August 18, 2009

One Version of a Conservative Roadmap - Part 1

I hate to start a recommendation with a slag of the author, but I want to be fully candid about this.

In a recent article in commentary magazine, authors Peter Whener and Michael Gerson write about the path to Republican revival. It's a really good article and while it's a long read, it's full of important points for Republicans to remember on how they got into this minority mess, and how they should go about rectifying the situation.

BUT [slag alert] in the interest of full disclosure, I'd like to point out something of a personal impression/opinion about one of the authors of the upcoming article, Michael Gerson. Back in February of this year, I simultaneously purchased four books to read;
  • A Slobbering Love Affair by Bernard Goldberg,
  • Free To Choose by Milton Friedman & Rose Friedman,
  • Blogger for Dummies and
  • Heroic Conservatism by Michael Gerson.
Three of those books I read cover to cover, in short order. The other book I started, restarted and gave up on. Heroic Conservatism was to me full of compassionate conservatism pablum that bordered on Bush-as-visionary as much as the left was assailed in A Slobbering Love Affair for doing the same thing with Obama. I just couldn't get through the early parts of the book and finally wrote off the book as a bad choice and moved on. I've read other books since and haven't tried to re-tackle Gerson's book. Based on the contents of this article, maybe I'd been a bit too quick in my assessment and I need to give it another try, so I will.

Such was the power of the article in Commentary Magazine. It also helps that a lot of the ideas discussed on the GOP regaining power in the two lost branches of government happen to be ideas I firmly share.

Starting with what happened;

Today, after two punishing election losses in 2006 and 2008, in the course of which Democrats gained 15 Senate seats, 54 House seats, and the White House, the GOP is now the minority party, Democrats are rejoicing, and many Republicans have lapsed into a state of near panic. “Are the Republicans going extinct?” Time asked in a dramatic cover story. “And can the death march be stopped?”

It can—though it is indisputably true that the challenges facing Republicans are the stiffest since the years immediately following Watergate.

The article goes on to discuss the reasons why it happened;

The reasons for the vertiginous decline are both proximate and long term. At the top of the list, surely, is the Iraq war—a venture that, at the outset, had garnered the support of more than 70 percent of the public and strong majorities in both the Senate and House. But that support quickly unraveled. The Bush administration never fully recovered from the revelation that Saddam Hussein did not possess stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and many Americans came to believe, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that the administration had “lied” the country into war.

They also ascribe the failure to other reasons as well - chiefly congressional corruption, and the economic crisis of 2008 and the public's impression of the GOP as the party of the bankers. But they also blame some of the Republican ebb-tide on being the victims of their own domestic success.

...runaway welfare statistics, crime, drug use, high marginal tax rates—have been significantly ameliorated even if not yet fully overcome. This, ironically, has deprived Republicans of some of their more time-tested talking points in partisan conflict.

To that I would add that they may have also suffered as a result of their own foreign policy success with the collapse of the Soviet Union, chief rival of the latter half of the 20th century, in no small part thanks to Ronald Reagan.

Then they get into the longer term quagmire of demographics and geography. Demographically, college educated whites, young people and Hispanics helped out Obama and no doubt the entire Democratic ticket. They represent a growing percentage of the voting population. Meanwhile, non-college educated whites, those not exposed to liberal intelligentsia and indoctrination, represent only 39% of the population - a substantially diminished percentage of the electorate since 1992.

Worse still, they note;

Over the past five presidential elections, Brownstein writes, Democrats have built a “blue wall” consisting of 18 states and the District of Columbia; these account for fully 90 percent of the electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

Yikes!! It's over - fold up the big tent and cede power to the Democrats forever.

But wait. They go on to point out Obama's dwindling poll numbers and his penchant for bigger government and the public's distaste for that approach. His path runs counter to popularity, longer term. Yes, they argue, it's a daunting task, but the door has been opened by Obama himself and conservatives must take advantage of it and march right through.

This is where the article gets interesting. It goes on to spell out what needs to be done to make the GOP a successful party once again. The fact of the matter that any party that sees itself as permanently ascendant is foolish to do so. Winning requires results, consistently and in new directions. Luckily for conservatives there's a lot of unfinished business and therefore a lot of opportunity.

I will in part two, discuss what their suggested remedies are and dive down deeper into some of the specifics. I see great opportunities for the GOP in the future, all curiously tied to more conservatism, but also smarter conservatism.

Stay tuned.

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