After Arnold Schwarzenegger lost all four of the initiatives he sponsored in the California special election in 2005, he told the people of the Golden State that “I’ve heard you. I’m going to change.” He did. Since promising to change in his state of the state address in January, Schwarzenegger has become a better bridge builder and has showed an admirable willingness to work across the political aisle to accomplish important objectives. Yes, the governor has alienated some of my conservative friends in the process, but he has also gained quite a few Democratic friends. And as a result, while other Republicans were losing across the country, Schwarzenegger cruised to reelection last Tuesday. Notably, Schwarzenegger’s winning percentage of the vote (56 percent) surpassed the winning percentages earned by President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush in all four of their winning presidential campaigns.
As a California Republican, I’ve watched the governor’s transformation very closely and I believe there is much that President Bush can learn from our movie-star-turned-politician leader; namely, that a change in strategy can lead to major political victories. In turn, I offer four specific policy areas where the president should rethink his strategies for success.
Rightly or wrongly, most Americans see the war in Iraq as a failed strategy. As voters made abundantly clear last Tuesday, we cannot simply “stay the course.” A new strategy must begin with new leadership. Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation is a start, but more change is needed. For example, Vice President Dick Cheney—the man who designed much of the strategy for the Iraq war—needs to have less of an influence in the administration’s inner circles. Meantime, we await the results of the bipartisan panel led by former Secretary of State James Baker. Pundits have suggested that one of the panel’s recommendations will be to have a regional conference that would include talks with Iran and Syria. While there’s little to suggest that this strategy will produce favorable results, it’s good to see the president exploring alternative options.
The “War on Terror”
Iraq is but a part of the broader “war on terror.” However, this “war” is as much a cultural battle as it is military. Let’s double our efforts to find new ways to win over minds and hearts by working with moderate Islamic leaders (yes they are out there.) This could include funding education in the Middle East to counter the Wahabi strand of Islam coming out of Saudi Arabia. We must work harder to make friends around the globe to help us achieve this vital objective. Experts are saying the best way to fight the war on terror is through partnership and interdependence with other nations. We can capture and kill, but we must get at the root cause of the conflict. We must get involved in improving economic freedoms and improving education. If we don’t counter the spread of radical Islam into new countries with alternative views that are well funded, we will only see more terrorists being developed, not less.
President Bush took a noteworthy step toward beginning a national dialogue on energy policy when he admitted that the United States is “addicted to oil.” However, the president has done little since then to make energy independence a priority of his administration. People are worried about energy for several reasons: high gasoline prices (though they have come down as of late); the effect our “addiction” has on the environment; and how our “addiction” leads to the financing of rouge states such as Iran. We must find new ways to incentivize the use of clean, renewable energy sources to begin making headway on this significant policy matter.
Finally, we must try to heal some of the hatred that has emerged around the world against America. When I’m traveling throughout the world I’m always amazed at just how much people hate President Bush. In response we must realize two things. First, that some people will always hate America no matter what we do or who our president is. Second, that there are also some things we can do to turn some of the popular opinion in our direction. One innovative way to do this would be to give new Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson expanded authority to help shape international trade strategies that would improve international relations and our image across the globe.
The American people voted for change last week. The president would be well served to follow the example of Governor Schwarzenegger and adjust to a new political climate by changing strategies on important matters. It might be tough medicine for Republicans at first, but it may prove to be just what the doctor ordered come November 2008.