Getting Out Of the Republican Coma

David Harsanyi
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Posted: Nov 12, 2008 12:01 AM
Getting Out Of the Republican Coma

The Republican National Committee recently launched a Web site devoted to giving "users the opportunity to discuss their reasons for being a member of the Grand Old Party and what being a Republican means to them."

It means having their butts kicked -- big-time. The rest, I assure you, is a profound mystery.

So the battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party is on. Then again, many Democrats probably contest the notion that Republicans own a heart or a soul. On the latter, they may have a point.

The prominent conservative columnist David Brooks recently declared the coming Republican war would pit "Traditionalists," conservatives who believe Republicans have strayed too far from Reaganism, against "Reformers," who, he argues, want to modernize, moderate and expand the party.

Traditionalists vs. Reformers. If only it were that clinical.

For the past eight years, we haven't had a Republican Party that was excessively conservative or too moderate; we've had a party that employed no principles to speak of -- unless securing power for power's sake is now a creed.

After all, what exactly did Republican candidate John McCain stand for? The Republicans (and independents) conferred the mantle of leadership to a media darling and longtime Senate insider who based his entire campaign on fighting the entrenched establishment and media.

It was almost satirical.

McCain was the most "moderate" candidate Republicans could unearth -- in effect a non-pick of a lethargic party -- and they were thumped, while Democrats nominated their most liberal candidate in history.

Conservative leaders from all sects promptly converged in Virginia after the election to plot ways to stop the Obama agenda. Good plan. But there has to be more. Movements aren't hatched in think tanks or in top-down dorm-room bull sessions (by the geniuses who brought you compassionate conservatism!).

After the 2000 Bush victory, elite Democrats spent years whining about a stolen election, while grass-roots progressives, instead, channeled their anger into a revolutionary movement that, with the help of a charismatic leader, carried the day in 2008.

Nearly every faction of the Democratic Party's coalition is willing to live together (for now) in the name of victory. The left stiffened resolve, targeted traitors and sharpened rhetoric.

Such is not the case on the right. Republicans can't afford to purge mushy apostates. They can't afford to christen the half of the country that listens to Hank Williams Jr. as the "real" America and ignore the half with taste. They can't afford to entice Middle America with a round of wonky remedies.

The Republican stupor is not a result of a lack of moderation; it's about a lack of purpose.

Economic conservatism -- not the "slashing" of government, as Brooks contends, but a tenuous control of massive government growth and intrusion -- is a moderate pursuit. The pursuit of free and international trade and the fight against collectivist policies in energy and health care are also moderate pursuits.

For now, the best antidote for Republicans is a child's timeout. Sit, think about what you've done -- and plot your revenge. Conservatives will be willing to fight the battles of tomorrow once they know what they are. What they need now is a shot of idealism and then a renewed intellectualism.

Now they're stuck with neither.