Wednesday, November 14, 2012

“Republican Agonistes”

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Republican Agonistes”
November 14, 2012

“Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” President Kennedy uttered those words following the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation in April 1961. In contrast, one might argue that Republicans’ defeat last week has fostered a thousand excuses. To succeed in four years, Republicans must renew the struggle – and demonstrate optimism for the future, in a far more inclusive campaign that lays bare the perils of European socialism toward which we are headed, while extolling to opportunities for growth at home. It will take a wise, articulate person with a sunny disposition.

There are those that argue that Mitt Romney was too moderate, too kind, too “nice” a person. That has an element of truth. But a more fundamental truth is that he was stage-managed to become something he was not. A moderate Republican was re-cast as a right-wing candidate. It was considered necessary to win the nomination, but it destroyed his chances in the general election – at least until the first debate. Mr. Obama recovered from that defeat and, unfortunately, Mr. Romney didn’t improve. Democrats are better mechanics, in that they do a far better job of actually getting people to the polls. Republicans urge people to vote, but do not drive them to the polls. Additionally, there are those who believe, correctly in my opinion, that too many Republican leaders are out of touch regarding a host of social issues, from the reproductive rights of women, to the ability of gays to live virtuous, married lives, to the question of illegal immigrants. Republicans have painted themselves into an indefensible corner. They will have to return to the mat.

An unfortunate consequence of the campaign was that the focus on social issues detracted from the far more pressing fiscal and financial problems facing our nation. Excessive public spending, combined with an unhealthy wealth distribution, is a road that leads to Athens. The far-too-long Republican Primary system highlighted the worst and the dumbest. Bret Stephens, in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, suggests: “Conservatives should demand IQ tests of Republican candidates.” They looked like sad caricatures of real conservatives like Ronald Reagan, each trying to outdo the other, in how quickly they would send illegal immigrants back across the border, or ostracize unwed mothers. They bashed gays no matter their desire to live conventional bourgeois lives and told us that God was on their side. Worst, their antics allowed Democrats to seize the moral high ground – a place they do not deserve.

So, other than self-flagellation, what can conservatives do, to preserve their principles, yet win elections? I know that I am not qualified to answer the question, but I have no hesitation in offering opinions. First of all, the message of Democrats has always been more palatable. It is far easier to give than to take. It is the difference between a “softie” parent and one who is the disciplinarian. Republicans are seen as hard-hearted and parsimonious. They talk about the risks of pursuing a fiscally irresponsible lifestyle, of the need to sacrifice and make tough decisions. In terms of social issues, they too often sound like Moses on the Mount, with a list of “Thou shalt nots,” whether its sex, drugs or immigration. They come across as exclusive in a world that wants inclusion. But they believe in the individual and will fight for his rights. They adhere to the principal of the rule of law. They understand aspiration and decry hypocrisy. They believe in the concept of teaching a man to fish, as opposed to giving him one. They made a mistake in failing to take President Bush to task for fighting an unfunded war. After all, fiscal responsibility is a tenet of conservativism. While George Bush violated certain civil liberties in combating the War on Terror, Republicans could have acknowledged his actions and then condemned President Obama from extending and, in the words of John W. Whitehead, “utterly and completely disemboweling them.”

Americans, contrary to some pundits, are intelligent and know when they are being lied to. They understand mistakes, but don’t want to be deliberately deceived. When unpleasant but necessary issues arise, Republicans must face them and call them for what they are. For example, the issues of debt and deficits swamp all other issues. If we cannot straighten out our finances, it matters not what social good we might want to do, or what democracies we might choose to defend. In terms of our trillion dollar deficits, it will take a combination of revenue increases and program cuts. Federal revenues must rise from something like 15% of GDP to something closer to 18%. Expenses will have to decline from something like 25% to something closer to 20%, where they were before the crisis. We must address the problem of entitlements; some initial solutions should be easy – raise the age and institute some sort of a means testing. In terms of revenues, Mr. Romney’s idea of limiting all deductions to some fixed amount, like $25,000 or $30,000 (while leaving rates unchanged) will raise a lot more money than Robert Rubin implies in yesterday’s New York Times. There are about 4 million tax filers with incomes above $250,000 and the average deductions, for those income levels, were around $81,000 in 2009. Four million times $50,000 equals about $200 billion.

Throughout history, all civilizations have ultimately fallen, and someday ours will as well. But it should be in our collective interest to delay that day as long as possible. We do not have the means to support our nation’s debt alone; thus we have become dependent on the kindness of strangers who purchase our debt, even though the interest rate we pay does not offset inflation. The Chinese and others have financed our debt because they are dependent on exports to our nation. It is in their self-interest to keep us afloat. But will we always be able to count on them? Our national debt has been expanding at a rate close to 5%, far in excess of GDP growth. The obligation that debt entails impedes our ability to grow economically. Lower growth eventually means reduced consumer purchases, including imports. It is a vicious cycle that risks collapsing on itself.

Democrats have used the plight of women, gays and immigrants to seize the high ground in a moral sense. Democratic-supported unions helped bankrupt many of our industries, like the steel and auto industries. Recalcitrant teacher unions, in their opposition to charter schools, prevent inner city children from deriving the benefits of competition in public schools. Their strangle-holds on state and municipal governments have created a number of municipal bankruptcies.

Moral relativism allows a Taliban leader to speak at one of our great universities, even while his country denies its women the right to education. We should be proud of the rights we have and understand that many aspire to the same. In our desire to please everyone, to make no judgments, I worry we have slipped our moral bearings. I am not a social conservative – in fact many of the positions taken by a slew of Republican candidates during the primary debates I found abhorrent – but I worry about our direction. Having said that, I believe the right of women to choose should never be in question, nor should we round up illegals and ship them back across the border. The first is a private matter and the second is antithetical to the values for which America stands.

Republicans believe in the rule of law. They are concerned when their civil liberties are infringed. They should be unafraid to argue that morality is universal and that it relies on a series of virtues. These include such old fashioned notions, such as respect for the opinions and beliefs of others, and that basic manners help ease social relations.

A recent book provides a preview of where moral relativism may be taking us. Nathan Harden has written about his years at Yale, Sex and God at Yale. (He graduated in 2009.) The title is taken from William Buckley’s 1953 classic, God and Man at Yale. And Mr. Buckley’s son, Christopher, wrote the introduction. The book is worth reading for what it says about the hypocrisy of the elitist Left, especially in terms of their treatment of women. He writes that there are those on the faculty and in the administration who are endowed “with the arrogant belief that – somehow – really smart people should be considered immune to moral accountability.” Yale is, Nathan Harden concludes, a great university but with a “profound lack of political vision and moral purpose.” To the extent that Yale produces our country’s leaders, Mr. Harden provides, as Chris Buckley writes in his introduction, a lot to chew on.

David Frum, writing recently about how the GOP got stuck in the past, is correct in saying that Republican analysts should ignore the closeness of the popular vote. Instead they should focus on the incredulousness of a sitting President winning re-election after losing the country’s AAA rating, producing four budgets with trillion dollar deficits, depriving Americans of civil liberties, while being unable to reduce unemployment, despite three and a half years of economic recovery. It was a case, as he writes of “the challenger party throwing away a sure thing.”

All is not lost, however. Republicans have a very strong bench consisting of young women, men and minorities: Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley, Susana Martinez, Bobby Jindal, Mike Pence, Scott Walker, Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels are some who come to mind. As a group, they have a set of principles that are endearing and ageless – the rule of law, a moral sense, a belief in the individual, the importance of civil and personal liberties and a government that is compassionate, fiscally responsible and which provides opportunity to the aspirant. Republicans need to put aside the anger that can destroy them. They must set aside their individual prejudices. They must focus on the specific policies that align most closely to their principles and which have the broadest appeal. They must focus on what is right with the country, and how they will fix what is wrong. And they must do all this with optimism and a smile. It is a struggle worth winning.

No comments:

Post a Comment