Wednesday, November 05, 2008

John Baden, “Republican Disenchantment and Decline”

Only a few years ago there was substantial talk of a permanent Republican majority. Through the workings of demographic, economic, cultural, and religious forces, the GOP was to become the powerful, controlling institution in Washington, DC and most states. While a few redistributive, "progressive", secular, archipelagoes would persist in the Northeast and West Coast, America would become ever more Republican. Among Republican strategists, hubris was the norm.

Now there is talk of the party's demise. What happened? Three related patterns explain much of their problem.

First, our economy slumped while the top one percent gained mighty returns.

Many flaunted their wealth, advertising disparities through private planes, massive houses in gated communities, and other bangles of financial success.

The GOP is portrayed as a handmaiden of this small but powerful class.

Further, power seduced and despoiled many high profile Republican leaders.

Considering only domestic policy (management of foreign affairs may be similarly flawed but is outside my purview), human follies and foibles trumped morality, propriety, and principle.

Consider these people; Sen. Ted Stevens, Rep. Duke Cunningham, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Sen. Larry Craig, Rep. Mark Foley, prominent Republicans all. They and a host of fellow travelers and hangers on went down the road to ruin and along the way besmirched their party¹s label. All used their political positions and access to advance personal interests at public expense, always violating purported GOP standards.

Here¹s a true, empirical, universal, generalization that helps explain public reaction to this litany of failures and felonies: No one of substance and character respects hypocrites and liars. And those named above were exactly that, cowardly hypocrites who lied about and tried to hide transgressions.

All exploited their positions for personal, often petty, reasons. They violated supposed GOP ideals, modest and honest government at home, personal morality, and the market rather politics to coordinate and allocate resources. They ignored, neglected, or discounted these principles in exchange for financial gain or sexual favor. The entire Party was tainted by their hypocrisy.

Finally, the GOP jettisoned intellectual and ethical ballast. The Party lost opinion and community leaders when their candidates celebrated anti-intellectual predispositions. They ignored, dismissed, or discounted conservative and classical liberal (today's libertarians) critics of Republican policies and candidates. Party operatives failed to understand that honorable individuals are allies only when the Party honors and adheres to its announced principles.

Here¹s what they lost.

Beginning in the 1970s conservative and classical liberals of means engaged the public policy debate. They believed they had logic and data on their side and set out to fund the development of an intellectual movement. In addition to major investments at universities, they created think tanks such as American Enterprise, CATO, Heritage Foundation, Heartland, Hoover Institution, Manhattan Institute, NCPA, Reason Foundation, and many smaller, more specialized organizations.

Leaders in these organizations were emphatically not GOP groupies. Many are scholars from the best schools, including Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale. All held and espoused principled positions consistent with America¹s founding ideals. Their work provides excellent feedstock for America¹s opinion leaders including writers for the Economist, Wall Street Journal, and yes, even The New York Times.

For over thirty years this movement offered constructive alternatives to the policies of the politically correct but often ineffective, redistributive left.

The high water mark of this movement was 1984 when Reagan won all but one state. Since Reagan, the Republican Party has become more concerned with power and privilege than principle. They repelled educated people as GOP tacticians mobilized voters via cultural and class warfare. Losing opinion leaders such as David Brooks, Peggy Noonan and George Will is serious testimony to the failure of this approach.

For example Brooks observed: "...Republicans have alienated whole professions. Lawyers now donate to the Democratic Party over the Republican Party at 4-to-1 rates. With doctors, it¹s 2-to-1. With tech executives, it¹s 5-to-1. With investment bankers, it¹s 2-to-1. It took talent for Republicans to lose the banking community."

Explaining the downfall of the USSR, Dan Chirot wrote that when a party loses moral legitimacy and economic promises are broken, support collapses. That's what happened yesterday.

John Baden is Chairman of the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment (FREE), based in Bozeman, MT.

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