Living as I do in Minneapolis, a very, very Democratic city, you tend appreciate the times when you can get together with fellow Republicans and chat.
We complain about specific Democratic policies and of course, believe that we have better answers.
But every so often, I am left with a sense of unease. What bothers me is that some of those gathered (not all, mind you) tend to not just have a healthy suspicion of government, but an outright distrust if not hate.
These chats have made me think a lot about how the GOP has viewed government over the last few decades and how that opinion is going have to change if we want to become a governing party again.
I’ve often disagreed with my liberal friends who think that the government is the answer for everything that ails us as a society. The current President and his mates in Congress seem to believe in the supremacy of the government in handling all of the nation’s problems. From health care to financial aid for college, they see government as the answer.
Being a Republican, I have tended to not see government as the answer. Let me rephrase that: I tend to not look at government as THE answer, but as AN answer. Government can help but it is not the panacea for all our problems. I believe in an effective government, not one that starts getting involved in areas where it should not or, if it does, should have a light touch.
But the governing philosophy of many in the GOP is one where government is not simply an interloper but a monster that will destroy all of society as we know it. While such talk might make the base of the party swoon with delight, it doesn’t appeal to those worried about losing health care, trying to find work, or concerned about global warming. They might not want the Big Government that the Democrats are pushing but they do want their government to address these issues.
Such anti-government fervor is working to our detriment. Take, for example, health care. The Obama plan might very well include a so-called “public plan” that would compete with private plans. Many conservatives rightly fear that such a plan would undercut the private plans. Also, businesses would drop their private plans in an instant and allow their workers to go on the public plan. The end result is a de-facto “single payer” healthcare system, which is not an outcome most Republicans want.
But the opposition to the Obama plan is wrapped up in shooting down other options such as the plan in Massachusetts or the Swiss Health Plan which rely on a combination of the free market and government regulation. The simple fact that these plans still have some goverment involvement has led the GOP to ignore or label them as “single payer” when they are nothing of the sort.
The thing is, when Republicans actually see government in a more positive light, they can come up with innovative ideas to run goverment. In a recent op-ed, Lou Zickar of the Ripon Society points out the fact that Republicans have long been against big government, but have supported better government:
Over the past 30 years, conservatives have successfully branded anyone who supports raising taxes as a liberal.
Now many on the right are trying to do the same with regard to government. In short, if a person supports a government program, that individual is not just a liberal but also a socialist.
The result is that many Republicans have become hesitant to acknowledge one of the most basic obligations of elective office: Lawmakers are hired to run the government, not run away from it.
It hasn’t always been this way, of course. Abraham Lincoln created the Agriculture Department. Teddy Roosevelt regulated the railroads. Dwight Eisenhower poured 45,000 miles of concrete and built the nation’s interstate highway system. No one in his right mind would believe any of them were socialists.
Zickar then goes on to talk about Mitch Daniels, the Republican Governor of Indiana who has a knack for innovation in government.
If Republicans want to compete effectively against the Democrats, they can’t do it by saying they hate government and then ask to be elected to said hated government. Republicans can get elected by trying to make government innovative, to get more bang for the buck.
But that would require a party willing to think again, to devise new ideas for a new day. Are Republicans willing to do that? It remains to be seen.
Cross-posted at Progressive Republicans