Moreover, this argument assumes the existence of a creature that Kate O'Beirne of the National Review Institute calls the "Jackalope of American politics": the socially liberal fiscal conservative. These critters are allegedly America's real silent majority, except they are exceedingly rare. Most people who are socially liberal are economically liberal as well. Embracing what Barry Goldwater called "me-too" Republicanism, agreeing to liberal principles while being just a bit more frugal about living up to them, might win over a few of these exotic creatures, but it will lose tens of millions of committed conservatives. Given a choice between an authentic Democratic Party and an unenthusiastic knockoff, why vote for the pale imitation?
The real answer for the GOP isn't to narrow the differences between the parties but to heighten them. Conservatism's greatest achievements have arisen from giving Americans a "choice, not an echo," as Goldwater famously put it.
In 1974, during the bleak post-Watergate period, Ronald Reagan raised "a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors." In 1978, as the U.S. floundered under President Carter, Kemp flew the flag of massive tax reform. Inspired by Kemp, the Reagan campaign in 1980 proposed an audacious 30 percent cut in taxes.
And herein lies the real opportunity in Specter's defection. It's likely the Democrats will now have the 60 votes to run the Senate. Hence, Obama's legislative failures will, by definition, be failures to win over members of his own party. Republican "intransigence" and "partisanship" will be rhetorical in that Republicans have no formal means of stopping Obama, only the power of their arguments.
That is the environment conservatives thrive in. Yes, the Republican Party needs some new ideas, new solutions to our problems. But conservatives do not need new convictions. The GOP can choose to be the party of Kemp or of Specter, the choice or the echo. The spirit of Kemp stands for principle over power. The specter of Specter glorifies solely the principle of power. Kemp was far from perfect, but after his short time in government, he'll be remembered not only for doing great things but also for believing in the greatness of America.
Arlen Specter, even if he spends 40 more years in government, will be remembered for nothing at all.
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