Party Should Turn More Conservative.
Every time the national GOP loses the presidency, it becomes more conservative than when it owned the White House. That was the case in 1933 after Herbert Hoover a New Deal-style anti-free market experimenter lost and conservative congressional Republicans changed the partys philosophy. Dwight Eisenhowers presidency largely applied Bob Tafts domestic policiesbut also his military ones: Ike rejecting Nixons urging for boosting troops in Vietnam or wasting more money on defense to fight the illusory JFK-propagated missile gap. Jerry Fords loss led to the rise of Reagan conservatism.
So what is likely to happen to the Republicans now that they are in the wilderness? They should speedily become more conservative than George W. Bush has been. But before we go there, lets take a brief backward look at the election in order to put it in perspective.
The Meltdown was the Deciding Factor.
After every losing election the GOP produces fly-speckers who say if
if. If he had gone to Ottumwa, Iowa rather than Des Moines. If he had picked Romney instead of Palin. If his staff hadnt tried to micromanage Palin. If he had a ground game. If he hadnt accepted federal financing (I agree here most of all). These things are speculative and counter-productive. The mid-September economic meltdown did it. Period.
Going out of the gate, with the unpopularity of the Iraq War and President Bush, the Republicans had no right whatever to imagine they could win in 2008
but McCain started to. Why? The country was center-right and Barack Obama was not. All the way along until mid-September even with the adulatory pro-Obama media working against McCain, it seemed to work--John McCain clocked at 2, 3, 4 or even 5 points ahead of Obama despite all the national media hype that inculcated the man from Chicago as destinys savior. With mid-September came the economic meltdown. Since that time, McCain ran 4,5, 6 or 7 points behind depending on the poll you read. Realclearpolitics.com, was right on the button: Obama won with plus 6.5% of the electorate. In electoral votes of course it was greater365 to 162 (270 needed to elect). So we should stop muttering if-if-if. The meltdown did it.
Loss but Not a Disaster.
The Democrats did not gain enough in the Senate (plus 6) to put down a Republican filibustersuch as may well occur if they try imposing a Freedom of Choice act to override Hyde amendment protections or return to the mid-named Fairness Doctrine which would put conservative talk shows in a strait-jacket. In the House Dems gained plus 26. No tidal wave there. Nor in ideology. Polls show now Dems comprise 39% of the electorate, Republicans 32% contrasting with the 37-37 tie in 2004. Nor is the spread in Congress dismaying. After his victory in 1976 Jimmy Carter had bigger margins in the Congress. Moreoverand this is most important22% of the electorate call themselves liberal (up one point since 2004) and 34% call themselves conservative (unchanged since 2004). Forty-four percent constitute a swing voteself-identified as moderatecompared with 45% in 2004. That is amply sufficient to build another coalitionif care be done that while continuing George W. Bushs laudable social policies, it does not simulate his foreign or domestic views.
There were no huge gaffes in the 2008 campaign that Republicans need to torture themselves with. Sarah Palin was just what the doctor prescribed as neededa bright conservative pro-lifer to energize the dominant evangelical base
and her addition to the ticket undeniably aided the effort, no matter what the liberal media think. In fact their frenetic hatred energizes her case for 2012.
Three Signal Events.
Often I have cited Harold Macmillans view of politics that it is not engulfed so much in strategizing as in events, my dear boy, events. I list the salient events that changed the campaign as three. First, the brilliant defense of pro-life by McCain in the most intellectually stimulating two-part interviews at the Saddleback church run by Pastor Rick Warren. In his interview Obama seriously blundered by saying the question of when life begins is above my pay grade. McCain surged with conservatives at that point who set aside all doubt that he was their guy.
In reaction to Obamas disaster at Saddleback, liberal media felt for the first time that the election of their candidate was in jeopardy
and they dropped any pretense of objectivity in order to savage the candidate who was once their favorite Republican and censor stories that reacted unfavorably on Obama. Thats when the stories first started appearing about McCains advanced age of 72 (ridiculous: Churchill was 77 when he returned to power in 1951; Charles deGaulle was 77 and at the peak of his career when as president of France he declared an arms embargo on Israel in 1967). The attack culminated with leaked stories of how his reputed short-fuse would ignite world tensions (ridiculous again, the shortest presidential fuses in modern times belonged to the explosive Ike, then Harry Truman, then Bill Clinton).
Second, McCains selection of Sarah Palin which so angered the media because she was pro-life
and more: she had resolved to have a Down syndrome baby when liberals believe if abortion rights mean anything the right to end an inconvenient life by a mother was being negated. So they resolved to picture her as a naïf and bumpkin with no depth despite the fact she had far more executive experience
as head of the Alaska Oil and Gas commission and governor of the state
than did Obama who in his embarrassingly thin resume ran nothing: zero, zilch. The McCain campaign staff cooperated unwittingly by making her unavailable to conservative talk show media and Fox News, wasting much time preparing her for two liberal appearances where she was savagedCharlie Gibsons on ABC and Katie Courics on CBS.
Accordingly, media escalated minor news about Palin (the $100,000 wardrobe purchased by the Republican National Committee for her, for example that is being donated to the poor: a news story that stunningly was released by McCain staffers) and embargoed the Los Angeles Times video of a horrific toast Obama made to a Palestinian leader. The New York Times relegated to page 62 behind the corset ads Joe Bidens scary recounting to NBCs Katie Couric (who nodded approvingly, itself a weird circumstance) of how as president FDR stabilized the country after the stock market crash of 1929 by going on national television, not understanding that Hoover not FDR was president then and there was no television beyond experimental devices in `29
which cast doubt on Bidens mental acuity since in his health record there are recorded two serious and separate aneurisms of the brain.
The third event was the economic meltdown which was beyond McCains or Obamas power to avert or even ameliorate. By that time, the Sleepy Eye of the electorate opened wide, grasped that a world crisis was in the making and that Republicans were in powerso the Eye concluded there must be a change in command no matter what the risk.
Summary: The two given conditions for reelection being peace and prosperity, there are no examples in U.S. history where the party in office during wartime which also presides over an economic panic was returned to power: none.
For the future, what should be done?
I: Return to Taft Foreign Policy.
On foreign policy. The direction of foreign-defense policy in the Republican party can be changed without negating the past or pulling up all the stitches that have gone heretofore. Something has happened to take the war off the screen in the 2008 campaign: the surge worked; were winning in Iraq.
This leads to the question: Was Iraq necessary? After 9/11 we waited for terrorisms second shoe to dropand nothing happened. All the while other sites became targets: Madrid, Glasgow, London and Bali, the entirety of Denmark as well as, of course, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. All this time we have been safe from suicide bombers, germ warfare and skyscrapers being struck by air transports. Assuredly we are not out of danger, but when the presidential campaign regards Iraq as of secondary importance to Sarah Palins wardrobe it seems to me there are two conclusions to be drawn. (A) Either al Qaeda has been on vacation or (b) something serious has been done to frustrate their ambitions.
I would say that for now, since terrorism is off the table and presumably will be for the duration of the Bush presidency, out-of-power Republicans should accept the view of the nations leading expert on the Middle East, Bernard Lewis that Bushs reaction to invade Iraq was correctbecause for the first time terrorists were shown America has the will and energy to fight for which he credits Bushs action in Iraq. Since hes one of the worlds leading experts at age 92, I defer to him.
However I will say that the Republican party of the future should not echo the Bush policy of announcing we will eradicate all tyranny in the world to be replaced by democracy whether the inhabitants want democracy or not . This Wilsonian futility is self-evident.
Then what foreign policy should be adopted by the Republican party? I would say it is largely contained in A Foreign Policy for Americans written by Robert A. Taft circa 1951. He was not just a great constitutionalist but a skilled diplomat, having learned intelligent policies from his father, the 27th president who encouraged U.S. businesses to invest in under-developed nations (for the U.S.s own good, thus it was called dollar diplomacy) . Young Bob learned at his knee and served first-hand as a legal counselor at Versailles where he learned the folly of Wilsonian idealism. In his book he wrote, Our traditional policy of neutrality and non-interference with other nations was based on the principle that this policy was the best way to avoid disputes with other nations and to maintain the liberty of this country without war. But he made clear that it has always opposed any commitment by the United States in advance to take any military action outside of our territory. It would leave us free to interfere or not interfere according to whether we consider the case of sufficiently vital interest to the liberty of this country. It was the policy of the open hand. (Italics mine).
Tafts should be the policy leading to the future with the proviso of returning full measure to terrorists who strike at this country. Far different from the missions made by Condoleezza Rice where she junkets around the world as a constable of rectitude and screams at every unfriendly country including Iran that the United States wont stand for this-or-that. That is world policeman stuff.
Nor is Barack Obamas enunciated policies like Tafts. Obama is willing to meet with Americas enemies without preconditions (its a good question whether he thinks we have any enemies). He was willing from the outset to abandon Iraq. Thus we would have lost the war and trivialized the lives lost therea war we are now winning. That is not the Bob Taft view of the world who strongly opposed the Korea police action but determined that once we were in Korea to we must win it. He would have chosen Douglas MacArthur
the architect of there is no substitute for victory as his vice president. (How those two would have meshed, however, is anybodys guess).
Another point. I have always been embarrassed by Republican candidates publicly pandering for Jewish votes here by threatening to engage in a Mideastern war solely to defend Israel and no other purpose. Here we were in 2008, at war in Iraq, at war in Afghanistan, on a rumble with Russia over Georgia, threatening to repulse Iran
and John McCain issuing yet another threat of war bearing on Israels survival. Almost like we are lashed together as one nation. Those who respect the policy of the free hand for U.S. involvement were and are genuinely disturbed with that talk.
I can understand our evangelical Protestant allies
invaluable supporters in all elections
see a symbolic Biblical tie between Christianity and Judaism which I share. Assuredly, Protestant evangelicals are an indispensable part of any winning effort Republicans are to make. They who voted for McCain by 92% are far more influential and effective in the grassroots for conservative elections than indifferent Catholics (only one in four who go to church) who voted for Obama 54%.
All the same, while we revere democracy in Israel (in fact we send millions of dollars in aid to it very year) the most pragmatic political argument to scotch the pounding of war-drums vis-à-vis Israel is this: 78% of American Jews voted for Obama who was pulled up short early in the campaign as being insufficiently pro-Israel and who was at times was even suspect as favoring Palestinians and was quoted in that famous toast as saying he learned much at the feet of an anti-Israeli Palestinian scholar.
Especially to nurture the tie with evangelical Protestants who comprise an essential part of our base, we should respect the historic ties between Christianity and Judaism. But lets do it with less stentorian bombast than McCain, George W. Bush and others have stressed. Under Richard Nixon with Henry Kissinger at his elbow and under George H. W. Bush they pursued realistic not idealistic foreign policies. Realism should return to American foreign policyessentially despite all the challenges, we cannot and should not send our secretary of state across the globe issuing dire warnings of war-war-war.
II: A Sharply Curtailed Domestic Policy.
On domestic policy, Republicans should get one thing straight: The only compassionate conservatism that counts is lessened government size, fewer oppressive regulations and tax cuts. Not by adding other government programs to those liberals have created which we label as ours
as did Bush and Good Time Charlie Speaker Dennis Hastert
when they passed their hugely costly new entitlement program for seniors.
On the economic meltdown: It was not caused principally by business greed (as McCain and Palin have erroneously said) but by government and political foul-ups
partially by Alan Greenspans arrogant mistakes at the Fed for which he is now contrite
but most significantly by Democratic favorites at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac named in 1988 by Bill Clinton who got hundreds of millions in bonuses, Franklin Raines and Jamie Garlick. A Bush OMB probe in 2004 found massive fraudulent bookkeeping at Fannie Mae but was blocked by Democrats, Congress refused to hold hearings.
All the while Fannie Mae gave millions to Democratic causes including ACORN and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), banking chairman along with Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), a member of the Federal Financial Management committee as well as Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), chairman of House Financial Services, an acknowledged gay whose boyfriend was a key executive at Fannie Mae. (Media blacked out this news). Raines and top executives were forced to resign in 2005, paid $31.4 million in civil fines, did not go to jail, received little media coverage and were allowed to keep their bonuses.
McCain introduced the Federal Housing Regulatory Reform act in 2005, saying if Congress doesnt act taxpayers will continue to be exposed to the enormous risk Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pose to the housing market and the overall financial system. Media gave it almost no coverage. Democratic recipients of Fannie Mae cash opposed it and it died aborning. Instead, the Democratic congress passed stringent anti-business bill, Sarbanes-Oxley which media gave extensive coverage to.
On the $700 billion rescue package: The proper conservative focus is given by the man I supported for president before George W. Bush defeated him and who has, I believe, a superb economic mind in the U.S. with a journalists ability to put ideas in plain words: Steve Forbes. Belatedly, governments realized the only way to get credit flowing again was to make massive infusions of new equity into failing banks
Despite the crisis, the global economy still retains enormous strengths
The world is flush with cash. Its frozen because of fear, but the cash is there. Productivity gains are burgeoning. So will this global boom resume next year, slowly at first and then with increasing momentum? It should. Whether that happens, however, depends on the next highly dangerous phase: the political aftermath. The change in focus that came yesterday from Treasury seemed to indicate the rightness of Forbes position.
By which he means whether we follow policies that hinder growth or and retard or abort a full-blown recoveryregulations that stifle innovation and taxes that harm the creation and deployment of capital. Such as Speaker Nancy Pelosis crusade to add car makers to the list of taxpayer beneficiaries and to let Main street share with Wall street whatever that means.
Also: The out-of-power Republican party must be to take up what has been aptly called the elements of the leave us alone campaign of Grover Norquistfighting governments takings, defending gun owners rights, ending misguided campaign finance reforms that curtail free speech (in favor of unlimited contributions with immediate Internet disclosure), and by all means defending the taxpayer: reducing the corporate income tax rate, cutting the 35% tax rate on corporate capital gains, advocating a flat tax, abolishing the alternative minimum tax, abolishing the death tax and most important, creating a constitutional protection against taxes creeping back.
There: thats off my chest. Enough for now. More at some future time.