A party cannot claim to be “fiscally conservative” when under its watch nondefense spending increases at almost as high a rate as under Lyndon Johnson8. A party, and its standard-beareer, cannot claim to support free-market capitalism and oppose social democracy, but preside over one of the largest “wealth redistributions” in American history, from the working and middle classes to the upper classes.
By Steven Powell
When Barack Obama won the presidency on November 4, 2008, our party fell into disarray. Obama had won unprecedented victories in Indiana, which had not gone to a Democrat in almost 40 years, as well as the once “Solid South”. Every Republican was forced out of his or her seat in New England. Conservatives, moderates, and libertarians all began attacking each other. Social conservatives were attacked by more secular conservatives. The Party was left reeling and wondering what caused the disaster, how best to recover, and who to blame for this turn of events.
Much of this blame has fallen on Sarah Palin, since near the end of the campaign season she was viewed quite unfavorably by the larger voting base 1(although she remains immensely popular among Republicans), and what was seen by some as a very nasty embrace by John McCain of negative, personal tactics that seemed to be off-message in the face of a very serious economic crisis.
Ultimately though, however favorable one's view of John McCain may or may not be, his loss was not entirely his fault. His loss, along with the loss of many other good Republicans and conservatives on election night, was mainly due to his associations with what are seen as wrong-headed neoconservative policies, and the numbers seem to back it up. For all the talk of record turnouts this election cycle, turnout was up only about 1-2% nationwide from 20042.
And while the size of the electorate remained practically the same, the President's approval ratings remain low while 83% of people believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction3. Even while the country is still in shock from the terrorist attacks 7 years ago, majorities polled still disapprove of the Iraq war4.Obama's share of white and middle-class voters, the lifeblood of the Republican Party, increased by sizable margins over John Kerry's from 200456, and even religious conservatives were not immune to a shift in allegiances, with substantial increases in the young Evangelical vote from 2004 as well as a majority of the Catholic vote going to Obama.7
The reversal of fortune for the Republican Party began in 2006, when a public disappointed in a President seen as out of touch with ordinary Americans, building up executive power, and widening an unpopular war without their approval voted in a majority-Democratic Congress with a divided Senate. 2008 was merely a continuation of this expression of dissatisfaction – it speaks volumes when almost all the incumbents of a party which controls a Congress with an approval rating of barely 10% are voted in and actually gain a stronger footing. But then, this is also in part due to Republicans' unwillingness to provide an effective opposition to negative traits associated with the Democratic Party. A party cannot claim to be “fiscally conservative” when under its watch nondefense spending increases at almost as high a rate as under Lyndon Johnson8. A party, and its standard-beareer, cannot claim to support free-market capitalism and oppose social democracy, but preside over one of the largest “wealth redistributions” in American history, from the working and middle classes to the upper classes.
A Random Guy's Suggestions for the Future
1. Become a bigger-tent party...for conservatives: What I've been trying to say trying to say is that the current path of our party is unsustainable. The result of the 2008 election was that the Republican Party really only fared well and survived in the American South, and the “Reagan Coalition”of Southerners, neoconservatives, and the Religious Right, have been the main focus of the Party's policies, while alienating the rest of the nation along with many other factions of the conservative movement. As a result of this election, the coalition has largely been confined to the margins of American politics, and key constituencies have begun to flee the Party.
The leaders of our party have concerned themselves completely with the projection of American power, especially military power, and strict social conservatism, and as a result have left it as an ideological sect, while paradoxically allowing it to become a haven for leftists like Joe Lieberman. Conservatism is not merely defined by the hard-and-fast stances of partisan magazines; it is a living ideology with many diverse viewpoints on how to best “conserve” the American way of life. There are other kinds of conservatives such as fiscal conservaties, the secular Right, libertarian-conservatives (as Barry Goldwater was), traditionalist conservatives and the paleoconservatives (which both claim lineage from Russell Kirk and the members of the pre-Buckleyite Right, and have a connection to the modern national-conservatism of Europe). The election also proved that our Party cannot win with just Whites, so we have to tap the rich vein of minority social conservatism, while also trying to disprove the myth that the Democrats inherently represent minority economic interests. The Democratic Party prides itself as embracing a pluralism based on different races and classes of people...why can't we pride ourselves as a party that embraces a diversity of ideas?
2. Begin to reform our economic image: Our Party is frequently for using free-market language to justify subsidies for the wealthy. Sitting down talking with Democrats, the question is frequently asked: “Why can we support X the rich/a war but not [entitlement program Y]?” Sometimes this criticism isn't unfounded, but more often than not it's a conflict of arguments rather than policy. The Republican Party must show more of a commitment to a free market that eschews both positive AND negative intervention. Most economists agree, however, that unforseen changes in market conditions cause changes in the business cycle, and that an outside force needs to act to correct these. It's understandable for individual people to be angry that their tax dollars are being used to correct these; it's very rare for the government to step in to correct “externalities” in an individual's life, and certainly not due to poor decisions. Individuals pay private companies to provide for these externalities; it's called insurance. I'm no economist, nor will I try to be one, but why not let companies that represent key industries buying into a form of “baliout insurance” like an individual would – setting aside a one-time payment of taxpayer funds as a starter and allowing companies to pay into an insurance-like system at a certain percent of their income for a certain amount of their worth to be insured in case of a major crisis? Barring this, though, the Republican Party needs to figure out a way to keep the U.S. Economy vibrant without having to resort to more wealth redistribution.
3. Adopt a strategy for fighting terrorism that doesn't require frequent American intervention: The cost of projecting American power over the last eight years has all but erased the peace dividend left by Ronald Reagan at his Cold War victory and replaced it with unsustainable and increasing government spending, generated international controversy and damaged relations with many of our European allies, left behind several thousand Americans and others dead and injured, and a Shiite controlled government with possible ties to Tehran in power.
Historically, only 10% of terrorist groups have been cited as defeated by a military “victory.”9 Most of the time, terror groups are defeated by police work and by local opposition, and a conservative antiterror strategy must reflect this. Also, conservatives must not be blind to the power that these terror groups hold as social/political movements and quasi-governments themselves, which often provide some basic services10, and focus on wresting this power and influence from them.
Since WWII, and especially since the Cold War it has been all but taboo to pose the questions “Can the projection of American power actually be damaging to American interests?” and “(knowing this) What should be the logical limits of American power?” During the presidential primaries, the only Republican candidates willing to pose these questions were Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul, and both were savagely attacked as a result. It makes no since for a right-wing movement to promote “responsible governance” and yet not use responsibility and skepticism when determining its policies. The next right-wing movement must be mindful of these questions, while keeping its objectives in mind, to formulate its strategy.
4. Return to the STRIP principle (Sovereignty, Tradition, Restraint, Identity, and Property) for policymaking. Out of all the things I've proposed, this one is by far the most important. These five principles, in one form or another, have formed the bedrock of conservatism for many decades. I believe they're universal ideological principles which can be applied to almost any problem, but they've been forsaken in recent years in favor of a “compassionate” conservatism which has driven the United States into bankruptcy. Reclaiming these principles and conquering our party's own problems will give us better moral footing to take on the Left's excesses and rebuild our image as a party of principle and a party with an ideology that is best to help Americans thrive and succeed in the world.
Steven Powell is a sophomore at MIT, Powell is currently majoring in both aeronautics and astronautics. Steven is an independent Republican who writes for HipHopRepublican.com on issues dealing with foreign policy and issues facing the Republican Party.