Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Choice, Not an Echo

It's not a big shock to anyone that the GOP is in the middle of an identity crisis. After straying from its fiscally conservative roots and losing two national elections in a row, there is a lot of talk about how the GOP should go forward. Some suggest "going back to our roots" which means a method that will please the so-called base. The other is to be willing to be more appealing to a changing America, to tack to the center instead of the far right.

Anyone who has followed me over the years, know that I am lumped in the second group. I do think that the GOP has become to ideologically rigid and has basically told persons of color, moderates and gays to take a hike.

But how does the party change? What does that look like?

There has been a lot of talk that congressional Republicans were wrong to oppose the stimulus package. In the view of many, the GOP was given the tax cuts it wanted, but it walked away, listening Rush Limbaugh instead of the people.

My fellow blogger, Pete Abel, talked about how two Republican governors offer a guide to where the party can go. Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, who has criticized the Stimulus comes from a heavily Republican state that is not very urban or diverse, and Charlie Crist, the governor of Flordia who has a diverse state with a robust two party system and state with deep fiscal problems.

He ends with this statement:

I still believe that those who seek GOP reform — specifically, those who seek to reverse the party’s slide into a marginalized, regional, Old-South-centric party — would be well advised to closely study Crist and Schwarzenegger and then initiate a systematic search/recruiting drive for more candidates like them, candidates who can run and win elections among large, diverse, urban populations — candidates who can win such elections because they understand the need to (and how to) moderate/soften/back down from the Old-South, hardline mentality, open their arms, and dance with voters who have a million-plus points of view.

There’s your future. Seize it.

Now, I think Pete has a strong point and I agree with him- to a point.

My problem is that while the GOP does need to moderate away from its hard-right stance, it needs to do so in a way that is not simply aping the Democrats. To quote Barry Goldwater, moderate Republicans need to be a choice, not an echo.

I can understand Crist's as well as Scharzenegger's support for the stimulus on practical matters- both lead large states that are facing major budget issues. But I would be careful in holding up Crist or as I have said earlier, Arlen Specter as an example of what the GOP needs to do. Both made practical judgements, but that does not make for a real policy that will point the way out of the political wilderness. They were both "echoes" for legitimate reasons, but basically accepting a plan that was for the most part a Democratic plan is not going to save the GOP. In this interim period, that might work as we wait for new ideas, but that doesn't make a long term strategy.

Moderate Republicans do believe in reaching across the isle to craft policy, but in reaching across that isle they also need to have ideas and principles to guide them and give them an identity.

I also think some of criticism of the stimulus (which also came from moderate Republicans) was warranted. This bill was passed without care for the growing deficit. Of course, even though that was a true issue, the GOP lost any credibility in making that argument by acting like kids with their parent's credit card for the last eight years.

Conservatives in the GOP are locked into a "no new taxes" position. But moderates can and should pick this issue up and run with it. As Thomas Dewey once said, we can show the Republicans can have a heart and a head when it comes to running the government.

Moderate Republicans need to work on a vision for governing. We need to be a choice not only against the far right in our own party, but against the Democrats as well.

Being an "echo" might make us welcomed among the chattering classes, but it will not provide a future for the GOP.

1 comment:

Mike at The Big Stick said...

I was thinking about this on my drive in this morning after hearing them discuss it a bit on MSNBC. I think it's very easy and a bit cheap for Washington politicians, who are in many ways insulated from the people they represent (a big flaw in our system IMO)to be so critical of state governors. Governors are, I think, among the most pragmatic and realist of our elected officials because they have such an intimacy with the voters and their polices effect such immediate results. I think that's why they have been so popular as presidential candidates as Washington insiders become more and more entrenched.

I think Crist is abandoning 1st political principles in order to meet 1st demands from his citizens. Is this taking the easy way out? Perhaps. But I alsoreally admire his courage to take the politically unpopular risk here.