For Republicans, after the woodshed

Laura Hollis

11/10/2008 12:00:17 AM - Laura Hollis

And now the recriminations begin on the Right. There’s all kinds of bad form, like the “leaked” stories from the McCain camp of Sarah Palin daring to take a shower or boning up on her sub-Saharan geography while on the campaign trail. There are the insipid calls for “graciousness in defeat.” There are the whiny "what-do-we-do-now" complaints, and the "it's-all-Bush's-fault" complaints, and the stupifyingly vague "we-lost-our-way" complaints.

And then there's P.J. O'Rourke. If anybody can dole out an @$$-whipping that actually says something, it is P.J. O'Rourke. His article in the Weekly Standard is a long read, and a must-read for conservatives – particularly those interested in public office.

P.J. is saying what thousands of conservatives have been saying for some time. I told a reader in Arizona last week that I thought Republicans lost their bearings in 1995, when they shut down the government, and got spanked for it. They have not seemed to have had a clue about what to do ever since. Dole's candidacy in 1996 was a message-less joke. Bush won in 2000, but barely (200 votes in Florida?), and it was as much a tepid response to Al Gore as anything else. And the election in 2004 was about September 11th, 2001. But no one in power seemed to see the pattern emerging. At least on the Right.

Even in 2006, when the Congressional Republicans got their heads handed to them on a platter, did they figure it out then? Nope. Nothing changed.

When all is said and done, I don't think this election will ultimately be viewed as a rejection of George Bush. He is just the easiest target. This election - like the 2006 election, and the 2004 election, and the 2000 election, and the 1996 election, and the 1992 election - is the voters' rejection of the Republican Party in its current form. The electorate has been unhappy with Republicans for over a decade. But until this year, they had no viable alternatives for a President. This year, the voters were so fed up with Republicans that they were even willing to elect a virtual unknown who is woefully unqualified. The fact that it also gave us our first African-American President sealed the deal. Thus the unspecific generalities in support of Obama’s candidacy: “It’s time for a change” (long past it, rather); "Why not?"; "About time," "Anybody's better than Bush," etc., etc. Republicans are making a serious mistake if they think this election was just a fluke, or just about Barack Obama. It is no fluke. And it is not just about him, compelling a figure as he may be. The previous four Presidential elections were just the gathering storm. And now Republicans are witnessing the anschluss.

What Republicans have been for the past decade-plus is a party pockmarked by corruption; a party that is just as willing to sink the country into debt, lie about the future, take trillions of the voter's hard-earned dollars, and dole it out irresponsibly to special interests. Those interests may be different than the Democrats' (and, in fact, that's the voters' beef), but the impulse is the same. It's not "Democrat-lite," it's "Democrat-plus." (Witness the bailout. How long did it take for Democrat Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs to spend $850 billion???) It is no answer to say that "the Democrats are corrupt, too," or "the Democrats' economic proposals will be disastrous." You cannot run as the party of principles, and not live by them. Fair or not, voters will tolerate stupidity (the examples are legion) but not hypocrisy.

This is not to say that there are not opportunities. There are. Democrats are jubilant, believing that their day has arrived, that decades of Democratic power are ahead. But this is not inevitable. And it is certainly not desirable. Democrats at their best are dependent upon legions of people at their worst.

Republicans, on the other hand, win when the image of a Republican in the voters' eyes is the image of a voter himself or herself - hardworking, frugal, spiritual, tolerant (tolerance is not necessarily approval, but free people in a civilized society do not require each others' approval), self-reliant, concerned for the well-being of children, economically sensible, circumspect on foreign policy, helpful to those who have hit hard times through no fault of their own, and firm with those whose problems are their own doing.

Republicans have also lost because they have grown lazy as a party. One gets the sense that they think, "We don't have to communicate our message; people will just 'get it.'" Uh-huh. Sure. Get what, exactly?

2008 is not so much a revolution as it is the culmination of a process that started 13 years ago. As such, Republicans should not be looking to any of the usual suspects in the 2010 and 2012 elections. The next generation of Republican leaders - if there are to be any - will be those who can identify the huge segments of the American population that understand a message of liberty, frugality, responsibility, prosperity, and charity. And those who take the time to communicate those messages to that same American public.

Any takers? The field's wide open.