“If you’d fought like a man, they wouldn’t be hanging you like a dog.”–last words of Anne Bonny, a female pirate, to her pirate captain boyfriend.
The Republican Party is in a crisis. It’s losing stronghold seats in Louisiana, Mississippi, and former House Speaker Hastert’s seat in Illinois. It’s only going to get worse–expect a 6 to 8 year freeze.
The key issue, at its core, is that the Republican Party cannot articulate a vision or story that is compelling or interesting at all. They aren’t fighting ‘like a man,’ and thus had better get ready to be hanged ‘like dogs.’ The fact that their performance–particularly in the Congress, though Bush shares a lot of blame–has been marked with fiscal irresponsibility and corruption exacerbates things, of course.
The angst and anger towards Bush and the GOP is understandable–we’ve got a war weary citizenry, gas is at $4+ / gallon, and the housing crisis has the dual impact of being both massively in terms of numbers and very practical to see on Main Street.
What’s not understandable though is the response to this–basically silence. The times are urgent and the issues many. It’s time to step up, in a big, big way and articulate something exciting, something principled, something large, something bold. Instead, what we’re getting is … nothing….
My frame for thinking about politics or pretty much anything else is around what I’ve experienced in business. In business, as in any competition, when things are going badly, silence and passivity have never worked. It won’t work now for the GOP, and the politicans will get creamed.
Talk show hosts are not helping at this point. Hannity just came out with his 10 points of victory, which he proudly proclaims he wrote out himself. His prescription for what the GOP needs to win reads like he wrote it on a cocktail napkin during a commercial break. Not only is it brief, it has the crispness and detail of thought of a 10th grader’s first draft for civics class.
These trying times need more. So here’s my attempt to articulate, at more depth, what the GOP needs to stand for and do, and why these are so important. 6 things, pretty basic.
Global Leadership Against Terrorism. Terrorism is an insidious, game-changing threat to us and free societies everywhere. We can’t always see it. We can’t always prove that it’s there. Evidence can be hard to come by. That said, given terror’s asymmetric impact (i.e., much smaller groups) to inflict great terror, destruction, and impact cannot be minimized. We must be aggressive. Each and every day, Republicans should be pushing hard to find ways to ‘harden’ the global defense capacity against this threat.
Global Leadership Against Climate Change. Similar to terrorism, global warming has the potential to be a game-changing threat to us and societies everywhere. We can’t always see it. We can’t prove (to the level that we can with terrorists) that it’s really there or how, if or when it will strike. Evidence can be hard to come by. That said, we have to be aggressive. The opportunity for Global Warming’s overwhelming impact (point of no return climate change) to inflict far greater impact than we can forecast must be addressed. I’m not asking us to start hugging trees, but we should be smart. This is a potential threat–let’s not say it doesn’t exist. Frame it in the context of security. We should frame it and put forth more Republican oriented, market-based approaches to it. And let’s get more evidence. What I can’t stand about this is the sense that this just isn’t worth dealing with. It’s a security issue; our current approach undercuts our strength on national security. Both threats are hard to see–we need to be the party that attacks them both.
Leadership on the US and Global Economy. Republicans have choked on this, in particular with the spending excesses running up to the 2006 mid-term election. Things that matter here are:
- Lower corporate taxes on US corporations
- Commitments to global free trade–specifically: the Doha Round, Free Trade Agreements with Columbia and others
- Thoughtful immigration policies, particularly around H1-B and guest worker programs
- Streamlined regulations, particularly for small business.
Global Leadership in a Changing Foreign Policy Chessboard. The world affairs paradigm is shifting. Eastern Europe is transitioning from Communist to market-based rule. India and China are surging and will be the dominant economic forces of the later half of this century. Latin America–Brazil in particular–is growing. We have to adjust our foreign affairs and policy paradigm. Republicans need to gain a footing on this. Hank Paulson’s leadership of Treasury and his obvious comfort in dealing with China is the prototype here. The GOP needs to continue forwarding this leadership here. This is an area that can deliver solid and positive differentiation.
Immigration Policy. I see this as one of the topics on which the Republican party is in such disarray that it’s worth calling out separately. Net/net, the GOP needs to come together on a policy that all elements within the party can stomach. The anti-immigration Lou Dobbs crowd could well be so dug in that Republicans can’t dig their way out. The bottom line however is that without H1-B visa reform, the US will not remain a super-power in terms of high tech and in terms of its economy. We need the smartest brains on the planet in order to be the long-term economic superpower we aim to be. If we compromise on that, to the wishes of Lou Dobbs, we are finished. It’s that simple. I know we wish that US-born citizens would have the education and the capacity to fill all the high tech and innovative jobs in the US, but the net is that’s not the case. Smart hungry ambitious people exist everywhere, and we shut them out at our own risk.
Similarly we have the same need with guest worker programs. I grew up on a farm, and the bottom line here is that there are plenty of above minimum wage jobs in farming that US-citizens don’t want to do as they find it beneath them. If we want cheap food (we do), then we need a way for cheap labor to get it to us. This argues for immigration reform.
The notion that we can just ‘ship them all back,’ while I understand, is impractical, and bluntly, not the best use of our time and resources. We’ll need a policy here within the GOP that all its stakeholders can come to deal with. Threading this needle will be hard–I had thought that Bush’s immigration policy was spot on, as did many others. Too bad, we really missed on here.
Practical Pro-Life. I consider myself relatively pro-life. At the same time, I was horrified when I watched the Terry Schiavo debacle play out. To have the US Congress and the President trying an end run around the Constitution on this was out of hand. We talk about activist judges and states rights in the GOP all the time, and yet, when it suits us, we have no problem stomping all over the Constitution to pull off these circuses. I wish we’d had the courage to do what was right–call this a tragedy and call for the states to change their laws for life, and let it ride.
Practical Pro-Life means to me supporting the cause of life consistently and evenly across the board. It means the following to me:
- Retain Roe v. Wade, pursue legislative options. Overturning RvW would be a mistake. The proper route would be for legislation that forwarded the cause of life.
- Eliminate the Death Penalty in civilian criminal court. Evidence shows increasingly that African Americans disproportionately receive teh death penatly, suggesting that it’s meted out unfairly. Similarly, it’s pretty clear we’ve executed some innocent people in our histroy. We should call a stop to it, on the grounds of pro-life. It’s appropriate as a penalty only in military war crime tribunals.
- Fund stem-cell research, but keep a very conservative eye on this. This is a tough one, I realize. I thought Bush’s compromise here was pretty effective. At the same time, we need the research.
- Tax breaks for estate planning / living wills and so on. Incent people to get their affairs in order, to avoide the Schiavo debacle. Make this a tax deduction.
Energy Investment. We need to go into Alaska and anywhere else to get the resources we can — no matter how dirty — to take our country forward. Building supply sources is in our national economic and security interest. We need to do this PDQ. At the same time, we need to put into place incentives to fuel real innovation in energy across the board. This will likely take refactoring the farm bill, as right now all we seem to be doing is subsidizing the price of corn for biofuel. I’d like to believe that there’s more, better investment we could make.
Education. I absolutely believe that education is the civil rights issue of our day. Republicans are not doing enough here to promote a vision of how we can drive the education system forward. I believe in vouchers, and we need to put into place deeper, stronger commitments to making this happen. This is a tough tough road, and one with strong opponents. We’ll need to keep after this.