Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Loyal Opposition

It is now all but certain that we will not have a divided government. With a little luck, the Republicans will have a cloture-proof minority in the Senate. Without that, there is simply no end to the damage that a united Congress and Executive can do. So, if you think that Congress's power to do damage far outstrips its ability to do good, if you think that he who governs slowest governs best, even if you despise the Republicans in the House of Representatives, please vote Republican if you have an open Senate seat in your state.

I suspect that the crockery will continue to fall off the shelves in the GOP for several months. One can only hope that this election will mark the beginning of the end for the anti-intellectual wing of the party. If not, it's time for a schism.

What would a reinvigorated Republican Party look like? Here's a set of guiding principles:
  • The national debt is a national security problem. Reduction of the debt to well below 25% of GDP is essential for long-term health. This implies zero government growth for at least ten years, which in turn will require consistent, intelligent, principled opposition to Obama's spending priorities.

  • It also, regrettably, requires maintaining the level of corporate taxation and a return to close to the levels of taxation in the Clinton era. The Republican's best tactic here is to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire and to oppose any new tax legislation. A fair compromise would then allow the middle-class tax cuts of the Bush plan (which were substantial) to be reinstated in exchange for some moderation in the increase at the high end. But the Obama refundable credits have to be opposed as a budget-buster.

  • Like Clinton, I expect Obama to be uninterested in foreign policy. If Obama maintains focus on the rest of the world, he, like most presidents, will do fine. This is an area where Republicans can have a real impact, simply by surfacing issues and insisting on responses.

  • It is essential that Republicans become a truly loyal opposition when it comes to foreign policy. The behavior of the Democrats in the last five years has been simply inexcusable and the opposition simply cannot be conducted with that degree of vileness without damaging the national interest. Republicans can and should be as vociferous as possible in pointing out the errors or omissions of Obama's policies and proposing alternatives but they ultimately need to vote to support him.

  • On the domestic side, the Republicans must be as obstructive as possible, regardless of the political cost. The set of entitlements that Obama proposes are simply breathtaking in their scope and will only get bigger as the Democrats in the House tack things on the Christmas tree. These programs will live forever or, more likely, will only die following a full-blown economic collapse that will signal the end of the United States as a world power for at least a generation. They simply cannot be allowed to pass without severe limitations.

  • At the same time, the GOP must compromise to develop a reasonable energy policy. Energy isn't exactly at the top of the agenda right now, given the financial nastiness. It will re-emerge soon enough. This is an area that is fraught with unintended consequences, but the consequences of doing nothing are apparent. Republicans need to be very, very smart here.

  • The Republicans ultimately discredited their brand by ignoring issues of financial transparency and neglecting their oversight responsibilities in the face of a gathering financial storm. In doing so, they reinforced the very worst stereotypes that drive down the popularity of the party. To repair the damage, Republicans must support pragmatic regulatory reform. They must assist, rather than impede, legitimate attempts to oversee the workings of the markets. At the same time, they must work tirelessly to limit the constraints placed on the markets to an efficient minimum. Reform is needed. The temptation to go overboard must be resisted.

  • The Republican Party needs to become much more secular. This does not mean that they should alienate religious voters. Instead, it means that they need to acknowledge the fundamental inability of government policy to affect the fabric of society. Secularism can be best expressed as simple neutrality social issues. This means, however, that all social engineering, either liberal or conservative, needs to be opposed.

  • Finally, the GOP has to shed its appeal to the no-nothings. The financial crisis has thrown the dangers of electoral ignorance into stark relief. The Republicans would help themselves and the country if they insisted that their supporters become properly educated on the issues. All citizens must possess a working knowledge of foreign affairs, economics, energy policy, and health care. The GOP would be well-served to concentrate on disseminating the information needed to participate in the great debates of the next four years.
It's going to be a long, hard, perilous four years. Maybe Democratic philosophy will be demonstrated to be such a failure that bringing the GOP back into partial power will be obvious. More likely, the consequences of bad policy won't become apparent for many years after it's enacted. The temptation to let the Democrats run amok and then suffer the consequences of their excesses will be strong. It's a bad idea.

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