Thursday, May 21, 2009

On Building a Centrist Republican Infrastructure

The May 14th issue of the Economist had another article on what ails the Republican Party and how it can be rejuvenated. The article stresses the importance of the GOP in being a center-right party again, but it also has something to say about those centrists:

The first lesson from the Democrats is to create a “vital centre”—one that is a source of ideas rather than split-the-difference compromises. The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) has been challenging old-fashioned liberalism since 1985. DLC-affiliated politicians have been designing centrist ideas in conservative America for almost as long: Kathleen Sebelius, Barack Obama’s health secretary, Janet Napolitano, the head of his Department of Homeland Security, and Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state, cut their political teeth in Kansas, Arizona and Arkansas respectively. At the same time, Mr Obama has made a huge fuss about embracing anybody and everybody.


One of the problems that I along with others had about the compromise stimulus package put together by the then 3 Senate moderate Republicans was that it was basically a "split-the-difference" kind of deal. It was devoid of any ideas. (Not that the conservatives in the GOP were brimming with ideas.) The Economist is calling for a more hefty and vibrant center that has not really been a part of the GOP for quite some time.

The Economist continues talking about what is needed from GOP Centrists:

The Republicans are showing some signs that they understand the importance of the centre ground. They are cooing about their success in recruiting Charlie Crist, Florida’s middle-of-the-road governor, to run for the Senate, for example. But the Republican centre is very far from being vital. Most centrist politicians are opportunists rather than policy innovators. The party’s leading think-tanks are all on the right. The first priority should be to create a Republican version of the DLC, to act as a counterbalance to Washington’s conservative establishment and an inspiration to innovative Republicans across the country.


It's that last sentence that is important. What the writer is calling for is the creation of a new Republican infastructure, one that in some ways challenges the more conservative infastructure that was built in the 70s and 80s.

When I talk about political infrastructure, I am talking about the fact that political movements are not created by one charismatic person, but by an organic network. Magazines, blogs, think tanks, political action committees, these are some of the things that make a movement. The modern conservative movement did not just appear someday. It came into being because of think tanks like American Enterprise and the Heritage Foundation; magazines, like the National Review and the Weekly Standard and political action committees like GOPAC.

As the writer notes, the Democratic Leadership Council came into being as think tank, an engine for centrist Democrats that produced ideas for these "New Democrats." These centrists were not simple opportunists, wishing to split the difference, but centrists that were principled and brimming with ideas. In Britian, the Tory Reform Group has long been the engine for so-called "Wet" Conservatives, providing ideas for centrists British Conservatives.

When one looks at the Centrist Republican infrastructure, it is weak. Currently, there are no journals of Centrist GOP opinion ala the Weekly Standard. There are very few blogs written by Centrist Republicans and few megablogs like RedState or Powerline. There are organizations like the Republican Leadership Council, but again, they tend to be weak and not as effective in carrying the centrist GOP banner. The Ripon Society was started in the 1960s as a moderate GOP think tank, but does not seem to be as engaged as say the American Enterprise Institute. I can say they are two political action committees that are trying to raise money for centrist GOP candidates, the Tuesday Group PAC and the Republican Mainstreet Partnership PAC, but they have not been widely promoted.

If there is to be a vital center in the GOP, it will have to be built by centrists. Folks like Michael Steele are not going to do it.

I think there needs to be more resources put into creating a centrist conservative infrastructure. Monies need to go to creating effective center-right think tanks and magazines filled with new and innovative ideas.

And there need to be more centrist Republican bloggers. I've seen enough centrist Republicans on Facebook to know that some of them could start blogging and sharing their thoughts. Speaking as a centrist Republican blogger, it is lonely out here.

It's time to start building the new GOP, because it ain't gonna build itself.

3 comments:

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Mike at The Big Stick said...

The first lesson from the Democrats is to create a “vital centre”—one that is a source of ideas rather than split-the-difference compromises.I think this is a REALLY important point. My fear with Centrism tends to be over this very fact. It's often reactionary in the sense of it just taking the compromise middle between the two sides. So what if instead they take principled positions based on moderate conservative ideals? I think at that point here is enormous pressure to move towards the other side in a compromise effort. In some sense the Centrist must be most unflinching in his devotion to his ideals, otherwise he just ends up being, as the article puts it, 'an opportunist'.

treen said...

Sorry I'm a little late catching this ... I saw this link in your post on The Moderate Voice. I see that you mention some groups that are trying to organize Republican moderates but you call them all weak. You seem to indicate that you'd prefer another group rise from the ashes of the current GOP to lead us out of the wilderness.

Wouldn't it make more sense to support and strengthen these groups already in motion, rather than try to start yet another PAC or organization? I recently started reading the blog on the Republican Leadership Council's site, and they seem to be the most organized when it comes to laying down some policy statements and trying to raise money for moderate candidates.