Monday, May 25, 2009

Should GOP "Reach Out?"

After two successive defeats at the polls, what should the Republican Party do to "reach out?"

There are two approaches. One is to get back to basics, and emphasize the conservative roots of the Republican Party. You could say that Rush Limbaugh represents that approach.

The other approach is the "reach out" strategy. The Republican Party is excessively male and white, on this view, and can only expect to get back into power if it reaches out to minorities and women. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell seems to be eager to own this approach.

Conservatives like Limbaugh have been less than polite to Powell for his "reach out" views, especially since Powell publicly backed Barack Obama for president in the fall of 2008. Rush has said that Powell had essentially left the party by backing Obama. Former Vice-President Cheney has publicly agreed with Rush.

Now Colin Powell has used the Sunday talk show Face The Nation to reply to Limbaugh and Cheney. And he's gathered support from former Governor Tom Ridge (R-PA).

“I think Rush articulates his point of view in ways that offend very many,” Ridge said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Even Newt Gingrich got in on the action:

"I don't want to pick a fight with Dick Cheney, but the fact is, the Republican party has to be a broad party that appeals across the country,"

All this is good clean fun, but it rather misses the point. If the American people really want a social democratic state like Europe, then there is no need for the Republican Party. The US has a welfare-state party and that party is the Democratic Party. They do welfare-state politics much better than the Republicans Party.

In 2008 Candidate Obama ran on the ancient platform of "Time for a Change" and he won. He talked optimistically about healing the sick and lowering the oceans, but didn't talk too much about the costs of his change.

If, after four or eight years, President Obama's health care reform and his cap-and-trade plans are a roaring success, then it will truly be time for the Republican Party to reinvent itself.

But if American women revolt against massive changes in their health care, and if President Obama's policies create an energy shortage, and if taxes go up all round, then Republicans might suddenly find themselves the majority party again without lifting a finger.

A look at the experience of the Conservative Party in Britain is helpful. In 1997, Tony Blair was elected in a massive landslide and promised to make over the British National Health Service and the state education system. The British people were entranced, and for three successive elections wouldn't pay any attention to the Tories.

Finally, after the third election loss, David Cameron moved to the center to show that the Tories weren't the nasty party and that they were ready to be modern and green. Real conservatives hated his tactic and the media loved it.

But now people are moving to the Conservative Party not because it is modern and green, but because the Labour Government under Blair and Brown has wrecked the economy. They've pumped hundreds of billions into health care and education, and nothing much has changed.

There's a simple lesson here. The center-left parties tend to overspend and run out of money. They do this because they see the economy as a source of funds for their government programs. Center-right parties tend to see the government sector as a place to spend money if the economy is in good shape.

When the center-left party runs out of money, then the center-right party gets a chance to come in and fix the mess.

The moral of the story? Don't Panic.

Sure, there's a place in the Republican Party for moderates, especially in the North East. But if the Republican Party stands for anything it must stand for reform of the welfare state. The question is: how to reform and how to present the reform to the American people.

Anyone who can figure that out is a genius and should go immediately to the head of the class.

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