Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Republican Party - Which Way Now?

The Republican Party – my party – has just been delivered a well-earned knockout punch. Reliable “red” States in the west and south have been taken by Democrats. Here in New England, there is not a single Republican Congressman and only one Governor left. And in New Hampshire, once a Yankee Republican bastion, you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of state or federal Republican figures left.

Republicans did not lose simply because of large numbers of young people and African-Americans voted. In fact, as a percentage of the total electorate, African-Americans and young people made up almost precisely the same percentage of the electorate as they did four years ago. No, Republicans lost because average Americans from all walks of life, especially self-described moderates and independents, and even some lifelong Republicans, turned to the Democrats.

Where did the GOP go wrong? And what must we do to rebuild?

The party needs a clear philosophy and vision. An entire generation of new voters came to the polls believing that the Bush administration represented Republican ideals. Republicans spent eight years defending sickening deficits, exploding budgets, and “big-government” programs that they would have railed against had they been proposed by a Democratic Administration. We were inexcusably silent as America, the great hope of the world, became represented by images of torture and Guantanamo Bay. Republicans should have been outraged…but instead, we defended “our guy” in the white house, and earned the public’s disdain. They grew tired of the Bush administration’s vision of America.

We must articulate in clear terms positive, pro-active solutions for the problems and concerns that the American people have. Access to health care and secure retirement provisions are national concerns: We cannot simply be ‘against’ universal health care or social security, we must present clear, pragmatic, appealing alternatives.

As these proposals are formulated, we must be careful not to fall prey to the idea that we must choose to side with either the “moderates” or the “conservatives” within the Party. A lukewarm, “me-too” version of the Democrats is not a solution, but neither is cliché-ridden pandering to a shrill religious right. Rather, Republicans must forge a new path, a path that is consistent with both the Republican philosophy and the American spirit, and which resonates with voters of all stripes: we must combine fiscal responsibility and social tolerance. The Republican Party claims to be the party of small government and maximum personal freedom. It’s about time we reclaimed that heritage in a consistent manner.

As we present our alternatives, we must eradicate the mean-spiritedness, the innuendos, the mud-slinging, and the anger from our speech. We must offer vision, hope, and a future to all. If we want young people, minorities, and immigrants in the party, then we need to really want them, not just tolerate them and accept their contributions.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan articulated a clear vision, and spoke in positive terms of hope and freedom for all. Americans responded, as disaffected Democrats and independents swelled Republican ranks. In 2008, Barack Obama rode to victory on those Reaganesque concepts. It should serve as a wake-up call to the party to reclaim its heritage of individual liberty and prosperity for all, delivered with clarity and compassion.