Why the GOP lost

Posted: Nov 13, 2006 12:00 AM
Why the GOP lost

There's already plenty of punditry about what went wrong. What did the president and the Republican Party do and when did they do it.

Robert Novak summed up the consensus view of the Republican wipeout well, writing that, "opposition to the war and the president had produced a virulent anti-Republican mood."

My point of departure from most of the analysis that I've read would be to disagree that this election was about any single issue.

I think this election was about trust. Trust is the glue that holds relationships together.

The war, rather than being THE issue, was more a deal breaker.

It's like a failed marriage. It starts off with trust and hope. Then a lot of little things happen that create tension, disappointment, and disillusionment. Eventually, there is a deal breaker. Some incident that destroys any residual hope that things can be worked out, that you can rely on and trust the person with whom you once shared your dreams. That's the end.

I think this is what has happened with the relationship between our president and his party and the American people.

Americans hung tough with the president on Iraq for a good portion of these years that we have been embroiled there. Even after it seemed pretty clear that the initial intelligence that supposedly justified the war was wrong, we still hung tough with him.

But the ongoing death and chaos, with no clear and understandable picture coming from the administration about what the end of all this will look like, shook the nation's confidence.

This, coming with the nauseating string of scandals, abuses of power, undisciplined federal spending, and the failure of the president and his party to deliver on any of the major entitlement reform issues (Social Security, health care) or social issues (marriage amendment), broke the bond of trust.

Anyone knows that when the bond of trust is broken, any relationship _ political, business, or personal _ is over.

To paraphrase an observation once made by the great political philosopher F.A. Hayek, "If politics is the art of the possible, then great leadership is the art of making the impossible possible."

However, in order for any leader to reach for the impossible and bring it into the arena of the possible, he must have the trust of the people. They have got to believe in him, in his integrity, and his vision.

Leadership is hard to find. In my time, the only two Americans that I can think of that really had these characteristics were Ronald Reagan and Martin Luther King. They made the impossible possible and changed the world.

I believe these are unusual times when the need for leadership is particularly pronounced.

Great changes are taking place.

The very dangerous threat globally from Islamic extremists and terrorists is different from the types of threats we have faced before.

Domestically, the country is weighed down by dysfunctional systems we created in the last century at a time when many Americans thought that central planning had its place in our lives and when we were rich and independent enough to play these kinds of games.

Now a good portion of our population and economy is dependent on broken retirement, health care, and education systems.

We need to retool and replace the broken and the old with the new and dynamic.

We need a more deregulated health care market, private health and retirement accounts, and an approach to education that allows parents to choose how they wish to educate their children.

However, leading a whole nation to abandon the old and familiar and to step into the unknown and the new is no small task. It cannot be done without leaders who have vision, who have courage, and who, like Reagan, see the truth clearly enough, and believe in it deeply enough, that they will capture the trust of our people.

I haven't spent a lot of time talking about the Democrats because it is so clear that they still are the peddlers of the old and the broken. I have yet to read an analysis that defined this election as an affirmation of the Democratic Party.

We know about relationships that come on the rebound. It's just a matter of needing somewhere to go. But there's no substance and no future. The Democrats will soon remind us again about what getting government into our lives really means. Telling us what we should earn, what we should produce, who we can and can't hire, what the prices of things should be, what we can and can't teach our kids, etc.

Short of a complete transformation of the Democratic Party, if our country is going to maintain its standing as a great nation _ the greatest nation _ it will be under Republican leadership.

But it's not going to happen without real leaders. This is the challenge for the Republican Party today _ to re-articulate its vision and to re-establish the trust it has lost with the American people.