As Ronald Reagan once said,
"A political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency, or simply to swell its numbers."
I received an email from a nationally based Republican organization. In it, they are trying to "bumper sticker" the GOP message. Hey, why not, as the Dems are doing the same thing, right? While I have a little philosophical problem with trying to reduce an entire world view to a couple of words, why not – at least people doing the process should be thinking about what Republicans believe in (or should be).
Here were the choices that I was given:
Has the Democratic Congress Worked for You?
Right a Wrong, Fire a Democrat
Think Local. Think Republican
Optimism Today for a Better Tomorrow
Get Back to Believing
As you can tell from reading some of our previous posts, Doug and I are both trying to understand where the Republicans have gone and trying to figure out how to get back to where we believe the Republicans should be. Here in NH, this may take a while. Not impossible, but if an analogy can be used, I think the situation is similar to being a few bits short of a valid checksum (redneck translation – a few beer cans short of a full case).
Of the five presented, only the last two evoked a response from me. Of the two, I think that the last is more applicable. The problem is, what DO we believe in?
Often the analogy of the different philisophical approaches is the the Big Tent vs the Ideologue theory.
Sadly, I’d throw in a third…
…"Power Comes First"
Translated, we’ll take all comers as long as they say they are Republicans. Why? They will help win back our majorities. That’s all that matters and that’s all we are going to concentrate on. After all, isn’t that what it is all about – winning?
The extreme version is the Power at any price – just get us the warm bodies to vote us into office. Vote against us all the time afterwards? No problem as long as we get the chairmanships and the Leadership positions. After that, we get to set the agenda, so we’ll tolerate "rogue" elected officials (essentially, just look at them as either your crazy aunt or uncle, or "useful idiots").
There are grains of truth in there – it is right that IF you do not win the majority, you do not control the agenda. My question is, if you are willing to throw the core ideals aside, even temporarily, in this effort to just win, for political expediency, what happens afterwards? What would be the controlling philosophy guiding the next set of actions?
Problem is, I want to believe. I believe in the Republican message, as I believe it is the correct message for our society. And I want our elected Republican leaders, local, state, and national, to act in concert with those core beliefs. And this is what causes that great pain, as it seems that they will not. However, consider the two addages below:
- Absolute Power corrupts absolutely
- No Accountability leads to anarchy
In losing our majority here in NH, we have forgotten the first adage as we owned the House, Senate (and here in NH, that legislative body called the Executive Council about which Doug has been posting). As a result, we became complacent, lazy, and stupid. We let lapse that which was most important – our grass roots capabilities and an adherence to a set of frugal, conservative ideals. More important, I also believe that we have lost that which makes us Republicans, as this third option has taken hold – a real belief in our core ideals and the platform that expresses them. All one has to do is review that our budget under the last Democratic Governor rose from $1 billion to $2 billion in 6 years – and we controlled everything beside the Governorship. The Party of Low Taxes? All one has to do is to review the empirical evidence to see that this is no longer a truism but a mere phrase (as Doug pointed out when given a chance to do the right thing).
Others in the Party are embracing the second – paying more lip service to the platform than the first (who have all but thrown it out), but willing to tolerate those that stray from the party line. Less concentrating on pure power, the compromise is willing to be had with those that support Republican leaders (but often not supporting the platform or core philosophies). Frankly, a compact with a known devil.
So we are back to what I think is the problem. While I quoted Reagan at the top of this post, and believe in what he says, I believe that too many Republicans are ignoring that sage advice. Thus, I guess it is time (has been time!) to ignore another Reagan utterance, the 11th Commandment – "Thou shalt not speak ill of other Republicans".
Why? Because of the second adage above – Accountability. Without it, anything is possible (and has become so as well). Have we taken the 11th commandment so far that, as with Political Correctness in general society, that we can no longer tell what is Republican right and wrong? Or has it eviscerated our will to do so as it might give offense to those that stray (and heavens, they might just vote against us [Note to the clueless: they already are]). It is one thing to have disagreements with other Republicans on matters of small degrees of interpretation of core ideals. That is healthy and needed. It is another thing, however, to completely do away with those ideals altogether, proclaim that so in the Press, vote against them and still be named as a Republican.
Who, then, is willing to stand up and start to hold people accountable to what they say the believe in when they assume the cloak of being named a Republican?
Branding is important! The problem as a grass roots person is that I have to be able to point to tangible things that will lead others to believe what I say. When the platform and the ideals do not match the actions, there is a credibility gap that is too wide for mere words to bridge. I have already had people look me in the eye with the "Oh really?" stare, and simply walk away (figuratively) from the discussion.
At least in Washington State, the Party has filed suit to protect what Republicans believe in and show to the public voters here. Nationally we have other situations where the Republican "brand" is being questioned (here and here):
…it’s also the result of defections by other fiscal conservatives angered by the growth of government spending during the six years that Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress.
But The Hill reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and some other GOPers are voting in favor of overspending appropriation bills. Huh? All of this can be corrected for a GOP ’08 comeback, but the leaders and troops in the grassroots must work hard on it.
Other examples abound – this is not a "once in a while" or isolated event anymore.
When our national leaders, and our state leaders, decide to forget about what drives the rest of us, bad things happen – they have already and they will continue to happen! Just on the fiscal restraint issue of the Repubs vs the Dems, what are the grassroot leaders supposed to point to – we just spend less than they do? Rather silly for a winning message, isn’t it? If you want that message, you need to show that you mean it. Huzzahs for Bush for finally wielding the Veto Pen for the SCHIP bill for starters.
Yet, there are no mechanisms that we seem to have to keep people accountable. You can declare yourself a Republican but vote 100% for Democratic ideals, and you are still considered to be a Republican. When Republicans go against the plank here in NH promoting family values (by leading the charge against the Parental Notification law), of lower taxes by immediately clamoring for higher tolls (insteading of correcting root causes), it shows that the brand is not foremost in those legislators minds.
Yes, the voters have the final say on accountability, but as I have been brushed by the "circular firing squad" analogy by raising this issue, I find that it has holes – large ones.
More on this, as this post has gone way long, but I think that the only way out of this hole that Republicans continue to dig is to bring back accountability. If self-responsiblity (another core ideal) is lacking in those that should be the shining examples of such, then perhaps it will be those of us at the grass roots that will have to pick up the mantle of leadership and hold the higher ups accountable for mis-managing "the brand".
After, Reagan also said "Trust, but verify".