Brian Birdnow

The current political wisdom as expressed by the deep thinkers at the Washington Post and the New York Times holds that President Obama stands triumphant and, as such, he is now confidently setting the national agenda. As E.J. Dionne wrote in the Post last week, “He (Obama) is free from the need to save an economy close to collapse, from illusions that Republicans in Congress would work with him readily, from the threat of a rising Tea Party movement, and from the need to run for re-election.” Is that a fact? Today the economy shows an 8% unemployment rate, which is higher than at any time during the Bush years, the President has dismissed Republican calls for compromise on budgetary issues, Second Amendment questions, and immigration policy, and it remains to be seen whether Obama will seek a third term through executive order, but no matter!

The current wisdom further holds that the Republicans suffer from a lack of leadership, a non-existent strategy and no rising stars. Here, the liberal chattering classes are on firmer ground. The GOP, thrown into a funk by the dismal outcome of the November elections, is now stumbling and committing the same type of errors that caused them to forfeit public confidence in the first place. Sometimes defeat offers opportunity. TH readers of a certain vintage will recall that the 1992 election of Bill Clinton as president served as a beneficial wake-up call to a Republican Party that had grown complacent and stale. The GOP tabbed a human dynamo named Haley Barbour as their national chairman, and rebounded strongly, confounding their critics in the prestige media. Today, however, we see little evidence of this happening as the Republicans have fallen into internecine warfare, with the various factions pointing fingers and blaming each other, and we must endure the likes of Kathleen Parker preaching the eulogy at the graveside of the conservative movement.

What can be done to prevent the GOP from falling back to the status of the 1970s, if not actually becoming a museum piece of historical curiosity? In the short term the Republicans can privately concede to themselves that they have lost the initiative and, while they reorganize the Party and identify a program and leaders they must fight a stout rear guard action, preparatory to taking the offensive. They have a blueprint for this strategy right in front of their faces, if they look for it. It consists of making public Obama’s agenda as outlined last week in the State of the Union message and pointing out the flaws, evasions, and errors in the Democratic design for establishing a European style social democracy in America. While the Republicans attack the Democratic vision, they must, in point-by-point fashion, propose an alternative strategy based on an aggressive free market approach. This will effectively draw a distinction between the two Parties and give voters a choice, not an echo.

The GOP can start this off when Obama conjures up the liberal bogeyman of global warming, by referring to the Clinton-sponsored Kyoto Protocol and its preposterous restrictions as evidence of the liberal approach to climate change. The Republicans can also adroitly shift this argument from “global warming” to American energy independence by pointing out that prosperous societies can more effectively manage to control harmful emissions than impoverished ones. If someone questions this thesis they can ask the Russians, Bulgarians, Chinese, and North Koreans how well they are doing in this sphere.

When Obama derides the Republicans for their “obsession” with the deficit and a $4 trillion federal budget, the Republicans can point to the two balanced budget plans they have drawn up, and they can continue to impress upon the minds of their fellow citizens the staggering nature of a $4 trillion dollar budget, and a $1 trillion dollar deficit. Turn the tables on the President by an aggressive push on this one.

When President Obama attempts to posture himself as the champion of the middle and working classes the Republicans need to point out that the tax increase of January, in the form of higher payroll taxes was a Democratic initiative. The President could have pushed for a renewal of the payroll tax cut, but discarded that idea in his single-minded obsession for new and higher taxes. The GOP must become the Party of lower taxes again, and right away. They must stress this in every speech, position paper, and public forum. When the Democrats and their media allies play the class warfare card and carp about “tax cuts for the rich” the GOP must answer immediately and ask all of the working class who are now seeing smaller paychecks if they think of themselves as “rich”.

In the same vein the Republican can attempt to instruct the public as to the deleterious effects of the looming Obamacare disaster by pointing out the huge numbers of workers who are seeing their hours of work sliced and diced by employers who fear the new Health & Human Services mandate that anyone working over thirty-six hour weeks qualifies as a full-time employee and must be accorded full benefits. The reduction in employee work hours and the use of temporary help to pick up the slack is exploding now and once can see this especially in the universities and in the hospitality industries. The Republicans must tie this disturbing development where it belongs, which is squarely around Obama’s “signature achievement”.

One more Obama initiative should be addressed. He tossed one more idea into the speech, as a throwaway applause line, concerning a new goal of “…making high quality preschool available to every child in America.” The opposition should point out that failing government run schools rarely provide this service to elementary and secondary students, but Obama thinks that the nation should expand a failed product to a wider clientele. The GOP should compare this to the Ford Motor Company deciding to extend the production run of the Edsel. They should propose, instead, to offer a full tax deduction for parents who choose to send their children to private/parochial preschools.

It is undeniably true that in politics, unlike boxing, counterpunching is rarely a strategy leading to victory. The GOP must, however, employ this tactic while they hammer out a new game plan reflecting current realities. They must identify new leaders who possess true ability and must eschew a simplistic appeal to racial or ethnic background. While it is certainly appropriate to debate the Party’s future the appointed spokespeople must avoid needless backbiting. (No more “Party of Stupid” foolishness from their own, if you please!) Finally, the Party must develop a coherent message and drum this home relentlessly. Let the Grand Old Party return to its older roots as the Party of self-reliance and freedom once again by becoming the vehicle of ideas. Offer the country a proud free market approach rather than the European style socialism that even the EU community is now admitting has failed. Admittedly, this will be harder to do in the bare-knuckled world of politics than in the pages of Townhall. Still, the GOP must react quickly, lest they lose Congress in 2014, and sink back to the position of a permanent minority Party consigned to the political wilderness such as they were in the 1970s. The Republicans need leadership and a program. Those of us who vote Republican insist on nothing less.


Brian Birdnow

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