Ending the 'ideas' recession

Published 8:32 am Monday, August 27, 2007

By By Tray Smith
In 2004, Republican electoral success was largely built against Democratic "obstruction," or the idea that the Democrats did not have an agenda of their own, but were simply opposed to everything the Republicans stood for. The Republican Party's base, so consumed with nostalgia for the "Reagan Years," it cannot wrap itself around a vision for the future, now risk throwing its party into that category. This change has come about for two very important reasons. First, Republican hypocrisy on issues like fiscal responsibility, which they used to champion, has hurt the party's credibility. It does not really matter what Republicans stand for, because the spending issue shows that they really do not stand for anything. Furthermore, Republicans, who used to be guardians against corruption, are now guardians of corruption. Instead of exposing the recently passed Democratic ethics bill as the toothless fraud it is and pushing for more stringent regulations, such as a ban on all earmarks, most Republicans supported the Democratic bill and did nothing to make it stronger. Thus, not only have they lost credibility on spending, but they have missed an enormous opportunity to gain credibility on corruption after scandal has shaken a large portion of their party's officeholders Secondly, the Republicans have failed not only to enact new policy proposals, but to generate new ideas, which has put them behind in the "ideas" debate. Partly, they are a victim of their own success. Issues like welfare, which used to be very significant, are no longer important because of the very successful reform effort Congressional Republicans undertook in 1994. Crime, another important Republican issue, has also been on a downward trend, despite a recent up tick, thanks to both national action by the Republican Congress and President Clinton and the efforts of local leaders like Rudy Giuliani in New York. Education reform, which Bush ran and partially got elected on, took affect in the form of No Child Left Behind. And the steadfast protection of second amendment rights in recent years has degraded the significance of gun control. There are other "Republican issues" (issues that Republicans have an advantage on), such as missile defense, that we have made much progress on in recent years, but President Bush has done very little to market those achievements. And still there are more, such as Social Security and immigration reform, that Republicans have failed to act on entirely. But with the Presidential nomination process now underway, the question begs, "what does, and what should, the Republican Party stand for?"
In order to be competitive in 2008, the GOP will need a domestic platform that carries the same level of interest as the Democratic Party's agenda. Yet, what issues do the Republicans have that could inspire as many voters as universal health care and global warming will on the left, while at the same time reaching out to a significant portion of independents? Well, first, the GOP should NOT continue to embrace the brazenly insulting "Compassionate Conservative" ideology of the Bush administration. In pursuing "compassion," Bush tried to expand his support base by wooing both independents and conservatives into his tent, and in the end he got neither. But another relic of the Bush Presidency that the Party has paid little notice to, "the Ownership Society," is a vision worth discussing on a national level during the coming campaign. It is also a vision that could help elect a Republican to the White House in 2008.
What would such a society entail? First, it would require scrapping the entire income tax code and replacing it with a simple, pro-growth FairTax. No economic issue holds a greater potential to motivate a large portion of the Republican base than this While it is daringly ambitious, something of its caliber is needed to thrust the Republicans back into the political mainstream.
Republicans could also address the need to expand the principles of their 1994 welfare reform bill beyond Temporary Assistance to Need Families so that Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps and public housing are each overhauled. By completely remaking the entitlement state, such reforms would help the country avoid a fiscal meltdown, enhance ownership and eliminate dependency. We would also be able to rid ourselves of the redundancy several of this programs create.
Thirdly, Republicans can address the energy shortage by supporting an expansion of domestic refinery and drilling capacity. By increasing the supply, we can decrease the price of energy. Furthermore, Republicans should support the idea of private toll roads in order to both enhance our national infrastructure and reduce the demand for gasoline. Over the long-term, such a market-based strategy will lead us to alternative fuel sources that are better for the environment and can be produced domestically.
The Republicans should also return to the issue that was once their most ardent policy goal: spending and government reform. By adopting some of Newt Gingrich's ideas for reforming the government and bringing it into the 21st century, Republicans can both overhaul the bureaucracy and save money. They could also adopt strict spending limitations that force fiscal responsibility own Congress.
Finally, Republicans have the potential to swing what could be the most important issue of the next election in their favor. Concern about immigration has spread through grass roots conservatives like a forest fire, and by endorsing a tough bill and a border fence, Republicans can capitalize on those concerns and motivate voters to the polls. At the same time, the party needs to continue its support for the guest worker program President Bush has proposed so as not to alienate a large portion of the Hispanic voting block.
These are just a few of the ideas that may help Republicans come back, at least ideologically, from their current slump. But it will take political boldness that the current GOP contenders may not have.
That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is the Vice President of the Escambia County High School Student Government Association, where he is also a junior. In September, he will begin serving as a page in the United States House of Representatives. He can be reached at tsmith_90@ hotmail.com.

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