I have been active in politics for over 30 years. I’ve been on the winning side of some elections and lost some others; I’ve seen the landscape from the mountaintop while exercising power, and gone through the desert while in opposition; I’ve organized leadership campaigns, managed referenda and election campaigns, and have myself run for office. You name it and I have done it. Through it all, I have always felt that what I was engaged in was noble and contributed in a modest way to improving our democratic institutions, so I am concerned when a democracy lacks the proper alternatives to make a wise decision. The US has steadfastly held to a stable two party system. But right now, if I were a Republican in the U.S., I would be worried. Moreover, if I were an American, I would be fearful about the quality of democratic debate in my country.
I would be worried that my party has prominent members like Rush Limbaugh, who polarize and marginalize my party by wishing that the Democratic president fail with little regard to the chaos that would result. I would also be concerned about Sarah Palin, who draws large crowds but has yet to put two coherent ideas together. I would be disappointed as well to see the GOP congressional leadership condemn and ridicule in a mean-spirited way the defection of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter to the Democrats. Never mind that the man has recently had two important bouts with cancer, is pushing 80 years old and has been a respectable Republican for 29 years. Limbaugh simply says, ‘Good riddance and bring McCain with you!’ (And lest we forget Newt Gingrich, who likes to gives lessons of morality to Bill Clinton hoping we will forget his own indiscretions.)
Ever since the November 2008 election, my hypothetical party has systematically rejected anything coming from the Democratic side. Granted, Nancy Pelosi can be as ideological as George Bush, and Harry Reid is as partisan as they come. And even Obama was not very subtle in reminding us that we lost the election. But all this is on the public record and it tells me we are going nowhere and fast. So, what can we do to change things around and once again become a viable alternative in this great democracy? From 1960 to 1980, we never controlled Congress and held the presidency for only 8 of 20 years. And yet, we persevered and, from 1980 to 2008, we held the presidency for all but 8 years and controlled Congress for 12 consecutive years.
First, we need to spend all of this year defining the basic principles that unite our party: free and private enterprise; smarter and smaller government; respect for the creative capacity of all individuals; respect for liberty and all that can be done to increase it; compassion for those in need and rewards for those who, through hard work, succeed. Second, we want America to be respected in the world and to exercise a foreign policy in the traditions of Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt and Reagan. Third, all components of the party need to rally around a fiscal conservatism that fosters balanced budgets, less government and lower taxes in a pragmatic way that still accounts for new concerns like better and more accessible health care, the environment, and energy diversification. We should not fear a bipartisan solution to any of these issues.
Next, we should aim at making gains in the next congressional and gubernatorial election. There is no use trying to tear Obama down, not now anyway. In fact, there is nothing wrong with cooperating on some issues. I would like to win the next presidential election, but there is a need to enlarge the political base and welcome new voters from cultural minorities before we even have a hope. I would therefore emphasize a bipartisan solution to illegal immigration.
Finally, I would venerate Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Reagan as the bedrocks of American Republicanism, and I would establish a 50-state approach to poltical organization and policies. Now I am not in an optimistic mood because my party of late has been the “party of no”—not just with respect to Obama and the Democrats, but also when it comes to the very ideas stated above.
Today, if I were a Republican, I would not feel welcome inside my own party—just like Arlen Specter and many other Americans who want an credible alternative to the party in power in order to make their democracy work.