- State of the Republican party today
The Republican party began a downward spiral right after the 2004 elections. Major party figures have been removed from office on ethics charges and scandals, and others were voted out of office in the lections of 2006 and 2008. The war and occupation of Iraq, the economic crisis, the realization among citizens that things are just not working, and a general feeling of discomfort with the means by which Republicans create and pursue their agenda led to its decline.
The make-up of the party has shifted, as was evident by the attendees of John McCain's town hall meeting during the 2008 campaign. There is a growing sense that the ranks of the Republican party has come to be populated by the worst elements of society -- demagogues, racists, malcontents. Once populated by those who considered themselves intellectuals, the party has done a 180 degree turn, deriding smart people as "elitists". Republicans running for office have for too long reached out for votes mainly by appealing to those prone to demagoguery, talking endlessly of welfare fraud and illegal aliens. They use misleading statements to attack the Democrats. They use religion and flag-waving jingoism as political weapons.
Current political leadership in office drastically has changed. There are few strong Republicans who have the respect of a majority of Americans. Most GOP Congressman skew far to the right. The true leaders are now conservative radio and TV hosts whose main concern is not to create good ideas, but to convert current events into rhetoric meant to inflame and polarize. The point is to get on the air quickly, and to say something that draws listeners. These listeners are loyal far-right conservative Republicans , but their numbers are far below what it takes to elect Republicans to Congress.
- Where the Republican party went wrong
Republicans have replaced the hard political work of running government -- determining what the problems are, bringing people together to work out solutions, and working with Congress to implement those solutions -- with ideological catch-phrases. They condensed conservative philosophy into a few simplistic catch-phrases such as "lower taxes" and "less government". They use the words "rights", "choices" and "freedoms" to allow inadequate business regulations and oversight and to justify allowing some groups of people to hurt others. The problem is that these phases are totally detached from current events, reality, and policies that work. This is similar to a parent who denies medical treatment for her child because she interprets the Bible a certain way. In her case, the child dies. The Republicans Bible is blind adherence to the current take on conservatism, and the nation suffers.
The result of course is that these policies were doomed to fail because they were not grounded in reality. "Lower taxes" meant more borrowing and mounting national debt. President Bush lowered taxes even as he doubled the national debt to ten trillion dollars. "Less government" meant that the business abuses that government normally keeps in check were allowed to grow and proliferate. When policies are implemented they must constantly be monitored and adjusted based on how well they are working. But the Republicans don't look at feedback to monitor how well their policies are working, and to modify them accordingly.
Republicans pushed "lower taxes" to the point where the phrase became synonymous with "not enough taxes". Don't want to help fellow Americans get through hard times so that they can become productive again? Just say "lower taxes" and then put out referendums that refuse to pay for what your elected officials put in the budget! It's not common sense and it certainly doesn't work (nothing that defies logic ever does), but the Republican leaders keep pushing this nonsense. Take the current fiscal crisis in California for example. Republican leadership has been pushing "lower taxes" even as the state faces bankruptcy and devastating loss of education, child care, benefits to the unemployed and to the old, even to the infrastructure. After years of refusing to collect enough taxes to pay for the budget, they must now jettison anything that doesn't keep the state from collapsing, such as state parks and libraries.
The Bush administration used "less government" to justify underfunding the SEC and to install Republican leadership who understood that the SEC enforcement should be limited, and that it should overlook the infractions of many companies. That led to a range of business crimes, from failure to collect taxes, Ponzi schemes like that of Bernard Madoff, and eventually to economic crisis and near collapse due to lack of oversight of the financial and mortgage industries. There are some things that the government should regulate, such as mortgages and derivatives based on mortgages that become so convoluted nobody knows who owns what anymore. The Republicans however have rejected a common sense principle -- that a large population requires a government to make things works right. But instead of looking for "right-sized government" or "government that works", they kept parroting "less government".
Another conservative principle with a nasty Republican twist is the tendency to force minorities to join the majority, or risk punishment. The majority of Americans are of the Christian religion. The mistake the Republicans made was to attempt to make this a government religion. The tried to push religion into government, give tax dollars to Christian religious organizations, and display religious symbols on government property. The intent of the Constitution is to allow religions of all type but to push none.
- How can the Republican party be fixed?
First, go back to its roots, its core goals and values. Conservative talk-show hosts and far-right Republican Congressmen want us to believe that those core values are held by them, that their interpretation of conservatism and the values of the Republican party are correct. This is far from correct. The current version of the Republican party has clearly strayed from its roots. The GOP's real founding values were to emphasize common sense, policies that make America work right, whatever it takes to do the job, doing what it takes to make things happen, with a sense of fair play that brings into play the capabilities of all Americans.
Encourage some level-headed same people to run for office, not those at the extreme right. At this point, most people are aware that Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, Gingrich and others of their ilk don't have ideas that work, and that their main purpose is to attack Democrats, usually unjustly, often by misstating the intent of their ideas. The age of instant news dissemination means that misrepresentations by the Republicans are exposed within hours on web sites, blogs, and TV. The party will never grow without good, fair-minded, level-headed people, people who look for what actually works and rank ideology second.
Consider Congress a place to work to get things done. Be mature enough to realize that politics requires compromise. Don't make yourselves look like small-minded fools by coming up with bogus and transparent criticisms of Democratic bills and ideas merely because the Democrats came up with them.
Don't stoop to getting votes the cheap way -- by appealing to the lowest elements of society, the demagogues, racists, angry malcontents who are against everything. There are many more sane people than this type of person, and once the sane people come to believe that the Republican party is the party of the lowest class citizens, they won't want to be part of that. Then all you have left in the party are the worst types of people.
The main goal should be to base policies on what actually works, not on pure abstract ideology. Show how your ideas will work, and don't replace that with sound-bites for foolish ideas that sound convincing to the voters. Agree with Democrats when their ideas are good, and work with them to adjust their bills with your own sensible ideas. People will respect you for thinking of America first. Stop being so mean-spirited. That has turned from an asset to a negative.
The Republican party can become a meaningful part of the American political scene again if Republicans take a good hard look at themselves, evaluate their recent history, and then make the right choices for the future.