made about the kind of environment Republican politicians find themselves in right now. Few seem to realize what has been going on around them for decades. While our guys were using all their wonderful talents to secure an office, the political left has built an enormous network of people and organizations that profit at taxpayers expense.
So when any of those GOP office holders attempt to advance their party’s platform principle of limited government, they run into a well funded horde of taxeating barbarians who are quite passionate about protecting their income and defending their big (and growing) government.
Not all the change over the past thirty or forty years has been in a negative direction. Technology has improved the potential for communication through things like the Internet, and the media and how people receive news is evolving. Best of all, free market think tanks around the country are producing compelling information just begging to be used by Republicans to make their case.
What hasn’t changed, in a nutshell, is the caliber of the candidates that Republicans field. Instead of electing quality leaders that communicate effectively and understand the task at hand, we’ve been elevating feudal lords to reign over petty fiefdoms.
That’s harsh, but deserved, since the public looks primarily to elected officials for information about their government. Voters expect to see arguments advanced and progress made. When they don’t, cynicism increases. And when Republicans hold power and fail to perform, the party “brand” suffers serious damage, the rank and file is dispirited, and those in the political center withdraw their support.
While the left has been assembling a well-motivated army, Republicans have seen a thorough breakdown of the Party apparatus. Because politics is a shooting war, it’s hard to take ground without troops. You can’t inspire volunteers when the only purpose of a campaign is to advance the ambition of one person.
The plain fact is the real Republican message hasn’t been advanced, and GOP platform principles have only been sporadically applied. The successes have been important, but they’ve been too few and far between. Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy triumph over the U.S.S.R. and his economic policy legacy are huge, but they recede into history. Welfare reform of the mid 1990s has yet to see a sequel with the reform of another entitlement program. President George W. Bush’s tax cuts and Homeland Security Department successes might even be undone if Democrats win enough power.
Republican politicians have to wake up to what is possible.
- There is a positive, inspirational, and yes, Reaganesque message just waiting to be tapped. We need leaders who will do what is necessary to spread this message.
- There is a way to get more Americans understanding that anxieties caused by the nature of the free market system are natural. Our citizens need to know that the solution to market and regulatory excesses isn’t to be found through expanding government, hiring more bureaucrats, or raising taxes.
- There is a way to present the reform message when it comes to health care, publicly funded schools, and all other domestic policies.
When it comes to the foreign policy debate, few Republican politicians have been able to move beyond the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Cold War was something they could handle discussing, and then in 1990 and 1991, they could convey the importance of removing Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.
For a brief time Republicans appeared ready to move past the Cold War conflict paradigm. It happened when five years ago this month our troops removed Saddam Hussein from power. When the going got tough, however, Republican leaders failed Communications 101.
Republican spent wildly while they held power between 2001 and 2006, outpacing even Democrat President Lyndon Johnson. Behaving like Democrats compounded their communication failures, and the economic consequences of an over-stretched federal government are now being felt.
So as the Bush years come to an end, the Republicans have hit the trifecta.
- While they held power, their domestic policy failures outweighed their successes.
- They’ve shirked their duty to convince enough Americans of the necessity of President Bush’s foreign policy in Iraq.
- And they’ve completely lacked the vision to build a party that could’ve helped them avoid the train wreck of 2006. They’re no better off two years later.
While Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton can’t be underestimated this November, the Democrats’ non-reform “change” message is only a winning one inside a vacuum. Republicans need only fill the vacuum.
We need leadership up to today’s challenge. This isn’t the old days, when smaller government meant a simpler task for elected officials. Today, unsustainable entitlement programs threaten economic ruin. We face the very problem warned of over a hundred and fifty years ago.
“Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” – Frederick Bastiat, (1801-1850)
“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” -- Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)
The new century has brought international challenges that can only be met with the support of the American people. Today there is a huge dividing line between those who think everything will improve if we withdraw our troops from Iraq, and those who think withdrawal brings disaster.
Success in that debate, like in all of American foreign policy, can only be achieved if our leaders do their job. They must be ready to explain that non-intervention begs the question whether America can serve as a “lonely candle of liberty” in a “new Dark Ages.”
“Think that one through: a totalitarian China, a crumbling Russia, an insane Middle East, a disease-ridden Africa, a civil war-torn Eurabia-and a country that can’t even enforce its borders against two relatively benign states will somehow be able to hold the entire planet at bay? Dream on, ‘realists.'” ~ Mark Steyn, “America Alone”
The evidence is all around us: this current batch of elected Republicans isn’t getting the job done. We need a Republican renaissance.
©2008 John Francis Biver