How to be a Republican in the Age of Obama: Three Choices
I don’t try to assume that I know everything when it comes to politics: I’m just some guy with a laptop likes to run at the mouth or keyboard.
But in looking at the GOP in the weeks since Barack Obama became President and since the Democrats have taken power,I see three options for how Republicans can go forward in this new time. I will say straight up that I have a bias in one of these options. But all of them will be looked at with the good sides and the bad sides as well.
Option One- Confrontation. This is the one that seems to be getting the most play right now by the GOP in Congress. Instead of trying to work with the Democrats in Congress, they oppose their plans on the hope that, if these plans don’t work, then the only ones who will be blamed are the Democrats. Maybe the most visible person for this option is Rush Limbaugh.
The upside is that this approach tends to unite Republicans around a cause. It gives the Sean Hannitys of the world, something to fume against and as the left can tell you, expressing outrage can be a unifying event.
The downside is that this approach offers no ideas or alternatives to the Democratic plan. It’s full of empty calories – all rage and nothing else. It’s also a pretty risky option. What happens if Obama’s plans work? Then the GOP has egg on their faces and their ranks shrink further, which then gives the Dems free reign to offer up plans that are pretty terrible in the long run (ala welfare programs of the 60s and 70s).
Option Two: Accommodation. This option assume that since the Democrats have the power in Congress and the White House, that the only option is to go along and try to make small changes where possible. This approach seems at times to be the one many centrist and moderate bloggers want. The representative of this approach would have to be Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, one of three Republicans to vote for the recent stimulus.
The upside of this approach is that it is realistic and is partly how things get done in Washington. The three Republicans in the Senate realized that they could only cut so much from the bill that would pass muster with Democrats. So, they did that and made what seemed to many conservatives as a bad bill, not so bad. As they say, elections have consequences and one of them is that Republicans have to accept that they are not in the drivers seat anymore.
The downside of this option is that while it is programmatic, meaning it is how things get done in Washington, it offers no new ideas, just checks against the ruling majority. While going along works in the short term, it is not the way to build a strong party in the long run. No one wants a pale copy of the Democrats when an original will do.
Option Three: Adaptation. The third and final approach is one that sees and acknowledges that the playing field has changed, but instead of simply going along with the new majority, it comes up with ideas of its own in light of the new reality. The person who personifies this approach is Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.
This option isn’t interested in going to the barricades in some valiant struggle against socialism, but is willing to offer a credible conservative alternative. They are willing to look at issues like the environment and gay marriage, not as some liberal agenda, but because times have changed and these are issues people are concerned about.
The downside of this option is that offering alternatives takes some time is fraught with danger because it challenges the status quo. Trying to think of new policies takes a while to incubate. What is the conservative approach to global warming, or health care? These take time. Also, those who have a vested interest in the old order will find ways to try to shut reformers down, seeing them as heretics. The most common parallel is that of the New Democrats of the late 80s and early 90s. The rise of the Democratic Leadership Council was to find out how to be a Democrat in the Age of Reagan. Bill Clinton was able to find ways to achieve liberal ends using conservative means.
The upside is that this could lead the GOP out of its wilderness experience and into leadership. It could spark an intellectual revival in the GOP, where there is an interest in devising ways to solve national problems with conservative tools. Unlike the first option, it won’t feel good at first, but in the long run, it would produce conservatives who feel good about themselves and the nation.
Of course, I am biased towards option three. While the media has been focused on the Conservative Political Action Committee, Rush Limbaugh and Joe the Plumber, I think there is a quiet interest in a more technically-minded conservative that is interested in solving problems than in riling up the pack.
My own guess is that option three will be the route the GOP takes…eventually. It will, because you can only fill up on the empty rhetoric of a radio personality and a plumber from Toledo only so long.