November 14, 2008

The 'Vision thing'.

In a post yesterday, Matt Lewis talked about what idea conservatives need to focus on, with an eye towards a providing new Contract with America. I thought I'd add my two cents worth here.

One quick note - whatever the vision is, I think the time has come to not only articulate a vision, but provide voters with a clear road map instead of platitudes and vague ideas. In 4 years, people will likely be asking "How did Obama plan to get us there? He never really told us." If you can't contrast against that, the ideas might sound like hollow promises.

1. Matt mentions science and math. How is it possible to disagree with that? Obama mentioned on the campaign trail music.

Really? Really? What tripe! You want to teach students to fiddle while America burns, Mr. President-elect?

The impacts of being the party of math and science however are far reaching. It impacts education policy. And that in turn may provide an opportunity for in-roads in ethnic communities. Asian communities for example are likely to appreciate the attention on these ares as they keenly understand their importance. No racial comments please, I'm generalizing of course.

But another area of impact is translating the emphasis on these into a realizable economic benefit. For example, patent protection, while not sexy is important. The Chinese violate copyright laws systematically. There needs to be a more robust effort to protect the innovation that results from the focus on the hard sciences. Likely this will affect trade policy.

2. Free trade. Republicans often blindly follow the doctrine of free trade. It's good in theory, but in an imperfect world, it needs to be a finely managed march towards free trade. China does not deserve it's preferred partner status. Why support a blind allegiance to an idea, when practically applied it's taking American jobs. We need to explain the benefits, manage the transition and ensure that equal access, equal playing field free trade is followed.

Free trade has proven very effective. But it has not come without certain pitfalls that need to be addressed and managed.

3. Industry. The Republican party has a huge untapped opportunity to get unions to come onside. Not by pandering to their immediate priorities, but rather by embracing re-industrialization. More factories mean more jobs. More jobs mean more votes, period. Regardless of whether union leadership buys in, union members understand that supporting industry is supporting job opportunities.

We don't want to impede business from taking advantage of cheaper labour, but as we have seen, that often comes at a cost of quality. American workers can produce quality given the opportunity. And I'm sure there are ways to produce quantity cheaply too. Leverage that science agenda, improve the means of production through automation and create volumes that can't be matched in a sweatshop of 5,000 offshore workers.

Promote tax policy that encourages tax breaks for on shoring, and/or heavily favours R&D.

The economy is shifting to a service based economy. Good. But without a sustainable base of production, the country is doomed. You can't offshore all of your production indefinitely. If there's a net capital outflow, it's not sustainable indefinitely. And while services can be exported, clearly it can't be done at the same rate as the importation of goods. Not at this point in time anyway.

There's also a national security risk of becoming a service-dominated economy. What if our clothing and automobile suppliers decided to cut us off? With insufficient means of domestic production it would come as a shock to the system.

So being the party of productivity and re-industrialization has it's logical and populist appeal. As the economy shifts, make sure that domestic production specializes sustainable industries. Do not cede production of the automobile, electronics, defense, communication, transportation, medicine or even resources to foreign interests. Specialize and be the best.

4. Hispanics. Matt is right about the Hispanic community. The numbers don't lie. Not only is this group key as a segment of the population, look at the electoral college potential. If Republicans can keep the south and Florida onside and make inroads in the southwest, particularly California, the potential impact is clear.

I have argued elsewhere that outreach is heavily underplayed by Republicans. It's a missed opportunity. Hispanics have a natural fit with Republican ideology. But we don't sell them on that. Amnesty for illegals may be an issue, but it is not an issue if the broader picture is properly framed. Hispanic (or any) families have the same basic needs from government. Schools, hospitals, crime control, job security and freedom to be who they are. These are basic human needs. If you emphasize the importance of family to a Hispanic voter, do you think he's going to argue with you about it? Probably not.

This is simply a variation of the "all politics is local" argument. Local, in a different context - ethnic/cultural. The Republican party missed an opportunity recently to address the NAACP. Why? Outreach is the key.

Go to community events. Go to churches. Go to their associations. And talk to them. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Invite them to participate in Republican events. Inclusively. Sponsor their events. This is Basic 101 stuff.

This dovetails very well with being the party of family, security and freedom.

On that last point, an aside. Why is it that people would want to give the same group that managed to create the current financial crisis the keys t their 401k's? Could anyone manage it better on their own. Even by throwing darts at an investment dartboard seems like it would have yielded better results.

Fiscal Responsibility. Let's take another crack at this one. Balanced budgets. Innovative solutions to the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare. I'm sure there are myriad ways out of the mess. Let's table some and pick the best ideas.

While on the subject of finance, what about becoming the party of banking? Every great empire has had its financial vehicles to leverage. Controlling international money flows is key to a prosperous empire/nation. Smarter banking. Stronger banks. Perhaps the Fed could benchmark it's prime rates based on criteria of banking stability. Just a random thought. Anything to bolster the foundation of stronger banking institutions is good.

Energy. Yes, energy independence is an imperative. Drilling wherever possible, clean coal, natural gas, and nuclear power should be at the forefront. Yes, hydrogen fuel cells, biofuels and other alternative sources should be investigated. But they may take 10, 20, 50 or 100 years to come to fruition. The country doesn't have that time to spare.

Those areas I think are good starting point.

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