I’m giddy with excitement over our new President-Elect, but some of my friends on Facebook are really bumming me out. I’m sure some of them actually think we’re in the End Times now that Obama was won. I truly do sympathize – I am Pro-Life, and I do care about ending abortion. But a political party has to be about more than just paying lip service to an important issue to command my allegiance – and it should be obvious by now that I am not alone. The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives was already larger than that of the so-called “Republican Revolution” in 1994, and it grew by 25 or more seats tonight. In the Senate, Democrats are going to be just 2 votes shy of a filibuster-proof majority. U.S. voters have thoroughly repudiated the Republican way of governing, and the GOP is going to have to adjust if they want to have any chance of a comeback in 2 or 4 years.
So, in the spirit of bipartisanship, I am going to offer my genuine assessment of what the Republican Party needs to do to become relevant in the center of American politics again.
- Stop fighting over Medicare and Social Security – these two programs are immensely popular, well-run (lower overhead than any comparable private program), and are a promise that three generations of Americans have banked upon for their well-being in their twilight years. There is no point anymore in trying to dismantle the New Deal 60 years later. Get behind making the fixes needed to keep these programs running, instead of plotting their demise.
- Dial down the rhetoric on being a “Christian” nation – it’s never been true, and all it does is alienate voters who aren’t weekly church-goers. It is possible to govern from Christian principles without violating the Establishment clause. Also, stop using the word “Judeo-Christian” – it’s kind of insulting to Jews, who voted for Obama by a 3-to-1 margin.
- Stop pretending climate change isn’t happening – the public knows it’s real, and our time to act is now. Continuing to deny it, and lining up behind fossil fuels instead of clean energy just makes you sound tone-deaf to everyone.
- Advocate sensible regulation – it should be obvious by now that the “invisible hand of the market” is not infallible, and just patching the financial industry will only delay the inevitable collapse of all the other houses of cards which have been created by overzealous deregulation. Voters expect their government to keep them safe from dangers in the food supply, the toys they give their children, unsafe working conditions, and man-made environmental disasters. There is real danger from all of these things after 8 year of the Bush administration being asleep at the wheel.
- Become a genuine friend of the poor and the working class – Republicans have cynically exploited low-income Americans by taking advantage of their religious piety, patriotism, traditional values, and hope for a long time, while continuing to undermine them with tax policy and anti-worker measures that erode their ability to keep what they earn. This election, the worm has started to turn, and workers who have been reliable Republican voters abandoned the party in droves.
- Stop pretending that intelligence and education are deficits – this, above all, is what infuriates educated, intelligent voters who are socially and economically moderate. The anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-learning wing of the party has taken over. Smart men like William F. Buckley wouldn’t even be welcomed in the party they helped shape anymore. Education, literacy, science, mathematics, and free thinking are the forces that will return America to economic, cultural, and political prominence – positioning yourself against them just makes no sense.
I’m sure you’re realizing that many of these points are things that were part of McCain’s platform, or at least his platform from the 2000 primaries. That’s no accident. It’s also no accident that he kept the race at least interesting for the past several months, until he abandoned his principles, picked a far-right running mate and sank all his money into attack ads.
It also might be clear that this means that Republicans will need to position themselves as partners in a unity government, in many respects. However, it should also be clear that merely being the opposition, obstructionist party in the next 2 years is not a winning strategy for expanding the party’s support – when you’re the ones being blamed for all of the problems, you have to be part of the solution.
Making these sorts of changes would mean bucking the centers of power in the Republican establishment – Focus on the Family et al, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and the lunatic fringe of talk radio. However, I think it is the only sensible path if you want the GOP to remain a centrist party. There isn’t a lot of room to the right – the Libertarian party and Ron Paul voters only accounted for about 1 to 1.5% of voters in this election.
I’m sure anyone who reads this won’t take it in the spirit it’s intended – the wounds are probably still too raw. But I really do intend it as an honest critique of how Republicans can reverse the trend of the last two elections without compromising the core of their conservative principles. Take it for what it’s worth.