The Elephant in the Room (Part 2: Prescriptions for an Ailing Elephant)

(This article is part 2/2 of The Elephant in the Room which was posted yesterday. Please read that before continuing onto this article.)

Time to get it together, and fast. The GOP has lost five of the last six presidential popular votes. Bill Clinton won  in 1992 and 1996, Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 (though Bush won the electoral college and the presidency); the only popular election win was George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign, and Barack Obama handily won in 2008, and now again in 2012. This is a party whose message is falling on deaf ears, perhaps because most of those ears have passed away, and the GOP is being left with an aging, white, religious and fringe base. Demographics matter, and the Republicans simply do not have the numbers to win nationally, or to an extent at the state level, in presidential elections anymore.

So, what to do? Simple, actually. Lead.

Lead by example, and lead with ideas. Base them in logic, in pragmatism and practicality, and in your ideology. All the incessant calls for a GOP ‘soul searching’ have been overblown by pundits and the media. What the GOP needs to do is go back to basics. They need to be conservative with strains of libertarianism, not what passes for conservatism these days. Here is where today’s GOP is out of touch. They see conservatism as being in the past, adhering to antiquated ideas, rather than applying the ideology to the status quo and the issues of the day.

The Republicans, mainly as conservatives, do not need to adapt or modernize their party. Modernizing conservative ideology is inherently contradictory, however what the GOP has failed to do is to APPLY conservatism, and to an extent libertarianism, to the status quo. Democrats, primarily as liberals, are seen as wanting to change the country: They want more government, and they want progressive change. Conservatives, in contrast, see the country as a collective unit, and for a society to change it must go through the necessary steps and proper mechanisms to ensure stability and cohesion. Whereas Democrats have their foot in an unknown future, the Republicans have kept the other foot in the past. Instead of being the party of yesterday, the GOP should occupy the space in between; they should be the party of the status quo, and of governing. Democrats used to look for ‘what could be’ and ‘what should be’ were driven by ideology above practicality. Republicans used to govern, they were rational, they were the party of adults. Not anymore.

The GOP has now become the ideological party: Dogma and ideology reign supreme over governance and pragmatism at all cost. Republicans used to have bold ideas; they used to raise the level of discourse because they believed in conservatism. They didn’t do what was always popular, but they did what was necessary. As our nation continues to go through a turbulent time, the party must go back to its roots.

Limiting the scope of government does not mean blowing up the government either. Many Tea Party members of congress see their new found positions as obstructionists. Historically, the Republican Party have been led by ‘legislating conservatives’ who used the government to help its citizens, not ignore them and leave them to their own luck. Conservatives believe in family, in the community, in society and local government. Currently their message is: Everyone on their own. There must be a better way forward, and their has to be one as well.

Most importantly, the GOP can no longer be hypocritical on a number of issues. This is not necessarily a definite solution but rather the beginning of a debate that must be had in the party. The GOP should assess itself and use conservative ideology in dealing with present day issues.However, Republicans cannot champion personal freedom and responsibility, and demand the government stay out of your wallet and your businesses, but at the same time dictate what you can do in your personal life and what you can do with your body.

Regarding the right-to-life debate, conservatives should make the argument for their case based on individual rights bestowed upon every American in the Declaration of Independence. Every human being is granted “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The first right delineated, the most important, is LIFE. Whether born, or unborn, everyone is entitled to the right to LIFE. However, while being pro-life and understanding the tragedy that is abortion, there must also be an awareness that government, and a group of people, cannot dictate unto others how to act in a situation that they themselves have not, or may never have to, face. In addition, the eighth amendment defends against the use of “cruel and unusual punishment.” The reality must be addressed that it is something cruel and inherently unusual to force someone to have a child they do not want, and something even more cruel and punishing for a child to be born into a family, or to a parent, who does not want or cannot support him or her. This dilemma, as hard as it may be, must be addressed and discussed. Also, a logical solution to minimizing abortion is to promote contraception, as well as programs to assist women with these difficult issues. Preaching abstinence and canceling programs will not solve the problem; we no longer live in 1945. This is simply ignorant and naïve at best.

Regarding marriage equality, which is controversially referred to as the civil rights issue of our time, it is also incompatible to dictate unto private citizens how they choose to conduct their personal lives with the people they love. This is a generational issue and public opinion has increasingly shown that younger Americans are strongly in favor of legalizing gay marriage. Also, numerous states have accepted gay marriage in state referendums. A conservative approach would be to eliminate the government’s role in marriage outright. Opponents of same-sex marriage primarily claim that their opposition is due to religion, however the constitution demands the separation of church and state. If changing the definition of marriage is their qualm, history has shown over the millennia that the term or institution of ‘marriage’ has shifted, and changed, to occupy the social norms of the status quo in which it has occupied. Conservatives should applaud the initiative of same-sex individuals to want to commit to one another and start a family, which is the cornerstone of a conservative society.

A solution would be to  eliminate the government from issuing marriage licenses and only issuing civil union, or domestic partnership, agreements. By honoring those contract between two people (which is what marriage legally is), the government will enforce ‘equal rights under the law’ for all citizens. Those individuals may then take that certificate to their respective religious institutions and be ‘married,’ or at least benefit from legal rights.  Also, an alternative would simply be for Republicans to stop actively opposing marriage equality and simply leave it up to the states to decide. That principle is a cornerstone of Republicanism, you cannot champion states’ rights and then be against a state passing its own social laws. This premise also extends into the legalization of some drugs, such a marijuana, and other personal choice issues. Let people live according to their own will, but at the same time be responsible for their decisions. Bring back personal responsibility for social decisions.

Such issues are increasingly becoming more divisive, and wedge issues in our society.  I can understand, and appreciate, individuals using their religious beliefs to help shape their values. However, politics and governance are primarily focused on the creation of public policy. In order to serve the public good, and enact public policy, elected officials must address issues facing the entire nation, while at times using their beliefs to guide their decisions. It is not the prerogative of one interest group to impart, or deny, another group their rights. Public policy is the establishment of laws to govern the conduct and relations of an entire society. Attributing conservative ideals to issues is fine, but not when it is used narrowly and is exclusive of others. By making issues a debate of ideas rather than opposition, Republicans can connect with citizens on a higher level, and apply their ideology to issues rather than simply opposing them.

Regarding economic issues, hard work and success are part of the American dream; generations of immigrants and Americans have lifted themselves up by their bootstraps and earned prominence and wealth. However, in order to do so, an individual must be wearing boots, and those boots need to have straps. Our current situation does not lend itself to the upward mobility of past generations and the government leaving each individual to his or her own luck is outright cynical. This is not conservatism, this is not Republicanism, and this is not American. Conservatives and Republicans believe a rising tide lifts all boats. Conservatism does not ignore the poor and needy, but instead seeks to give them practical SOLUTIONS to better their own lives rather than rely on assistance. As the old adage goes: Rather than give a hungry person a fish, give them a fishing rod and teach him how to fish for themselves. Today, we don’t want to give people the proverbial fish. We are also denying them the rod and the lesson. Instead we seek to pit everyone against each other in some sort of perverse social Darwinism, which lets people figure it out on their own. That is not the American way.

Programs that are not working must be replaced with  new  and innovative programs, or existing programs must be reformed, to assist the upward mobility of the poor and those in need.  Such programs do not create a class warfare system, but cherish the fact that when one group of us is hurting, we all are affected, and when we are successful, everyone benefits from the success of the collective citizenry. Education should not be a privilege but instead a right in the United States of America. The strongest, most vibrant, and dynamic economy in the world requires the education and training of its citizens to be the most productive and innovative entrepreneurs, leaders, and citizens and workers.

Those workers also include immigrants. The Republicans should cherish immigration and encourage it. Whereas organized labor (a major wing of the Democrats) traditionally would oppose more workers, the GOP should encourage it. Increasing skilled  immigrants who seek to gain an education also assists in the creation of companies, which expand wealth and opportunity in the United States. It is only through immigrants can the American dream continue to be evident around the world, and exemplified in the success stories of the immigrant. We should not look inward, thereby denying the benefits of the world, but should encourage it as much as possible. This is what makes this nation the ‘shining city on a hill’ that Ronald Reagan used to speak of. Our example, seen from afar, attracts and inspires not just our own, but everyone. Our economic might and prosperity will benefit everyone and grant the U.S. more good faith and strength than any military power can.

Regarding revenue, Republicans should encourage taxes; yes they should want people to pay taxes. The citizenry needs to be financially responsible for the level, and amount, of government they demand and have. In doing so they will pay more, a lot more. Only then can Republicans can make their case for less government and less taxes. Two wars and a prescription drug benefit for seniors under George W. Bush, and now Obamacare,  as well as other additional government programs on the national credit card does not will show people how much their government really costs them. As long as we continue to run record deficits and run up the national debt, people will not be motivated to reduce government. Not until they feel it where it matters, in their pocket books. So instead of cutting taxes, how about paying for our bills and charging taxpayers full price for the services they demand? Charge all citizens as well; In order for people to feel that they have skin in the game and are invested, they must pay taxes. Those who are less fortunate can get rebates or redemption’s, or gain extra services, but they must pay into the system as well. In doing so the notion of a flat-tax, or a value added tax (VAT), or just some sort of overall reform for all citizens would be more palatable.

Deficits are necessary from time to time, but this perpetual debt and deficit system we have is unsustainable and not responsible. Another point needs to be made: No lawmaker should sign an oath swearing anything to anyone except to uphold the constitution of the United States. I appreciate, and can respect, Grover Norquist for his ideas and activism, but he is not a Republican God, nor he should he be treated, or feared, as one. Luckily, the debate against his tax pledge has begun, and many lawmakers are beginning to abandon the pledge. Though he may go after them, Republicans must stand against their own fringe elements as forcibly as they do to Democrats, or they will be cornered into an uncompromising situation hat only hurts their appeal and ability to govern. Also, a party that opposes big government can not at the same time defend  big business. The only benefactors of big government are major corporations and banks which can marshal their resources to gain loopholes and preferential treatment that most, if not all, ordinary Americans do not have. Big business corrupts the system by having unequal influence on our lawmakers. Republicans should go back to being the party of small business, and that means treating all business fairly. Big business campaign checks may help, but the votes of ordinary citizens will help more.

Finally, regarding young adults. This is the future of the country and the electorate. Losing them now while they are forming their political ideals is a sure way to never get them back in the future. Yes, some people evolve and change, but why destroy your future ahead of time? Young voters were enthused  and inspired by one person this year: Ron Paul. If he only looked and sounded differently he would have been a major leader in the party. In Paul, Republicans have a candidate who inspired, galvanized, and created a movement among the young adults in this country. Granted, some of his ideas are extreme, antiquated, and not practical, but his libertarian message resonated more than any other with a younger demographic. Young adults, or millennials, do not want big government; they just want a smart and efficient government. They want to live their lives according to what pleases them, and be held responsible for their own decisions. The GOP should harness this fervor to the extent that it does not affect the entire citizenry, but it is a shift in ideology that will only continue to grow as younger generations feel a need to live their lives without government intrusion and mandates.

Highlighting the GOP’s self-inflicted wounds and their wrong trajectory is not meant to beat up on an already beaten and bruised party. But instead seeks to highlight the faults that exist, and prescribe some thoughts on how to fix them. By no means are these prescriptions solutions, but instead seek to begin a debate and a conversation that will set the GOP on a prosperous and sustainable future. For better, or worse, we have a two-party system and despite the hopes of many, a third major party is highly unlikely. Therefore the GOP must refresh and apply conservatism to the present, promote leaders that inspire, and provoke a national discourse of ideas rather than ignorance. A shift has begun, Louisiana Governor, Bobby Jindal recently stated that the party must “end dumbed down conservatism.” Similar calls from prominent leaders have grown. These ideas could easily be criticized and called those of someone who is a  R.I.N.O ( Republican in name only) but that is an exclusionary term, and what this past election has illustrated is that the party must be inclusive if it wants to have a future. Hopefully, instead of a ‘civil war’ within the party, there will be a discussion and a positive future plan. The GOP got a necessary wake up call. What they choose to do with it is their decision. The Grand Old Party must emphasize the ‘Grand’ in their name or become confined to being the ‘Old’ party, and with that lose the future.

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