Friends know how much, historically, I have been a politics junkie. As a lifelong Republican with a political-science degree, I have tracked the goings-on in Lansing, Washington, and across the Big Blue Marble with a mixture of hope and optimism.
My disillusionment started in early 2006. I began to feel that the GOP Congress could do nothing without the approval of K Street, and the Bush team brought executive incompetence to a level not seen since the days of Carter and Buchanan. Big words from a person who actually cried with joy at the 1994 sweep, and who resigned from a newspaper job after forcing a Bush endorsement — the paper’s first GOP presidential endorsement in 75 years! — in 2004. But it’s true: I find little praiseworthy in the GOP in the District of Columbia, and even less for the GOP in Lansing.
The problems of the Congressional GOP in the last days of its majority were myriad: Too much spending, too little reform, too little oversight, too little attentiveness to real problems. Instead, the Congress felt like a big rubber stamp for special interests. And the president? He seems to value loyalty over competence to such an extreme degree that we ended up with “Brownie’s Katrina” and the ongoing wheel-spinning in the otherwise winnable Iraq war.
Of course, it’s not that I think the Democrats are any better. They’re not. In fact, I think they’re a hell of a lot worse; they seem to have taken a vacation from seriousness over these last few years, putting up the hardest-left candidates they can and fighting unnecessary and divisive culture wars at home while live-fire wars overseas get short shrift. No, the Dems are hardly an improvement.
My political ennui is not a function of disappointment in the loyal opposition; rather, it’s that my own team seems to have imploded with no clear path to redemption. McCain as the new standard-bearer? Losing safe seats in special elections? It seems like that today’s GOP is doing its damndest to emulate John Major’s Tories.
So, we stand at the beginning of a two-person presidential race. Will it be Obama? Will it be McCain? I don’t know — and frankly, I don’t much care.
The GOP’s liberal, Rockefeller wing got its nominee, and the conservative base is somewhat less than amused. With the Democrats nominating a person who is likely their least viable nominee in American political history, the GOP responded by nominating a person who seems to revel in giving his base the middle finger. Cute. It’s as if the RNC is taking a page from the strategy manual of the Michigan GOP — the state party adept at seizing defeat from the jaws of victory.
But then, the GOP and the conservative movement have split a bit. This is not a bad thing; my earlier, not-very-qualified support of both has since waned. The party’s platform has ossified into incoherence, and the movement’s emphasis on the same old cultural issues is wearing thin.
So, to steal Lenin’s phrase: What is to be done? Herewith my plan for what’d I’d love to see on the political stage:
- The GOP needs to be the party of fiscal responsibility. This starts with ending — no ifs, ands, or buts — the practice of earmarks. It means an end to pork-barrel spending. It means an end to programs and subsidies that exist merely because they were in the prior-year’s federal budget. It means support for low taxes that encourage capital growth and entrepreneurial economic activity.
- The GOP should block — or even roll back — the entitlement mentality, through the fostering of an ownership society. No socialized medicine, no growth of benefits programs, and a greater willingness to grant waivers to states to experiment with alternative means of providing the “social safety net.” Bush was right, after his re-election, to emphasize an ownership society; he abandoned that rhetoric too quickly. A financial stake in the public health leads to better decision-making than in trusting that the bread-and-circus crowd will act with sufficient foresight.
- The GOP needs a coherent foreign policy. Either we do or we do not engage in nation-building, for example. And if we are going to thumb our noses at much of what happens at Turtle Bay, then let’s be consistent in it.
- The GOP and the conservative movement should moderate some very old dogmas about the social space. The old evangelical consensus about the environment and gay rights are proving problematic. Instead of fighting the federalization of these issues, the default response of conservatives is to thrust the head into the sand. Even if one has issues with the science behind global warming, for example, the smart money is to find a good, market-friendly solution instead of denying the science and letting the Left unilaterally impose its statist, bureaucratic solution. Same with gay marriage. It’s gonna happen, so find a way to ensure that the least harm is done to the Constitution instead of passing DOMA after DOMA.
- The GOP needs to bring back a meaningful federalism. States matter. States allow us to experiment with different approaches to social problems without being stuck with a single, monolithic, less-than-ideal approach negotiated on K Street.
I remain less than convinced that John McCain will be the apostle of reform that I think the Republican Party needs to resuscitate itself. So, I look forward to an election that will witness more hard-left members of Congress get appointed, and which may well end with an Obama victory.
And I don’t much care at this point.