Many Republican pundits are saying that the new few years will be “wilderness years” for the Republican Party where they need to re-assess their priorities, and get in touch with what they are all about to heal their ideological fractures and re-make themselves.
IMO the Republican Party of today is a contorted mockery of the fiscal conservatism, commonsense morals and good governance principles of the party I joined years ago.
What needs to happen in the wilderness to bring the Republicans back to their center?
My suggestions -
Jettison the religious fundamentalists
Jettison the neocon ideologues
Come back to fiscal responsibility as the bedrock of the party
Certainly that would help a lot. I know quite a few people, including former Republicans who talk about how much they wished the Republicans had gone in that direction. Taking positions that have a passing resemblance to reality instead of someone’s ideological or theological fantasies would be a vast improvement. And would help render them capable of governing capably, regardless of their positions on social issues; as we’ve seen over the last 8 years, incompetence is just as destructive as malice or more so when it comes to governance.
I’m an independant but my tax bracket is Republican. I started voting (during Reagan’s first election) with the guiding principle: “rat fuck the moral majority.” As I’ve grown more mature, I kept the first guiding principle and added a second one: “someone fiscally responsible in action instead of in words.”
Not sure how many independents share my guiding principles, but the R party has to address those before at least my vote would ever consider one of their candidates.
In short, they have to start acting like a bunch of grown-ups and tract to the political centre.
For far too long the right has cultivated a political raison d’être based around little more than AM radio shock-jockism and a massive persecution complex. I don’t know at what point the Republicans started believing their own propaganda, but at some point, I think, those things which may have started life as effective electoral strategies for targeting the Democratic majority turned into something more insidious.
I try to be reasonable minded about how this happened, but I do think some of the more narrowing tendencies in conservative political cognition have provided fertile ground for this. But however we explain it, the reality is that tactics like resorting to crude caricatures about liberals and liberal positions, rhetoric which is invested in failure of governance, and trying to work the refs about some supposed systemic bias in media, over time, became internalized in a very uncritical and reflexive way which was inimical to rational discourse.
The Liberal joke about living in the reality based community may rankle with some of the more rational members of the conservative polity, but I think it does capture a main point of dysfunction for modern movement conservatism.
The phrase may sound like liberal condescension to some, but it actually comes from an aide to GWB:
There is something I think profoundly revealing about that quote which summarises the dysfunction under discussion here. I think if we seriously examine it, and put it in the broader context of the Bush’s worldview and maladministration, I don’t think we can seriously pretend any longer that modern movement conservatism really is primarily about Burkean-style critiques of government overreach, which were at least located in historical and philosophical paradigms shared by a broader polity, and were fully capable of conceding shared premises, values and integrity to opposing views.
Instead, movement conservatism has largely sought to manufacture an entirely conservative-affirming narrative about history, political economy, moral politics, and everything else out of the whole cloth – which was calculated to allocate precisely maximinal gains to a largely invented and ahistorical “conservative” position, whilst also proving the associated “liberal” failure by attribution and association. That political morality and ideology are not so neatly boxed up like that is never an issue, because the point of the narrative is entirely functional in design - to provide consistency and moral certainty – not to be fair or accurate depiction of reality.
So, I think it is this obsession with myth-making and a new political correctness for conservatism that is responsible for the current decline of the GOP.
What do I think they need to change?
Well, for a start, they can ditch this rampant anti-intellectualism that has grown out of their populist critique of liberal cultural elites and academic standpoints. I really do believe it is a seriously unhealthy pastime for a modern democratic nation to spend so much of its political dialogue simply demonizing the academe and marginalizing science and evidence-based policy for short-term electoral gain. There certainly should be room in the GOP for divergent views on all manner of things, but it should never have been allowed to morph into an alternate reality which scorns expertise and evidence.
Furthermore, the GOP can cease the electoral strategy that only sought to place moderates in dyed-in-the wool blue states, and begin a true process of grass-roots renewal.
They can ditch primal rage and continuous scapegoating as their primary overlay for the base to engage with the political process, and begin to return to a more temperate tone as a whole party. This isn’t just about individual election, but about the tone of all the associated think tanks and water carriers for the party.
They can reject the religious fundamentalism and nativist aspect of their party’s base.
They can begin to talk sensibly about foreign policy – and reject the pugnacious Jesse Helms foreign policy set. I mean holy hell, you can probably count on my one or two hands the number of Republicans in recent times who have shown a coherent grasp of foreign policy: people like Hagel, Lugar, Chafee et al. I think it is truly dangerous that even after all the travails of the Bush era, that we have neo-conservatives playing such as huge role in the campaign and cabinet of a hypothetical McCain Administration.
This would be fantastic, were it to actually happen. I do believe a two (or multi) party system is best, and having a party the guiding philosophy of which is fiscalism would keep the democrats in check, and would ultimately help to make the country stronger.
However, I don’t believe 4 years is long enough for the Republicans to successfully bring it about. The religious right is too entrenched, and the party is still the spiritual home of the (I’m hopeful) last vestiges of overt racism. In addition, I don’t see how the party can extricate itself from the cultivated, embraced, and encouraged closed-minded ignorance in its core electorate.
A few years doesn’t sound like a party willing to do what it will actually take to purge itself of the destructive elements that now define it. A few years sounds to me like a cynical “what can we do to reposition our rhetoric so we’re more apt to win back the presidency in the next election.”
The Republican Party would have to once more be a big tent, not a little sideshow. In the '60s there were multiple major factions of the party. Lately it seems that the party demands religious, moral and economic purity of its members, the only exceptions being those few in liberal states who can fend off primary challenges by the extreme right. This implies that they are going to need some flexibility in the platform, which implies that they need to be willing to accept the defection of the nutcases (the Palin wing) in order to eventually get the middle again.
it is going to be tough, since they are losing registration in a lot of states, and I suspect the people they are losing (like me) are just the ones needed to vote for moderates in the primaries. Maybe if they found some very popular and moderate leader they can pull it off, but I don’t see any around.
Oddly enough it seems the Republican party are in the position of the Labour Party in the UK in the early to mid-80s. Ideology has taken over as the guiding force, preventing adjustments to public opinion.
The problem is, as with Labour, the grass roots of the party, that control much of the party’s operations, is the ideologues. Labour had to reform its structure to prevent local party activists putting up candidates who were not palatable to the electorate as a whole, but passed ideological litmus tests.
Unfortunately for the GOP, this process tends to reinforce itself. The candidates that lose in elections tend to be the more moderate ones - the Republicans in swing states who were more likely to be centrist in the first place. Therefore the elected officials left are more likely to be ideologues, representing communities with more of an ideological tilt.
And lets not forget the role that the religious right plays in both fund raising and voter drives. Getting rid of them might not be that easy.
What needs to happen is for the 3 remaining “moderates” in the GOP to split away and form the “New Republican Party.” Let the religious nutjobs, neocons and Dittoheads stay with the sinking ship, and strike out on their own. The Republican brand is too tainted now. Any attempt at reform would fail without a wholesale purge of the old guard. Easier to start clean, without the ideological baggage of the past.
Look, what’s really wrong with the Republican Party is not the dumbass religious-right element or even the Ogdamned neocons, what’s wrong with it is the same thing that has been wrong with it since at least the 1920s: It is in the pocket of the big corporate interests and will do anything they want, even when that comes into conflict with economic-libertarian or fiscal-conservative principles, as we have seen with the recent controversy over the bailout bills. Purge that element and the party just might under some circumstances be worth voting for, like it was in Teddy Roosevelt’s day.
The Republicans can’t ‘jettison’ the religious right. These people are voters in a very large bloc who have a right to representation. If the Republicans ‘jettisoned’ them, there would be a 3rd party that would take them, and it would guarantee the Republicans permanent status as an also-ran party.
Instead, what the Republicans have to do is get the message across to religious fundies that it is in their own interest to keep religion out of politics. That separation of church and state is the best friend religious people of all denominations have, and that attempts to turn America into a ‘Christian’ country are doomed to backfire, and therefore the best possible way to govern is to ensure that religious people are free to worship however they want, but laws based on the demands of any particular denomination are wrong.
Jay Danforth, ex-senator, as well as a minister who presided over Ronald Reagan’s funeral, had exactly the right attitude. He is deeply religious, but saw bringing his religious views into Congress about the same way as he’d see bringing his religious views to work as an executive in a business. They just don’t belong. Or as he said, when he was in government he was too busy trying to win the cold war and making sure the economy was functioning properly to worry about the ten commandments being in a courthouse or over-ruling a state’s decision to let a brain-dead woman be taken off life support.
Republicans need to re-discover the ideas that made them Republican in the first place. The Republicans used to be known as the party of ideas. They had a philosophy rooted in economic and social theory, and they had a political platform based on it. Their movers and shakers were economists, historians, and philosophers, and they were guided by serious think-tanks.
Today, the Republican party is little more than a good-old-boys network of religious fundies and pragmatists who are more interested in bringing home the bacon for their constituents and getting re-elected than in the larger, long term issues of good governance.
You can build a movement around serious ideas. You can build a large coalition by discovering large themes and acting rationally on them. That’s what Republicans have to do. They have to shed the lightweights and the idiots and get serious again. They need more Reagans and Gingriches, and fewer Trent Lotts and Mike Huckabees.
I’m not sure it’s possible. At least not for a very long time.
I’d consider registering Republican if these happened, maybe even just the 1st and 3rd. Of course I don’t think that the first will happen in my lifetime, and I’m not convinced that they’d stay true to number 3. I think that they may need to fracture into Libertarian vs Fundamentalist branches for this to come about. And then I’d be surprised if the Libertarian side didn’t wither.
As a Catholic Republican assuredly not in lockstep with religious fundamentalists, I’m mostly in agreement with this - with the understanding that a properly constituted Republican Party should assure religious freedom for all and a proper respect shown for all faiths and beliefs in the public square.
Eh? They still have serious think-tanks. But when were they ever known as “the party of ideas”? I’m not clear what period you’re referring too – was it perhaps the time before the Southern Strategy, and the party’s partial exchange of constituencies with the Dems, and the party’s takeover by the post-Goldwater ideological conservative movement? The time when liberal “Rockefeller Republicans” were the dominant wing of the party?
Hmm. That doesn’t sound like Republicans, it sounds like Democrats. Republicans have been by far the biggest borrowers and spenders since the days of Nixon. If you get rid of the fundies and the neocons and jingoists and the big spenders, all you are left with is Democrats, socialist leaning that we are.
This is a question that needs to be decided by Republicans at various local, state and national levels in meetings and conventions. I don’t think the bottom is done dropping out of Republicanism, and I don’t see serious reform in the next four years. (Particularly if McCain pulls out a win, which is looking increasingly unlikely.)
That would be excellent, but it will be hard to convince this group to go against what they see as God’s will, for instance with regard to abortion or SSM.
Do you consider Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush pragmatists? Paulson is a pragmatist, who is willing to violate the ideology of the party when needed.
A big part of the problem is that since 2001 they’ve been able to implement many of the ideas the think tanks came up with, and they failed. They’ll need to come up with some more ideas that are more in line with reality. The DeLay corruption I think came with excessive power, and will go away along with that power. I suspect the Cheney theory of the unitary executive is not going to look nearly as appealing with Obama in the White House.
Give them credit. Supply side economics, the Laffer curve, some foreign policy strategies, are all ideas developed when this wing was out of power. They might have not been good ideas, but they weren’t the ranting of yahoos.