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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Whither the Republican Party?

I was born into a multi-generational Republican family, on both sides. My mother's parents were active in the party in Sacramento for decades. My father's grandfather upon hearing his great grandson, my brother, born in December 1960 just one month after JFK's election said, "what the hell did you name him that for?" when told his name was Michael Kennedy Smith. Upon being told the "Kennedy" was the maiden name of the baby's mother Pa, as he was known, muttered, "I guess that's okay then." Ask my brother and sister what bumper sticker adorned the back left spot on the bumper of our station wagon from 1968 until well into the 1970's and they would tell you "Bellmon" who was governor of Oklahoma. That same year, 1968, our mother was a delegate from the State of Oklahoma to the Republican National Convention in Miami; there to cast her vote for Richard Millhouse Nixon and Spiro T. Agnew. Yes I was reared in the shadow of the elephant. And I'm pissed to see where the once Grand Old Party lies today.

Much is being made of whether the Grand Old Party is dying, and I say to that: I do not think it is dying I think it has been killed. The lethal instrument was the GOP membership in Congress from 2000 through 2008--during President Bush's administration. The lethal means was fiscal imprudence and failure to follow one of the principles listed on the website, "I BELIEVE government must practice fiscal responsibility and allow individuals to keep more of the money they earn." Not only did the Republican majority achieved in 2002 in both houses ignore and abuse the first part of this statement, they ignored and abused their party's leader in the White House. Sure they stood by President Bush on national security matters, and he aided them by signing budgets that increased the size of the Federal Government and spending, but they abandoned him on his efforts to reform Social Security allowing the Democrats to capture the dialogue with the public and never standing up to them. When that occured the Republicans lost control of any positive messages on any issue. They rolled over and the Democrats and press took advantage. The GOP was mortally wounded.

Many registered Republicans like myself started telling the party when they would call for donations or send "how are we doing polls" to quit spending like Democrats and to show some fiscal responsibility--in essence those we helped elect needed to follow their own principles. Once the Republican members of Congress and the Republican President began growing the budget and earmarks and reckless spending they lost countless moderate Republicans across the country. How could someone who believes in limited government, fiscal constraint and less taxes support a politician campaigning on those issues while voting different? Confidence was lost, the message was lost and the Party was truly an elephant; plodding through the new media and it use in campaigns and organizing at the grass roots. Democrats were able to adequately frame the party on strictly social issues: abortion, gay rights, minority rights and women's rights. While poll after poll showed that only a small percentage of voters agreed with the extreme liberal positions on these issues (limited restraint on abortions, gay marriage Constitutional Amendment, maintain affirmative action quotas) the whole Republican Party was framed and presented as supporting the extreme conservative positions on these issues (no abortion under any circumstances, no gay marriage or rights, not only no affirmative action but no consideration to be given based on race/gender). Coupled with the repeating of the lie that Bush's tax cuts only benefited the wealthy and the Repbulican Party let itself be presented by the opposition.

Those who know me in my Long Beach community would often be surprised when they learned I am a registered Republican--not a real common thing in Long Beach anyway--like they expected me to have fangs, horns and a tail. That was the result of consistent demonizing of my party, and therefore my affiliation. Many moderate Republicans grew weary of the association, grew weary of the lack of adherence to basic principles of the Republican Party and left, becoming Independents or in many, many cases registering as Democrats. The middle ground where over 60% of American voters reside politically, was lost. With it went the hopes of the Republican's future.

Here in California it is even worse for the Republicans than it is nationally. In California there are millions of voters who, if they were to ably listen, agree with many of the principles of the Republican Party when it comes to national security, the economy, fiscal responsibility, taxes and the purpose of government. They become lost when the only voices being heard from Republicans are about social issues to which they disagree. Take out the extreme positions of the far right on gay rights and abortion and it is my belief that the Republicans could take the majority in the State of California within two elections--provided their is cohesive organization and strict adherence to a couple of simple principles: lower taxes, shrink the size of the state government. But unfortunately it is easy to defeat the party because those who control it do take the extreme position on social issues thereby minimizing the chances of anyone who is moderate on those issues to receive the needed support to win.

I feel I am a very typical Republican in California, or potential Republican. I am for law and order and abiding by the rules. When in doubt read the Constitution. The lowest tier of government should have the most control on exactly how funds should be spent, no specific mandates from the Federal Government or the State Government---give the money to the local school district and let them spend it how that district needs it spent. The needs in Fresno are not the same as the needs in San Juan Capistrano so do not mandate the same programs. Lower taxes create more jobs and economic growth, it has been proven again, and again, and again. Get rid of the overwhelming influence of the public employees unions on our elections. They dictate who wins primaries and elections and therefore they dictate policy and laws that benefit them and hurt the general public. Protect me and my family. Secure the borders, quit wasting billions on anti- this and pro-that feel good programs that have solved no problems such as gangs, graffitti, truancy, teen pregnancy and other issues that create more waste of public safety, health care and education funds to deal with these costly segments of our communities.

Fiscal prudence, public safety, limited government concentrated at the local level where those who know best what is needed are able to direct resources more efficiently. Individuals and communities need to be responsible and accountable, quit molly-coddling those who are not.
Sounds good to many people.

At the same time I am for abortion in many circumstances, but not all. I am for gay marriage; if the state is providing a license, and it is called a "marriage license" then it should be available to hetero- and homo-sexual couples alike. These two issues alone are minor on most people's political decision making process--but unfortunately they are now the litmus test for support from those with the funding and the organizations. Essentially in California a bright young person with views similar to mine, and the majority of Californians according to polls, cannot get elected.

The leadership of the Republican Party, both in the state and nationally, better be pretty darned scared of the future of that which they lead. Rich Galen, a national political writer and commentator, who worked with Newt Gingrich and other high profile Republicans through the years, a staunch Republican and with a huge national following on his thrice-weekly blog Mullings has opined that now may be the time for a third party. And he may be right. If properly formed and organized it certainly tempts me. The current third, fourth, fifth parties are not appealing to moderates like myself due to their history and the looniness of many of their candidates.

How does the GOP recapture registered voters? How does it recapture votes and win elections? Simple. Get on the street. Hold regular face-to-face meetings with voters, and not white voters in Orange County, but with black pastors, hispanic business owners, local community leaders, college and high school students. Sit down with them and show them the principles of the Republican Party. Explain to them the loss of the message, the need to rebuild the party, the desire to work to return hard earned dollars and paid taxes to their pocket and their communities; not through government stimulus packages which are wasteful and inefficient, not through one time programs that have too many restrictions and rules, but in funding of local government with broad guidelines: educate, protect, build.

Unless the Republican Party, and especially those elected under the banner of the elephant, begin acting like Republicans on major issues of defense, public safety, education, fiscal responsibility and the economy no amount of outreach will recapture the passion of those like me. But with demonstrated leadership and consistent votes by those elected it becomes easier to point to them and their commitment when giving a personal message.

Whither the Republican Party? Yes, whithered indeed, but it is possible to have a bright future.


Rick Berry said...

I spoke to the newly-organized Los Angeles County Young Republicans in Long Beach last night. (It was previously called the Long Beach YRs, but they realized they are the only active chapter in LA County. Sad but true.) We spoke of many of the same things that you mention here. Real Republicans need to re-educate the electorate as to what the true principles of the Party are. We can't get caught up in arguing about the gray areas or we will continue to lose ground. We must stick to the core principles and build a new coalition before it is too late. The real battle now is Socialism versus Capitalism, and people need to know what that really means and be reminded what America is all about. The Republican Party is still the most logical place to organize the battle against this assault from Socialists. I'll remain a Republican until I feel there is a party that provides a better choice with a better chance.

mikec said...

The Republican Party - the same one that I grew up with - will never recover until the "Evangelical Christian" movement loses influence. It was their influence that moved the GOP from fiscal conservatism to social judgementalism as the core standard. When that changes, the Republican Party can change.

Bob Schilling said...

Unlike Dennis, I'm the product of a "mixed marriage." My dad was a rock-ribbed Ohio Republican who thought the country had officially gone to hell in a handcart when John Kennedy was elected President. My grandfather was indignant when the federal government raised his taxes to $963 per year. My grandmother's favorite political quote was,"Drink your whiskey neat and vote the straight Democratic ticket down the line. Two of my aunts really WERE Socialists in the '30s.

That kind of puts me in the middle, with some ability to see and respect the views of both sides. I agree with Dennis -- the reports of Republican Party demise are greatly exaggerated. The GOP will find new leaders and new messages, and they'll be back before you know it, most likely in 2012, and certainly in 2016. They'll need to be more moderate -- the entire country has moved to the left, and they'll need to go with it. They'll need to be willing to permit a more sound and comprehensive social safety net, including health care and a strengthened national retirement system that allows individual accounts beyond Social Security.

It doesn't look like we're all that far apart on national defense and foreign policy, beyond some upset amongst conservatives about talking to people we don't like. I'm hopeful we can get over that and get on with the trade negotiations and human rights discussions that are possible only after we start talking.

I must say there may be significant differences with regard to "enhanced interrogation." For moderates and progressives -- and most conservatives, I think -- it doesn't matter whether waterboarding works or not. The same argument can be made for bank robbery -- and they're both still illegal. I'm hoping that all of us in the middle will prevail with that understanding as time goes on.

More than anything, I'm waiting impatiently for Republicans and conservatives generally to rejoin our national dialog. Surely there are areas where conservatives can make powerful counteroffers to current policy. Is cap and trade the best option? Are there better ways to reduce carbon emissions? How can we improve our overall economy while improving the lives of working people? Is there a less expensive way to encourage "green" technology?

What we need are answers from conservatives that go beyond shouted denunciations and denials. Our country MUST deal with these issues. If Republicans don't offer real and believable solutions, the country will go with the proposals its got. If the Republican Party can't get over being angry and accusative, it will remain a footnote in the policy-making process. And if the Republicans are seen only as obstructionists, as the economy recovers they will be seen as stupid obstructionists, and they will end up competing for the record low number of Senators set in 1936, by the same party, at 36.

One last thought. This is NOT a battle between Socialism and Capitalism, and claiming that just makes conservatives look out of touch. We do not, and have not, had a purely capitalist economy since the reforms of the (Teddy) Roosevelt administration and the enactment of the Income Tax. And we are far, far from the level of government ownership and control that exists in, say, China -- or for that matter, France. We do have a "mixed" economy, and we probably will have one for the foreseeable future. So let's stop shouting that the sky is falling and get down to the difficult but satisfying business of working together to meet the challenges we face in constructive dialog where the quality of ideas is more important than the amount of public emotion we can stir.

Dennis C Smith said...

Thanks for all the comments thus far. Bob, I am in favor of waterboarding, I would rather the mental, emotional and physical discomfort or pain of someone who has no regard for human life than put your family and mine at risk because we want to be nice. Regarding opposition, read the speeches of Pelosi and Reid from 2002 through 2008 and show me one piece of constructive policy opinion or offering. Unfortunately during the Bush years the Democrats were a party of opposition not an opposition party; as unfortunate would be the Republicans to follow this model the next four years. That said, there has been a lot put forth to oppose.

I appreciate that we can disagree with civility and without repercussions or personal attacks. Thank you everyone. Keep the comments coming, let's talk about this issue of party politics!

Douglas Frankenfeld said...

To paraphrase Mark Twain, "News that the Republican Party is dead is greatly exaggerated." The G.O.P. has abandoned its principles by being more big government than Democrats. Look at the burgeoning deficits Bush started. Look at the ridiculous farm bill of 2005--the embodiment of socialism. George W. Bush panicked saying, "I don't want to be known as the next Herbert Hoover," when he endorsed Henry Paulson's TARP bailout.

The only thing left in the Republican Party is backwater, flyover states like Oklahoma where Republicans are still convinced that Obama is a Muslim or is at least destined to Hell because he is pro-choice on abortion. Oakies complain that blacks have taken over the nation and that affirmative action is keeping down the white man. They cite Michael Steele as Exhibit A. The other sole issue the Republican Party stands for is guns and the runs on ammunition and firearms that is occurring presently because gun nuts are convinced Barack Hussein Obama is going to come to their doors and violate the 2nd & 4th Amendments of the Constitution and confiscate their firearms. (Disclosure: I possess no firearms in my household.) The second sole issue is the change from a carbon-based energy policy from oil ("Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less" or Dick Cheney's 2001 Enron-era words of wisdom: "We cannot conserve our way out of an energy crisis") to a carbon trade economic policy that has proven to work with the sulfur trading policies that has nearly solved the acid rain problem and the 1987 Montreal Protocols that have abolished cholorflouracarbons (CFCs) and have almost healed the ozone hole. Technology and science--despite Bush's anti-intellectual opinions about stem cell research, Terry Schaivo, and evolution--can make the world a better place.

Yesterday's bolting of Arlen Specter to the Democrats is a further repudiation that there is no room for "Rockefeller Republicans" in PA or the Northeast. Specter's self-interest is why he changed. In 2008, 200,000 Republicans in the Main Line Philadelphia suburbs changed their registration from Republican to Democrat; these same former Republicans voted for Specter in 2004 just as they did for Kerry-Edwards. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan they said, "We did not leave the Republican Party; the Republican party left us." (Like you, Dennis, I resided in PA, but only for a one-term Fall 1983 semester at Swarthmore College, which VP Spiro Agnew disdained as "The Kremlin on the Crum." That phrase was coined by the onomotopoaetic William Safire. So I have some insight about PA; not as much as you.)

The G.O.P. is more narrow-minded and has no big tent left as it did in the era of Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, or Reagan. And here's another Haiku about Specter:

Specter supported
Thomas, Alito, Roberts;
Now "borks" G.O.P.

Not to be callous, but realistic, Specter's days are numbered anyway. He'll be 80 next year and he suffers from brain cancer. But don't count on Pat Toomey being the next Republican senator from PA.

Otherwise, as Mark Twain would say, "News that the Republican Party is dead is greatly exaggerated."

Frankenfeld said...

Sorry, Dennis, with the exception of Timothy McVey, I apologize sincerely. My generality did specify "like Oklahoma" and I'll be more specific in my adjectives: please subsitute "land-locked" for "backwater." Please substitute, "narrow-minded, intolerant Evangelical Republicans" for the overly-generalized "Oakies" [sic]. I concur that it is ignorant and insulting to put you, a former Oklahoman, in that category.

Dennis C Smith said...

Mr. Frankenfeld shows ignorance and prejudice in his comments about "Okies" which as a 5th generation Okie I find somewhat insulting. I guess it is okay to stereotype the "hicks" without knowing anything about them. Liberal hypocrisy, arrogance and ignorance on public display? Thanks Doug for playing into the stereotype many Okies have of California liberals.

Dennis C Smith said...

Doug: My post was before I saw your somewhat retraction, I appreciate, I guess, not being included with the group you disparage. I am sure the "narrow-minded, intolerant Evangelical Republicans" are relieved I am not part of their group. Your label however shows somewhat narrow mindedness and intolerance as well.

For the record as someone with roots in the state when it was still Indian Territory and Federal land (great-great grandfather was the Federal Indian Agent for a section of the territory) I can never be a "former" Oklahoman, but will be one ever more. "Sooner born and Sooner bred when I die I'll be Sooner dead."

Anonymous said...

As long as the Republican party continues to exclude people who deviate from their narrow and rigid point of view, they will continue to shrink and be marginalized. Today, moderates seem not to welcome in this former great party.

The problem is that the Grand Old Party is lost and their message is feeble. Rush limbaugh has become the de facto spokesman. They are all talk and apparently their only real principal was to do anything and say anything to remain in power. If their main principal is smaller government, they certainly did not display this during the Bush administration when big government got bigger. If their principal is States Rights, why did they try to intervene with Florida's State government with Terri Schiavo? If their principal is fiscal conservatism, their only mantra seemed to be cut taxes, while increasing spending.

President Bush did not have a single veto for the first six years of his administration, until the Democrats got a majority in the House. The President and the Republican led Congress spent, spent and then spent like a child with unlimited funds in a candy store, except at least the child would have known when he had eaten too much.

Losing Arlen Specter, unlike Rush Limbaugh's point of view, is a big blow to the Republican body. If the party continues to disallow dissent and people of more moderate views, they will become a regional party and will remain out of power for a generation. How sad.

John Greet said...

As highly esteemed attorney, radio talk show host and JWR columnist Larry Elder likes to quip: These days there’s about a dimes with of difference between Republican and Democrat politicians. Most Democrat politicians advocate and practice socialism-light and most Republican politicians advocate and practice Democrat-light.

Unless and until a truly Conservative leader arises again to steer it back on course, someone who can communicate the message even half so effectively as Reagan was able to do, the Republican Party will continue to languish and flop and flounder about, allowing Democrats to define, marginalize and overshadow them.

Whatever the Democrat Party’s flaws, and they are legion, they do understand how to seize and retain momentum. Unless they can become at least equally adept at this, Republicans will be ever reacting, ever on the defensive, ever off-balance and, because of this, ever ineffective.

But permit me to offer this for consideration:

Perhaps the majority of people in this nation just don’t care to follow conservative principles any longer.

Perhaps, no matter how deeply indebted we become; or how many social programs are created and enlarged to create and maintain still more and more dependence upon government; or how many sectors of our society become thoroughly and completely socialized; or how porous our borders become and remain; or how far our standing in the world degrades; or how much of our personal treasure we cede through taxes; or how many of our personal freedoms and individual liberties we abdicate; perhaps most folks in this nation just like being cared for more than they like caring for themselves.

The independent and self-reliant spirit that built this nation has so eroded, so degraded and become such an alien concept to so many of us that I wonder that it will or can ever truly be recovered.

The near universal paradigm shift that will be required to effectively reverse the predominantly socialistic course of this great nation may well prove beyond us.

If so, then our great nation, as it once was, is well and truly lost and all we (conservatives) will have left are our communities and our States.

Unless and until it’s repealed, the 10th amendment still makes it possible for a predominantly conservative State to exist. I don’t believe California will ever again be such a State.

Californians pay some of the highest taxes in the nation and every year our elected representatives squander those funds and then ask still more from us.

Stranger still...we keep agreeing to give it. Clearly, then, California doesn't have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem, and yet we continue to elect representatives who perpetuate this problem and we consistently refuse to remove them from office for doing so.

I saw a faint glimmer of hope when we recalled Joseph Graham "Gray" Davis, Jr. back in 2003. Through this, I felt, we in California were finally beginning to remember that it is we, the electorate, that are sovereign and that it is government that is intended to be accountable to us.

In 2003 we (finally) decided to hold someone accountable.

Yet our current Governor has taxed and spent and mismanaged at levels that have long since exceeded Mr. Davis', and yet Mr. Schwarzenegger remains.

How can this be? Unless it's because the majority in this State truly want to have to live this way...with ever greater spending, ever rising taxes and an ever degrading overall quality of life.

As strange as this seems, these are the conditions most Californians (indeed, most Americans) appear to have come to prefer.

As I said, it's going to take one incredibly talented conservative leader to change this course.

Frankly, I'm not seeing any evidence that such a person exists or, if he or she does, that anyone else is looking very hard to find him or her.