January 20, 2009

Into The Wilderness

As I write, it is in the very last minutes of the Bush Presidency. Barack Obama will take the reins very shortly and begin the unenviable job of leading the country through a difficult economic crisis, and a substantially more hostile world than the one his predecessor inherited. To him, all I can say is, "You asked for this job, Mr. President."

Thinking back to my own political camp, we enter the wilderness today. Republicans and/or conservatives control no arm of the national government. Part of the reason for that is voter fatigue, part of the reason for that is dissatisfaction with the events of the past several years. I'm not going to here pin any blame for that on the leadership of the GOP, but I do think it's useful to point a few things out for the future.

First of all, from a governmental perspective, blue-colored Kool-Aid drinkers are talking about war crimes proseuctions for Bush Administration officials. Rick Moran is right to say that such a proposition should be viewed with great caution. We don't and can't know everything that was known to the previous administration and can only offer conjectures based on what we've read in the media. And it will be impossible to properly examine the real evidence without it turning into a political circus that we really don't need. Let Congress confine itself to eliminating a statute of limitations for very severe kinds of war crimes (if any exist; I don't actually know) and leave the matter to rest for a while.

Secondly, the red-colored Kool-Aid drinkers need to lay off. Barack Obama is the President of the United States. That's it. It doesn't matter if he says the oath with "so help me God" at the end or not. It doesn't matter that Hawaii hasn't released his original birth certificate. It doesn't matter what his middle name is. He's an American, he's our President. "Supporting" the President does not mean agreeing with his policies; it means conceding the legitimacy of his administration and not setting up any cheap ploys to bring him down. Republicans will lose more than they gain if they do that.

Which means, as the previously-linked article describes in detail, we need to refocus on our core ideas, and leave the polarizing social issues and the partisan maneuvering aside. Those are short-term tricks; amphetamines for the body politic. Health and vitality for the Republican party will be found down a different path -- one that remembers the sorts of things that will not only win elections but turn in to the law of the land. As one retired Congressman puts it, we need fresh, good policy ideas, not political stunts:
eliminate checklists and litmus tests and focus on broad principles, not heavy-handed prescriptions. Free trade. Strong defense – at home and abroad. Government as small as is practicable in these times. Economic, education and energy policies that promote growth, energy independence and a competitive agenda that will allow businesses to grow and compete, not be protected by artificial barriers. That’s it. Believe anything else you want, but advocate for those things outside the structure of the party.
That may be as good as it's going to get in terms of abandoning the failed social polarization policy that eked out two very narrow victories in the past and was overshadowed by powerful economic events and war fatigue. Even then, I predict a lot of people will have a hard time letting go of an agenda that they found enjoyable to pursue despite the fact that it has produced such miserable results.

Now, the quote above is general in scope and deliberately so. Indeed, nothing on the list is objectionable to most Democrats; the difference between them and us is a matter of prioritizing competing goods and competing objectives for public policy rather than disagreement that these are good things for the government to pursue.

But as we go into the wilderness, we need to keep our priorities straight. It is not a matter of waiting for some politically charismatic savior to come along; there must be a foundation of new ideas upon which a charismatic leader can build. Right now, we have none of these things. What we have is a new President. He's not from our party and we can't expect that he's going to be a great friend to our ideas. But that should never stop us from explaining why our ideas are better.

We cannot hesitate to offer good ideas and try to make them real; the voters will see whose ideas they are and reward them if we are bold and positive in our contributions to making the country a better place. If we stop thinking of ways to make the country work better, and instead lay traps and wait for Obama to make a misstep (as he inevitably will) or for something to go terribly wrong so we can pounce like partisan vultures, we will be doing our party and our nation a grave disservice.

No comments: