By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
Bobby Jindral, Governor of Louisiana, has caused quite a stir in Republican circles calling on the party to throw off the mantle of the stupid and prejudiced among us. Pleading for an end to dumbed-down conservatism, the former golden boy of the party (before a disastrous 2009 televised reply to President Obama’s address to Congress) begged the party to turn away from being the champion of the “haves” and, most importantly, jettisoning its appeal to the lowbrow of society.
It is no secret we had a number of Republicans damage our brand this year with offensive, bizarre comments — enough of that. It’s not going to be the last time anyone says something stupid within our party, but it can’t be tolerated within our party. We’ve also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism. We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters.
That sentiment is being echoed in many of the cloistered salons of the GOP. Even bomb throwing (but weirdly cerebral) Newt Gingrich, responding to Mitt Romney’s childish comment that he lost the election to Obama because of
bribes gifts to core Democratic constituencies, seems poised to make a philosophical change of course. “I just think it’s nuts,” Gingrich said on ABC. “I mean, first of all, it’s insulting. The job of a political leader in part is to understand the people. If we can’t offer a better future that is believable to more people, we’re not going to win.” Amen.
The transition appears broad-based and involves more than a little soul-searching for the political party whose victories in the 2010 mid-term elections seemed to leave it poised for a complete take over of the government this time around. The shock of November 6th seems sincere enough and could lead to something we haven’t seen in conservative circles for some time – a push to make the party one of ideas and not just demagoguery.
Not so long ago — before the party was held hostage by that tax-pledging Rumpelstiltskin of the Right, Grover Nordquist, — Republicans felt free to represent conservative values and the nation’s interests. Imagine a Republican congressperson saying today, “I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.” That was the late Everett Dirksen, the horn-rimmed Senator from Illinois, and one of the men directly responsible for the Herculean efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Open Housing Act of 1968. Both laws decidedly liberal, decidedly unpopular, and decidedly needed to realize the American dream of social equality.
Voting for cloture against the southern Democrats who filibustered the measures, Dirksen told the Senate:
Victor Hugo wrote in his diary substantially this sentiment, ‘Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come.’ The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing of government, in education, and in employment. It must not be stayed or denied.’
That’s intellectual gravitas not seen in the GOP in some time. Compare it to the rhetoric from the current Republican intelligentsia, this time in the person of South Carolina Lt. Gov. André Bauer arguing against the Food Stamp Program and free school lunches for poor children:
My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.
It doesn’t take a physicist to see how far the party’s grip on the American soul has slipped or how fast.
What can a resurrected GOP accomplish? Here are some ideas:
1. Less Government Intrusion Into Our Lives – The GOP has a traditional and noble role of advocating smaller government with an eye on protecting the property and privacy of its citizens. It was Dirksen who said, “It is the expansion of Federal power, about which I wish to express my alarm. How easily we embrace such business.” Few people would disagree that endless (sometimes mindless) government regulations and bureaucratic red tape are social ills that an effective government could end. Henry David Thoreau’s observation that, ”[t]he best government is that which governs least” is as true to the American psyche now as it was in 1849.
2. Strong National Defense — The world is still a dangerous place as Einstein used to say. Whatever you think about the military-industrial complex, it’s worth remembering it is that institution that’s kept us safe and free for decades although we can certainly debate the costs of that security. It’s also worth remembering that for all our flaws, America remains the only nation in the history of the world who having once conquered foreign lands promptly returned it to the indigenous people to govern. A strong America means some sense of justice in the world if only an imperfect one.
3. Protection of Privacy – A political party founded on conservative principles could be in the forefront of protecting the privacy of its citizens. Women’s issues should be the cutting edge of that philosophy especially those relating to control over their own bodies. True conservatism means less government interference in personal decisions and a rejuvenated Republican Party could lead on this issue with perfect philosophical consistency.
4.Advocating For Small Business – The backbone for the American economy remains small business. According to the SBA, fifty percent of all American jobs remain in small business (defined as any entity employing 500 workers of fewer). Most importantly small business fill niches in the labor market that are under-served. For example small businesses employ greater proportions of Hispanics than large businesses (65% versus 35%). Also small businesses hire more high school degree or lower attaining workers as well as more of the elderly and disabled than large business. While small business does not match large business in campaign contributions it is the largest growth area in the economy and worthy of support from a party openly dedicated to capitalism.
These are just a few of the areas where bona fide conservative principles aid rather than detract from the national dialogue. A return to them, and away from the religion-based rhetoric that got the GOP scorched in the last national election, would mean a stronger party and a stronger nation.
For the two-party system to work you really do need two viable political parties who are willing to both advocate and cooperate. The GOP has done a poor job of both. If demographics truly are destiny in politics, the GOP will have to change or die. For the sake of all of us, let’s hope they change.
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
Update 7:46 p.m.: Is the dike breaking? South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham has added his name the growing number of Republicans rebuking Grover Norquist’s no tax hike pledge. Graham joins Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) in disavowing the now almost two decade old pledge. ”I’m willing to generate revenue,” Graham said on ABC. “It’s fair to ask my party to put revenue on the table. We’re below historic averages.” New York Republican Congressman Peter King has also refused to honor the pledge bushing off any of Norquist’s threats of retaliation saying, “A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress.” Norquist was nonplussed and blasted Chambliss. ”If he wants to change his mind and become a tax increaser so we don’t have to reform government, he needs to have that conversation with the people of Georgia,” Mr. Norquist said on CNN’s “The Situation Room.” Chambliss retorted that “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.”
This one is going to get good.