Dr. Coburn’s Diagnosis For The GOP

Dr. Tom Coburn has a diagnosis for the Republican Party, and their political future looks to be in critical condition. Why?

Unfortunately, too many in our party are not yet ready to return to the path of limited government. Instead, we are being told our message must be deficient because, after all, we should be winning in certain areas just by being Republicans. Yet being a Republican isn’t good enough anymore. Voters are tired of buying a GOP package and finding a big-government liberal agenda inside. What we need is not new advertising, but truth in advertising.

Becoming Republicans again will require us to come to grips with what has ailed our party – namely, the triumph of big-government Republicanism and failed experiments like the K Street Project and “compassionate conservatism.” If the goal of the K Street Project was to earmark and fund raise our way to a filibuster-proof “governing” majority, the goal of “compassionate conservatism” was to spend our way to a governing majority.

The fruit of these efforts is not the hoped-for Republican governing majority, but the real prospect of a filibuster-proof Democrat majority in 2009. While the K Street Project decimated our brand as the party of reform and limited government, compassionate conservatism convinced the American people to elect the party that was truly skilled at activist government: the Democrats.

He’s right. The GOP got too comfortable with power and lost their way. Instead of standing on principle, it became all about a quest for political power. So far the first instinct of the GOP remains to attack “liberal values” rather than uphold an agenda. While there is much to about the values of the Democratic Party that is worthy of attack, that will do nothing to get the Republicans out of their hole. There has to be a real agenda that the Republican Party stands behind from top to bottom. Just hitting the Democrats will not cut it.

The Senator from Oklahoma has the right diagnosis for the political ills of the Republican Party. There’s no agenda, and without something to lead people towards, you’re not really leading. The GOP is making the mistake of thinking that they can run based solely on a brand that is as tarnished as it ever has been. Instead, the GOP must run a campaign based on a sincere promise to reduce the size but increase the efficiency of government. That requires a sincere effort to fight pork and waste. The Republicans have not embraced a reform agenda, and it is killing them.

The GOP must rediscover its own first principles: what is needed is not a Reagan, but a party of Reagans. The problem is that so far the GOP is not such a party.

Stand For Something, Or Fall Like Nothing

Karl Rove has some sage advice for a GOP in free-fall after some serious losses in Congressional special elections. The loss of the House seat in MS-01 was a sign that the Republican Party has some serious problems ahead of it in 2008. As Mr. Rove notes:

This blow to the GOP came after two other special congressional election losses in recent months. Republicans lost former House Speaker Denny Hastert’s Illinois seat and Rep. Richard Baker’s Louisiana seat.

Both of those losses can be attributed to bad candidates. But that only shows the GOP can’t take “safe” seats for granted when Democrats run conservatives who distance themselves from their national party leaders. The string of defeats should cure Republicans of the habit of simply shouting “liberal! liberal! liberal!” in hopes of winning an election. They need to press a reform agenda full of sharp contrasts with the Democrats.

He is absolutely right. The GOP simply must have an actual agenda for 2008. Just calling their opponents liberals isn’t enough to cut it. The Democrats have run too many candidates with centrist street cred, and at this point too many people have decided that taking a chance on a liberal is better than risking more Republican incompetence.

If this sounds harsh, too bad. The GOP needs an intervention this year, and the grassroots have to give it.

Every Republican officeholder needs to realize that the Republican “brand” has been utterly trashed. Too many scandals, too many times when GOP lawmakers have failed to stand against corruption, too many times when the GOP has failed to connect with what really concerns the American people—all of these things have taken their toll on the future of the party.

Of course, all is not lost. The GOP’s loss is not an inevitability, so long as the party is willing to reform itself. GOP candidates need to be honest with their constituents: the GOP has not been a party of good governance. We failed to stop the growth of government. We failed to keep the American people in the loop on Iraq and our strategy from 2003–2007 was a failure. We failed to uphold home-town values, but ended up following Beltway values.

The road ahead requires reform. To fix healthcare in this country we need real reform, not another failed top-down approach. Republicans can win on healthcare if they start talking not about why a market-based approach is better in theory, but why the average voter will be better off. Republicans can win on the economy with a very simple message: if you have to tighten your belts in times of trouble, then the government should do the same. The GOP must stand resolute on fighting earmarks and government waste.

The GOP can win on the issues, but first they must set the agenda. That means running on principles, not on bashing the other side. The GOP shouldn’t need to spend their resources convincing the American people that the Democrats are radicals who are out-of-touch with American values: if the GOP makes sure that the electorate knows what we stand for, the contrasts will be obvious.

More of the same will not work. The GOP has to set an agenda and defend its principles. 2006 should have been a wake-up call, and if the GOP doesn’t learn from its lessons then they run the risk of a repeat.

Recipe For Disaster

John Fund takes a look at why the GOP lost Dennis Hastert’s former House seat. The Republican Party is going to face an uphill battle this fall to begin with—and the ham-handed way in which this election was handled does not bode well for the party as a whole. In order to win, the GOP is going to have to run smart, appeal to voters, and not pretend that a handful of negative ads will be enough to make a difference, even in Republican-leaning districts. So far, there’s not a lot of encouraging signs that the GOP is interested in running a winning campaign:

As for the $1 million the National Republican Congressional Committee poured into the district in a vain attempt to save it, the local reviews weren’t good. Even before Mr. Oberweis’ loss I heard comments such as “nasty,” “stupid,” “largely incomprehensible” and “factless” to describe the national ads that saturated the district. “The ads bore no relation to any issues competent polling would have surfaced; they were just schoolyard name calling,” was the opinion of a conservative media specialist in the district.

By way of contrast, Democrats made a heavy buy for an ad featuring local Senator Barack Obama touting Mr. Foster’s credentials as a scientist and problem solver. “He represents the change we need,” the Obama ad concluded. Obamamania may not be as strong among the general electorate as it is among Democratic partisans, but in Saturday’s special election it certainly helped the Democratic candidate score a victory. Mr. Foster’s win is a wake-up call to Republicans that this year they will have to step up their game, big time.

The GOP had a chance to take the lead on earmarks. A few courageous Representatives stood up, but the party remains behind. The GOP has a chance to take the lead on corruption, but Speaker Hastert defended corrupt politicos like William Jefferson. In such a tight election season, the GOP has to take the lead. Playing defense on the issues does not work. Attacking the other candidate does not work.

The only way that the Republicans can win is by standing on their principles, and consistent and clearly applying those principles to our nation’s problems. If the Republican Party wants to win, it has to win on the issues, and to do that the GOP has to start talking about real solutions for real world problems.

I know that Republicans by and large don’t believe the spin on global warming, and for good reason. If the GOP runs on the platform that there is no global warming, and we don’t need to take action then the GOP will lose on that issue. That’s politics. Instead, we should be advancing a 21st Century energy agenda that includes a crash program to create safe pebble bed nuclear reactors, embracing Bob Zubrin’s flex-fuel energy independence plan, and generally reduce our dependence on foreign oil while reducing CO2 emissions—without sacrificing our economy and our way of life. Think that’s hard. It is a difficult task to get these policies enacted, but to borrow a phrase from a candidate who knows the value of political rhetoric “yes we can.”

The middle class is feeling the squeeze. The GOP should have a very simple message: you have to tighten your belt during hard times. Government should do the same as well. The GOP should follow the example of brave legislators like Rep. John Kline and Sen. Tom Coburn. No earmarks. If the GOP doesn’t stand strongly against government waste, then the GOP will lose. That includes waste from military contractors. It’s a national security issue. The military procurement system is broken. The GOP needs to fix it. If we don’t lead, we lose.

That’s just two issues. I could go on forever about health care, education and other issues. The basic point stands for all of them: this is not a time for complacency. Republicans need to run like we’re 20 points down, because in some cases we are. Sen. McCain is the right man to lead on some key issues, but he has to have a forward-looking (and dare I say it, truly progressive) agenda to bring to the American people. If Obama gets the nomination, we won’t be able to win on style. Every Republican should be thinking about advancing our agenda, even if all we can do is start moving the ball in the right direction.

A party that stands for nothing but power will lose, sooner or later. The GOP needs to stand for a real agenda and make that agenda the center of every campaign, or the loss of Hastert’s old seat will be but a prologue to yet another annus horibilis for the GOP.

Following In The Footsteps Of Carter?

Dave Kopel blasts into the Bush-Pelosi “stimulus package” at The Volokh Conspiracy:

Here’s how to deal with a recession: A federal government which is already spending more than its income should borrow even more money, so as to give lots of people a tax rebate. This is the bipartisan plan of President Bush and Congress. They are taking a leaf from the presidency of Jimmy Carter.

Even accounting for inflation, the Bush-Reid-Pelosi rebate is far more profligate than the proposed Carter rebate of 1977. But the two rebates appear to be based on the same demand-side principles.

He’s right on that. The “stimulus package” is great politics, but absolutely horrendous policy. When we’re already running the budget into the ground, the last thing this country should be doing is trying to jump-start the economy by giving everyone a check. It’s a bit of “bread and circuses” politics that demonstrates just how economically illiterate the government is.

Middle class voters are feeling a squeeze, but that’s a symptom of a larger problem. The reason why the dollar is falling and the markets are volitile is because the US is on an economically unsustainable course: we’re spending too much, regulating too much and we have a massive entitlement crisis looming and no one has the political will to touch it. When even the French are being more fiscally responsible than we are there is a serious problem.

A realistic stimulus plan would involve significant cuts in spending, making the current tax rates permanent, and structural economic reforms like ensuring that depreciation tables don’t artificially increase the taxable assets of a business. However, none of those things are particularly “sexy” and don’t have much impact to the average voter. So instead, President Bush and Congress are planning to bribe the American people.

In the end, this plan is ultimately self-defeating. We can’t get out a problem created by fiscal profligacy by being even more profligate—and while a tax rebate check is a nice thing to have, it’s not going to have the long-term effect necessary to lift the economy. Even if we do get some economic stability in the next few months, that’s more likely due to the sub-prime crisis easing rather than some government check.

This isn’t a stimulus package, it’s a bribe, and while it may be politically popular, it’s not going to fix our underlying economic problems.