Brian Birdnow

The picture is no brighter on any other issues. The Republicans will not dedicate themselves to a program of fiscal discipline, restrained spending, and/or lower taxes. President Obama’s Interior Department has announced that they will reverse the Bush decision to offer leases for offshore oil drilling. The rapid rise in gasoline prices during the late winter and spring was a direct consequence of this announcement, yet few Republicans, except Kay Bailey Hutchison, said anything about the occurrence. Finally, enough Republicans defected to the other side on the Global Warming scheme to give Obama a victory and a start on wrecking the American economy for good.

The leadership deficit in the Party is glaringly apparent, too. Michael Steele is an earnest and well-meaning fellow who might be the worst Republican National Committee chairman since the 1930s. Some GOP insiders credit Steele with improving fundraising, but the chairman has been a poor communicator of Republican ideas and initiatives. He has, in fact, embarrassed the Party on national television, by allowing himself to fall into the liberal trap of disavowing Rush Limbaugh and other popular media figures.

While the Party does have some promising figures in increasingly high profile positions many who seemed ready to take the big step forward, namely Mark Sanford, David Vitter, and John Ensign committed political self-immolation. Meanwhile, the national Party continues to run away from conservative candidates and sometimes actively works to defeat them. The Pennsylvania Republicans attempted to draft Tom Ridge into the coming U.S. Senate primary so as to prevent Pat Toomey from winning the nomination. They believe that Toomey cannot defeat Arlen Specter and are determined to ram a “moderate” Republican down the throats of the Party faithful. We see the same scenario developing in Florida.

The Republicans also seem to lack any overall strategy in addition to their lack of a program and dearth of leadership. President Obama’s recent stumbles and perceived uncertainties have given some prominent Republicans hope. Waiting for the President to dance over the edge of a cliff is, however, no type of real strategy. The Republicans need to give the voters an affirmative reason to come back to the GOP. What is to be done? First, the Party must reorganize. They should thrash out a set of principles and stick to them. They also need to find an effective spokesperson for their principles and stump relentlessly for the Party cause. If the political class learned anything valuable from the Clinton Administration it was the effectiveness of endless and relentless propaganda. The Clinton mouthpieces did very well spreading lies…can’t the Republicans do just as well by spreading the truth?

The GOP needs to become the Party of ideas again. The Republicans of 2000-2009 have given up this title and are today caught up in the Washington games of power and influence buying. The visionaries who energized the Party during the Reagan years and during the “Contract With America” glory days of the mid-1990s would be shocked at what has happened. The Party should devote itself to bringing back some of the old intellectual vigor and defeating the Left in a battle of ideas.

Finally, the Party must make a real effort to reconnect with the 40% of the American who proudly claim to be conservative. It is true that a political party cannot cavalierly desert their own officeholders, but this is a two-way street. Did the GOP really lose much when Michael Bloomberg, and more recently Arlen Specter, left the Party? The weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth following the Democrats winning their 60th Senate seat might have been avoided if the RNC had chosen to fight for Norm Coleman and to prevent Al Franken from stealing Minnesota. A statement that the Republicans are the conservative party might drive some people away, but it will bring others into the fold.

Today, the Republican Party stands at a crossroads. Their numbers are bad, their morale is low, and even the President’s now visible vulnerability does not seem to translate into a GOP advantage. It is up to the Republican Party leaders to decide on a course of action. They can become, once again, the confident and intellectually dominant organ of American political life if they so choose. They might also doom themselves to half-party status or eventual disintegration if they move in a different direction. The nation awaits their answer.

Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.

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