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Monday, December 10, 2012


There’s plenty of buzz about the GOP and why, despite a lousy economy and a feckless, if not actually diabolical President,  the GOP failed to win in the last election. While the professional campaign operatives may focus on technicalities such as the use of social media or the GOP’s need to improve their grass roots “get out the vote” operation there are serious and I think obvious reasons for the Republican’s failure to inspire their base (beyond fear of the opposition) and attract new immigrants to the party. New immigrants, by the way, often come here for freedom and opportunity and the GOP’s failure to translate this into some higher percentage of votes is one of many failures that need to be addressed if they are to ever gain a real majority status.

While this topic could fill a book, there are three things that are sinking the GOP’s boat: the failure to solve problems that affect the struggling middle class, the failure to articulate a principled, “big picture” vision of America that differs from the Democrats, and simply not leading when they are in power and only counterpunching the Dems.

MIDDLE CLASS NEGLECT.  There simply are not enough country club, Rockefeller Republicans to have electoral success or popular support for legislative initiatives when the Republicans are in power.  Tax rates are a legitimate issue, but does the average voter really go wild over 36% vs 39% on top rates? Of all the problems we face, is this the only or even main issue? What about the over regulating, what about the problems with health care (that aren’t being addressed by Obamacare like costs), what about the out of control costs of higher education, what about the lack of jobs? Anyone paying attention can see that the average Joe’s problems are a lot deeper than a couple of percentage points on the top rate. Yet there is little SPECIFIC talk by Republican pols about anything else.

When there is massive wage stagnation (except for CEO’s and government workers of course), increasing prices, and little ability to move around in the job market, the Republicans myopic focus on tax rates doesn’t begin to understand, much less address the concerns of most working people.

There are solutions that are more in keeping with the philosophy of limited government, market forces, and individual empowerment but if the GOP is not articulating them, educating the people on how it would be better, and fighting for them who will?

THE BIG VISION.   While Republicans express admiration for Ronald Reagan they don’t seem to use the Gipper’s greatest gift – the ability to articulate a vision of a vibrant, special country, energized by individuals pursuing their dreams with as little regulation as possible. Reagan decried governmental overreaching and recognized that other institutions in the US had a role that government could only muck up. Don’t get me wrong, there is a sizeable role for government to play in modern life, but it has gone too far. But the good alternatives to big government are not going to come about unless the Republicans can show how needs can be met (not just slashing government and letting folks fend for themselves) in a way that empowers individuals. A Chilean style retirement system (that was designed by Americans by the way), instead of government controlled Social  Security, is one such idea, there are many more. But change is scary and unless you educate people on alternatives and articulate the big picture philosophy like Reagan did, you can’t expect people to “stay the course” during a transition to a more free and stable economy that will have to be implemented and modifyed over a course of years if not decades to address the problems that crop up from here to there. < Marco Rubio and Jim DeMint do some of this, and it’s tough to get your message to the public but if Republicans don’t have a coherent long term vision, consistently applied, they will lose to the big government crowd. Counterpunching is a poor strategy for politics if you want to lead, not merely avoid worse legislation.  

FAILURE TO LEAD.  Republicans are great at telling us what is wrong with the Democrats, but what about a positive agenda? I  have to give the Democrats credit, they get what they can today and go after more tomorrow. Republicans are gripers and show few results even when they are in power. Reagan was an exception, but when the Gingrich Republicans won in 1994, other than welfare reform, what happened? They promised to reform the federal bureaucracy and get rid of whole departments like the Dept. of Education and return control to the states. It never happened and I don’t hear much sustained discussion of it anymore. The way the feds do business is costly and they do a poor job on many things, there is widespread agreement that a bureaucratic reorganization is needed and would save billions. Why hasn’t it happened?

Republicans are complaining now about Obamacare, but during the G W Bush administration we added a new prescription drug benefit but failed to reform the health care finance system even though it was a serious problem then. Why didn’t they proact with legislation more to their liking when they had control? Why do they have to wait until something worse comes along then gripe?

Republicans are complaining about the deficit and debt now. I agree, it’s bad, but during GW Bush’s presidency, Republicans passed a bloated agriculture bill (with asinine ethanol subsidies among other things), a bloated highway bill, and thousands of “earmarks” spending borrowed money on pork that didn’t bother them at the time. If they did that then, why cry over spending now? It seems hypocritical to like our spending and not like theirs. Where were the lofty principles then when the GOP held power?  Good governance is good politics and if Republican lawmakers aren’t going to deliver on our goals and principles when they have power, what is the reason to return them to power?

There have been some rays of sunshine by some GOP leaders who seem to get it. Others seem to think that if we just change the stance on immigration, taxes and find a better standard bearer than Romney all will be well. Not a chance. It’s time for a fundamental reexamination of who we Republicans are and get about the business of retooling our democracy for the future. If the GOP won’t do it, it’s time for a new party.


Anonymous said...

We have talked about this many times, but reading this piece inspired me to respond. First of all, I don’t see it as middle class neglect as it is middle class destruction. When you sit and see the likes of Mitch McConnell willing to throw a huge number of people under the bus by denying or delaying unemployment, or willing to let the tax rate increase on all people and the austerity cuts that are waiting in the wings that will, in all likelihood, send us into another depression, just to not increase the rate on the top 2% of earners, that says something to me.

The Republican party, by in large have never been about or for the middle or lower classes. And lest we forget, there is an entire class of people under the middle and upper classes that fight and struggle to survive each and every day. Sure, we can say that about everyone at the present, but it rings more so with them than others. The ones it rarely affects, those at the top, are too busy looking at things as they were, as they used to be, and how to keep their wealth and grow it under the guise of being “job creators” by investing their excess wealth in the stock market or hiding it off shore in tax havens and shelters.

As an economist, you know that the way to grow any economy is to keep money circulating. A mass of people that have purchasing power are a better engine for the economy than a few at the top that buys high end cars, mansions, vacation homes, and expensive baubles to adorn themselves with. Demand for consumer goods generates manufacturing, improving wages, working conditions, and keeps that money circulating throughout the entire population.

When you have a few at the top that now have the accumulated wealth of over half of the rest of the population, that translates into power. The power to control trade regulation that is beneficial to themselves, the power to change labor and import laws to benefit themselves and their endeavors. And the ability to put out the propaganda to garner support for those over-riding goals to convince enough people that they should buy in this premise as well, giving Republicans the ability to accomplish what is best for them.

Anonymous said...

More than a few people accused the President of engaging in class warfare during the run up to the election. Merely pointing out what is going on is not engaging in it. And yes, I see the erosion of the middle class as a purposeful act; a means to an end. America was told that it was switching away from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. Service jobs are non-skilled, low wage endeavors. You don’t need college or an education in order to clean floors or answer a phone. You also don’t need much money to perform those tasks since there isn’t much technical skill involved. So as we sat and watched the very means of subsistence for the middle class flow out this country, the population continued to vote for Republicans on the basis of a few things like “Patriotism, Traditional Family Values, Traditional Marriage, Immigration, Abortion.”
Are those things important in their own respect? Not as important as the ability to make a decent living for yourself and your family. And the majority of people work for someone else. Not everyone is an entrepreneur, runs a small business, or has the inclination to do so. Nonetheless, that does not reduce their worth or denigrate their skills or abilities in the marketplace.. except by those who have the power to do so.

Reagan informed alright. The problem there is, no one was smart enough to see what it was he was informing us about. Well, here it is, in all of its splendor and glory, we are living the reality of his vision. Oh no, I don’t blame politicians short term for what is happening today. To get a full and complete grasp of what is happening now, you have to look back. Things don’t happen overnight and to get where we are, you have to go back. Reagan enabled that top tier to begin amassing huge sums of wealth. All at the expense of the rest of the nation. Trickle down didn’t work, won’t work, because there is always someone with their hand on the tap deciding how much will be allowed to trickle down. When you have the means to divert more back, not much trickles down. Faced with either giving the money to the government or to your workers, most opted for their workers and investment in their companies, controlling their rate of wealth control to keep from being hit by those high upper tier income tax rates. Strange don’t you think that we saw this nation flourish and more people prosper in the middle 20th Century after the Great Depression than in the last 20 years? At a time when those upper tier rates sometimes hit 90%. From 1933 until 1953, a Republican didn’t sit in the White House. 20 of the most formative and pivotal years of this nation; I don’t think that coincidental.

No, Republicans haven’t changed, they merely polished up their act and learned how to appease to the masses through a smart marketing campaign and a spin cycle that would put a tornado to shame. They learned how to appeal to moderate and middle of the road folks. The problem now is, the cloak has come off and they want it all. By so doing, they are showing us their true colors. Why? The Democrats changed their philosophy. They, somewhere along the line drifted away from representing the common man, the everyday guy to standing for an elite that adhered to a rather high browed ideology. While I find both those planks in the platform distasteful, I still adhere more to premise that Democrats care more for the common everyday people than Republicans do. Mitch McConnell proves that every time he opens his mouth in the Senate.