America is now entering upon an era of government by the Democratic Party. Barack Obama will be our president for at least the next four years, possibly eight. The Democrats will control both Houses of Congress for at least the next two years, and quite possibly four or more. The Republicans are doomed, therefore, to be the minority party for some time to come. How should they conduct themselves?
It goes without saying (at least, I hope it does) that they should avoid mere nitpicking -- complaining about small matters. The American people won't be impressed by Republican objections to this or that minor Democratic blunder. What the GOP must do is put forward a strong case for the proposition that the country would be better off under a Republican president and Congress.
And that will entail not so much demolishing the Democrats as constructing a powerful affirmative case for a Republican administration. The task, in other words, is to build an image of a Republican Party that is based on sound and attractive ideas -- and be capable of implementing them in a Republican administration.
No doubt about it, that is a tall order. It requires the GOP to concentrate, not on criticizing this or that Democratic policy, but constructing an image of a Republican Party that has a firm concept of what good government amounts to and a clear plan for bringing it into existence. Luckily, the GOP has acquitted itself relatively well in recent decades. The Eisenhower and Reagan administrations are, in general, favorably remembered by the American people, and -- while Nixon certainly had his critics -- he is quite rightly identified with various American successes, particularly in the field of foreign affairs.
The Cold War was conducted resolutely and successfully, and ended in the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was surely our most formidable adversary in the 20th century. And while Democratic presidents contributed mightily to that collapse, it is fair to contend that Republican opposition to the spread of world Communism was the central engine of American policy on that subject.
So the GOP has the makings of an image as an already existing instrument of sound policy in foreign affairs. Domestically, the Democrats undoubtedly have an edge in their image as the defender of the "little guy," but the Republicans' warnings against the dangers of Big Government also resonate in the minds of the American people, and can be counted on to be heard when demands for government action become too loud.
It is up to the GOP, in the months and years ahead, to make sure that this dual image of the party as a bulwark in foreign affairs, and a constant guardian against governmental overreaching in domestic matters emerges in the public perception as a sound and successful combination of policies, well qualified to guide the country in the years ahead. And the image ought to take shape, not only as a set of policies floating around in a loose combination, but as a connected series of parts, rather like a well-constructed house in which people can live comfortably.
In other words, the Republican Party should offer itself, not simply as a gratuitous assemblage of good ideas, but as a thoughtfully designed plan for the administration of good government. The American people will understand, and appreciate, the difference.