Published on February 4th, 20130
An Agenda for Republican Dissidents
For almost twenty years, traditional Hamiltonian Republicans have been heckled in caucuses, hounded out of local party positions, and out-maneuvered in the nominating process by ideological revolutionaries. The rationalists refused to lower themselves to fight back, expecting that the Jacobins would burn themselves out soon enough.
Their passive strategy failed miserably. Now the era of patient longing may be closing.
The cascade of disasters spawned by Republican extremists over the past decade is finally stirring a response. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is openly turning his temper toward the right. New York Congressman Peter King is urging people to halt donations to the Congressional Republicans.
Major Republican donors are pushing back against the Tea Party. Illinois’ GOP chairman is supporting gay marriage. Eric Cantor is proposing a major course change. Even David Brooks is dropping the pretense and calling for an open split in the GOP. It’s about time.
It makes sense now to start building an alternative agenda, a foundation for Republican dissent. A party that has come to rest so solidly on fundamentalist religion, latent racist appeals, and paranoia needs a nudge back toward reality and a new sense of purpose. Building that new brand will take time, discussion, compromise and pain. No one has the whole recipe, but here are a few ingredients that might help us get started.
Social Conservatism: Traditional values are as relevant as ever. When you look closely at the households experiencing the greatest success in our society, regardless of their political bent, you find values of hard work, fidelity and respect for education. More often than not you find two-parent homes with a heavy emphasis on child-rearing. In short, you find the traditional core values of our civilization.
There is no reason for the Republican Party to abandon traditional values, but we must reject the authoritarian tone social conservatives have embraced. Successful social conservatism is open-minded, positive, and community focused. It’s not about book-banning or science denial, but creating an atmosphere in which families can thrive. Republicans should reject the shrill, fear-based social values of the moral scolds, replacing them with an optimistic message born of confidence and compassion.
Immigration: We punish drunk drivers with fines and jail time. We punish tax cheats with financial penalties. Isn’t it strange that the only punishment we can accept for the crime of coming to America to work is deportation? As long as “immigration reform” really means “getting rid of brown people” immigration will continue to be a losing issue for Republicans.
Punish illegal immigrants with an appropriate fine. Create real opportunities for legal immigration more generally, and a path to legitimacy for those who have built responsible lives here. Illegal immigration doesn’t start at the border. It starts at the workplace. Devise a plan that will require real, enforceable immigration status checks for employment and let’s turn our attention to attracting the world’s best and brightest to our shores.
Health care – Instead of Federalizing medicine, give states wider latitude and greater incentive to change the way we deliver health care. That means encouraging good faith efforts at the state level to change doctor certification, medical billing practices, electronic communication in medicine, and other innovations stifled by a federal bureaucracy that can drive down the cost of health care.
Climate Change – Blanket climate denial is developing into a dangerous embarrassment. Conservatives have a key role to play in preventing the left from using climate change as a lever to further unrelated goals. Carbon reduction, no matter how extreme, will not stop global warming in our lifetimes, and perhaps not within centuries. We will need technology and infrastructure to cope with a changing climate. Mitigation will require lots of cheap energy. Republicans need to be in the thick of the debate over dealing with climate change.
The Knowledge Economy – The unemployment rate for college graduates is currently less than 4%. Our “struggling” economy is starving for workers to fill some of the best jobs that have ever existed.
It takes more than good schools to get people ready for college and careers. Few can afford tuition and the cost of many long years out of the job market without the support of healthy families, strong communities and financial assistance. A more intelligent, compassionate social conservatism may be the missing policy key that opens up opportunity for more people to enjoy a better financial future.
Real Financial Reform – The age of blind deregulation may have ended, but Obama has replaced it with a blizzard of paper regulations that obscure the problems in our financial markets rather than addressing them. We need fewer, better rules designed to bring real transparency. Republicans have an opportunity to develop sensible reforms that would end the worst abuses in derivatives, proprietary trading, and mortgage finance. We cannot do this unless we abandon our fantasies about self-regulating markets.
Education – Our public schools are not a jobs program for teachers and administrators. Our education system is the most critical component of our economic infrastructure. We must clear the way for schools to adapt to present needs without interference from unions on one side, and anti-science hacks on the other. Our Industrial Age schools need to evolve to meet Information Age demands.
By challenging public employee unions and local bureaucracies that stand in the way of meaningful education reform, Republicans could find our best opportunity to restore our foothold in America’s big cities.
These ideas are only a beginning, but they represent a shift from the current Republican mindset toward something with a stronger basis in the real world. There is little in this message that would alienate people on the basis of race or religion. Little of it would be controversial outside the fringes of the right or left.
This approach would be a departure from the 50%+1 strategy of the Rove Era, when base enthusiasm reigned supreme and the need to govern was a secondary concern. It is time to reject contrast in favor of consensus, to embrace pragmatism over ideology. We cannot meet that goal if we remain trapped in paranoid echo-chambers, isolated from the concerns of new constituencies.
Americans want a government that will work. No one is better suited than Republicans to deliver that vision. Let’s climb out of our bunkers, let our eyes adjust to the sunlight, and start building a better future.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chris Ladd is a Texan who is now living in the Chicago area. He is the founder of Building a Better GOP and has served for several years as a Republican Precinct Committeeman in DuPage County, IL, and was active in state and local Republican campaigns in Texas for many years. (Email: chrladd AT gmail DOT com)