[Breaker: Time to navigate by principles instead of pragmatism]
From all accounts, the Republican Party is bracing itself for a drubbing
in November. The party has already begun to lose congressional races
in traditionally Republican districts. Despite the abrasive infighting
among the Democratic presidential candidates, on the basis of current
polls Obama could beat McCain in the fall election. Even more sobering
for the GOP, the Republican base in places like Kentucky and Missouri
seems rather indifferent to the Republican candidate. Much of this
base is likely to stay home at election time or vote for a third-party
This development may point to a larger problem of identity for the
GOP. The transparent strategy of the current Republican leadership
is the result of reaching leftward for Democratic constituencies while
pursuing a neoconservative-guided aggressive internationalism. The
two policies are not necessarily incompatible. Actions that lavish
federal funds on public education and subsidize medical programs, praise
the icons of the civil rights movement, and favor a decidedly liberal
approach to immigration can coexist with wars of choice intended to
fight terrorism and spread democracy.
These government emphases can be joined together if public funding
is available for both and if a constituency can be found that will
support them. Fortunately for those who favor the present GOP course,
extensive neoconservative media, including the Fox News Channel and
the Weekly Standard, remain on their side. These media outlets are
generally in favor of moving tactically toward the center on certain
issues while promoting democracy outside our borders, if necessary
by forces of arms. The forthcoming nomination of McCain indicates that
advocates of this direction can even get one of their own accepted
as the GOP's candidate for president.
However, this course is not likely to make the Republicans the majority
party. Judging by present electoral trends, the course will probably
hasten the party's decline. A majority of the voters does not embrace
the global democratic foreign policy espoused by Senator McCain and
President Bush. Although John or Jane Q. Public may spout some questionable
opinion picked up on the Fox New Channel or in a civics course about "democracies
never fighting wars with each other," they do not wish to invest
their lives and treasure in a fool's errand. By pushing the present
foreign policy line and by making bellicose statements about the Russian
and Iranian governments, McCain will lose votes not only to his Democratic
rival but also to the Libertarian, antiwar candidate on his right.
As for the reaching-out stuff, here too the GOP is falling short.
It cannot outbid its opposition as the dispenser of social programs
or as the friend of the NAACP, La Raza, or the National Gay and Lesbian
Alliance. And every special effort the GOP makes to ingratiate itself
with the social Left will irritate its own base, which is overwhelmingly
WASP, married, and traditionally Christian. Unfortunately, the Republicans'
white Protestant base is also being weakened, as those of its members
who have been exposed to cultural elites are moving leftward on social
What can the GOP do to regain its political momentum? The only course
open to it if it wishes to escape becoming an adjunct of the Democratic
Party -- albeit one with a disastrous foreign policy -- is moving rightward
on domestic issues while pursuing restraint internationally. The GOP
should go back to being what it was in 1950 -- the party of small government,
a vigilant but not meddlesome foreign policy, and equal protection
for all citizens under our laws. It should eschew playing the race
card but also indicate in no uncertain terms that it opposes affirmative
action and set-asides for designated victim minorities.
And it should work to give the federal government a less prominent
role in the expanding crusade against "discrimination." Such
escapades as the outing and prosecution of alleged verbal harassers
and insensitive opinion-givers in the workplace and in education are
not activities in which those who value freedom wish to see the government
The government has moved into these areas like a bull in a China
shop, at the cost of our right to privacy. If fewer public favors were
being done for these objects of surveillance, the government in all
probability would have less justification for controlling them behaviorally.
What is being suggested is not a course that will produce immediate
dividends but rather one that may yield long-term advantages, particularly
once the Democrats have overplayed their hand. (And given their constituencies
of self-proclaimed victims, a Democratic administration will inevitably
do so.) The GOP may have no choice but to act like the party I once
admired as a boy if it hopes to survive.
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The Ornery Observer is copyright © 2008
by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger professor of Humanities
at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
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