Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What Republicans Must Do in 2008

Contrary to media reports, Republican fortunes aren’t lost, especially given a Democratic Congress with single digit approval ratings. But to prepare for this election Republicans need to do 2 things; counter common lies and present bold ideas. Media distortions of the GOP record, their false portrayal of the war, of Katrina and of so many other issues ring true to those who don't bother to analyze facts. In 2008, unlike 2006, we need to counter media lies head on. Simply put, we need to take a look at what went wrong in 2006 and learn from it.



Before Katrina there were several other hurricanes. Democrats and the media (excuse the redundancy) started asking whether global warming was causing these hurricanes and whether this was a result of "Bush's environmental policies." They were looking for any reason to "blame Bush" and Katrina gave them their chance. The glee of some of these people in the face of a national disaster was sickening, but so was the lack of any Republican response.

Now, I'm not saying that there aren't serious problems with bureaucracy which result in a lack of priority with regard to saving human lives and that both parties have come to embrace this dangerous absurdity, though in fairness Democrats call this bureaucratic garbage prime rib while Republicans only consider it french toast.

But take the facts of Katrina at hand. Every other disaster of this kind has been handled first by state agencies with federal management coming in well after. In fact, the response to Katrina was the fastest FEMA had ever acted. And that would still be totally inexcusable were it not for the fact that the now former Democratic Governor of Louisiana herself had requested a 48 hour delay to give state troops time to act before FEMA arrived, something which was only mentioned by the media 6 months later and then only in passing.

Furthermore, contrary to popular opinion, FEMA Director Mike Brown, was far from unqualified. Aside from a stellar career as a lawyer, he was possibly the most qualified person to assume the position of FEMA Director, having served as Deputy Director for years beforehand. He may have been horrendous in front of the camera, while trying to do media interviews in between running from site to site with little sleep (something he should have never been allowed to do - just one example of the GOP's PR problems), but referring to him as an Arabian Horse Trader would be the same as portraying Bill Bradley as an unqualified basketball player or defining anyone else by what their side hobbies happen to be.

The problem is that instead of mentioning any of this the President apologized, a noble act, one that history will view as such, but one that should have been coupled with criticism of Democratic leaders who sought to make politics out of a natural disaster. At the very least, other Republicans should have pointed out the real facts of the case. Instead they did nothing to counter the prevailing and largely false sentiments.

While apologies may have worked for Clinton, who the media fawned over, as he was of their party, apologies from this president are used as fodder to tear him apart. The media could hardly believe their good fortune and so the skewing began. Pretty soon they were conjuring up pictures of this being the worst response ever, even slower than the "Federal Response" of 1906 (when San Francisco had a large military population who of course, were on site at the time of the quake - no Federal Troops were actually "sent"). And the more the GOP was unable to respond, the more the media skewed the situation.


Well this attitude started then and didn't let up. In fact, with the exception of Newt Gingrich and some notable others, it continued right through to election day. You'd think our lack of response to the media's outright distortions of Katrina would have taught the party something about Iraq. One would have thought that, and one would be wrong.

In media interview after media interview, Congressional Republicans refused to talk about the issue for an entire year before the midterms. All that did was cement the impression that they were wrong.

Had they just stated the simple facts, that Saddam had 12 years to comply with resolution after resolution, that President Bush had himself given Saddam over a year to response since the first threat of military action, that all that Saddam had to do was allow full military inspections and that failure to act would have made our threat of action obsolete in other areas (forever foregoing any hope that diplomacy could work with Iran, North Korea or anywhere else not scared stiff by what would have been a track record of empty words).

Add to that the true, simple and plain fact that UN weapons reports documented each weapon that Saddam had in '91 and showed that only small amount that had been destroyed - showing that what had until then been the world's fourth largest army still had plenty of weapons. That while no nukes had been found, enough sarin, VX and other gas weapons had been found, as had 500 tons of unenriched uranium, 1.8 of which had been enriched according to the New York Times.

Add to that the inhumanity of the sanctions before the war, which only hurt the civilian population while doing nothing to Saddam and that were truly the cause of anti-Western sentiment, and you might have had Democrats yelling about why Bush hadn't go in sooner and gave Saddam so many warnings, while all that time gave Saddam a chance to hide gas weapons and other artillery that were clearly documented by the UN, that hadn't been destroyed, and that according to many intelligence specialists were now in Syria or Libya (of course the President was right to allow some time for diplomacy, but you get my point).

Then Republicans finally realized their error. As Newt Gingrich had admonished them, you can’t run a purely localized campaign in the face of an opposing national sentiment. But by the time they realized their error, few if any undecideds were listening to anything they had to say on Iraq. The conventional wisdom had taken hold, just as anti-war sentiment (more accurately, anti-prolonged peacekeeping in Europe) befell Truman in 1946.

There was however, still one opportunity for Republicans then. And true to form, they missed it brilliantly.

Charlie Rangel, now Chairman of the Ways and Mean, was adamant about repealing all of the Bush tax cuts (he abandoned that immediately after the election, finally realizing how truly harmful such a move would be). The effects of such a move, then supported and echoed by many prominent Democrats, aside from the dangers it would pose to employment levels across the board, would have been to raise taxes on the lowest tax bracket from 10% to 15%, that’s a 50% tax increase to the lowest tax earners.

But just as Republicans fail to point to Democrats’ eight year blockage of drilling in ANWR (incidentally, in parts where no wildlife live) and other energy independence measures, they failed to point out the obvious then as well. This has to stop.


Republican leaders seemed resigned to caving on every major issue when all that's needed of them is to coherently explain the reasons for their positions, reasons that most people don't know, not just because the media won't mention them but also because GOP leaders have yet to explain them. This has to change and herein lies the key to what must be done.

The GOP needs to explain itself and also needs to go on offense. Aside from the Democratic blocking of energy independence measures that we never hear of, is there any reason that we never hear of President Bush’s bold plans for development of alternative energy sources as key to energy independence? He’s the first president to propose such moves and he gets no credit for it. Sure, the media won’t give that to him, but is there any reason that Republicans fail to remind voters of this and other Republican ideas and achievements?

Lastly, the party that will attract the broadest amount of support will be the one that proposes ideas that are most beneficial for the country overall and that resonate with the Middle Class. This is how the GOP increased its base dramatically during the 80s, by being the "Party of Ideas."

The Democrats accomplished something along those lines by voting to lower student interest rates. They failed miserably in this area the same week by voting to end the tax breaks to oil companies in a way that would be directly passed on to consumers (leaving aside the fact that fuel taxes are exponentially higher than the profit that oil companies receive per gallon, if they wanted to effectively raise taxes on oil companies they could have done this in a way that didn't transfer to consumers, possibly with a windfall profits tax). But, as with energy independence, the GOP has yet to point that out. Nor have they mentioned that Rep. John Dingell as recently as last year advocated for a rise in gasoline taxes.


But there are more important areas that will resonate with voters on a greater level. These are bold initiatives that are very needed, but that no one pays attention to. If we’re the ones to alert the public to their need, we’ll again be seen as the party of ideas. But we need to do this now.

One such idea is the need for alternative sentencing and to stop making career criminals out of nonviolent offenders (especially since radical Islamic groups have been recruiting felons on mass). The case for such reform and the solution are outlined in a previous article (see CFP column:
America’s Greatest Terror Threat – A Threat From Within and Its Easy Solution).

Another critically needed idea where the GOP can differentiate itself is in measures of protect the American worker, proactive measures that encourage jobs to stay here. John McCain has the right idea in lowering the absurd and no longer competitive corporate tax rates, but the issue isn’t being framed as a job saving measure, when it clearly is and when pointing that out will go a long way in showing how the GOP is the best party for the middle class.

Another such issue is proactive measures to increase health in the nation, inspiring ones as opposed to regulation. Another crucial issue is the need to protect the rights of parents to make decisions for their children, and this is true on many levels. Another key issue is the need for financial wellness education, teaching students to save and not to go into debt followed by bankruptcy and the difference that living financially sound can mean for them.

All of these issues are sorely in need of solution and none of them are talked about much, while much lesser issues receive an overabundance of attention. Bringing these issues to the forefront will clearly cement the GOP’s record as the “Party of Ideas.”

These issues are neither Republican or Democratic, but the Republican Party is best equipped to present them in viable, positive and proactive ways. Still, because they are not uniquely Republican, the GOP also needs to realize that Democrats may claim them as their own (and the should be enacted, by whichever party, but this is all the more reason for the GOP to seize the opportunity).


Proposing bold new ideas and awakening people to the importance of matters they had previously paid little attention to, positively shocking the public in the process (as President Reagan did in the 1970s on issues that received little attention before) is the only way to regain the party’s status and popularity and is necessary to get many to give Republicans a second look.

The simple truth is as follows. For the GOP to remain (or regain its rightful status) as today’s party of the middle class, initiatives along the lines of the above, all of which would be well received, need to be brought to the forefront of public discourse and be strongly advocated by the Republican Party. And with less than four months left before one of the most crucial elections in modern times, we need to start advocating such bold initiatives now.

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