Monday, June 25, 2007

The Future of the Republican Party

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on June 14th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

What does the future hold for my Republican Party and its chief political opponent the Democratic Party? As things currently stand, I am afraid that the Republican Party may be about to check into an extended stay hotel that lacks many of the amenities we have grown accustomed to since President Nixon won the 1968 Presidential election.
During that time the Republican Party has either been in control of the Congress, the Presidency or both for all but six of those thirty eight years. Before that the Democrats controlled Congress for thirty six years and the Presidency for all but eight (thank you General Eisenhower) of those same thirty six years. I foresee at least six and possibly eight to twelve years for the Grand Old Party (GOP) to be out of government and that is my best case scenario. Worst case, we could be facing another long drought like the thirty six years we experienced in the middle of the 20th century.
I wish I could blame all of this on President Bush and his disastrous decision to invade Iraq, but the problems my party is now experiencing run much deeper than just the Iraq war. I for one believe that many other elected representatives of the party have lost sight of the Republican values that I believe the party once stood for. As a college student I became a Republican because of the Party’s commitment to defend US citizen’s economic and individual freedoms.
At their core, Republicans had a strong belief in personal responsibility, limited government and minimal regulation. Republicans favored free-market economic policies supporting capitalism, and this belief was reflected, in part, by the party’s long-term advocacy of tax cuts (a major Republican theme since the 1920s) and its fight to balance the federal budget by controlling government spending. Republicans were also wary of laws which impinged on individual freedoms (such as the right to privacy and the right to bear arms) as set forth in the US Constitution.
Abraham Lincoln led Republicans in the civil war to free slaves from their Democratic Party owners in the South. Teddy Roosevelt had established national parks and wildlife refuges to protect and conserve the country’s natural resources. Republicans were foreign policy realists who sought to negotiate with authoritarian regimes in Russia and China and reduce the potential for world wide conflict.
But when we took control of Congress and the Presidency in 2000, instead of being watch dogs over government spending, Republican legislators became champions of giving tax breaks to their favored business supporters and feathering their nests with lobbyist gifts and campaign contributions. Republicans took the same pork barrel policies they used to decry Democrats for using to new heights of fiscal irresponsibility. We cut taxes for wealthier Americans but did little to help the middle class families struggling to put their children through college.
Balancing the budget ceased to be a priority for Republicans when doing so meant angering particular voter or business constituencies. Rather than rescind recent tax cuts to pay for the war in Iraq, Republicans allowed the federal budget deficit to balloon to record levels instead. Contrary to the concept of free markets and capitalist competition, the Republicans also rubber stamped Bush administration decisions to give multi-billion dollar contracts to corporations with no bidding and little oversight. Republicans also supported Bush administration proposals to ignore citizens constitutional rights to privacy by wiretapping phone calls and accessing records without judicial court approvals.
The GOP ignored its anti-slavery roots dating to Abraham Lincoln and began to court voters who were opposed to civil and voting rights for the African-American descendants of slaves, particularly in the southern states of the US. The Party of Teddy Roosevelt also began to cater to voters in the western US who were opposed to restrictions on the use of natural resources contained in the countries national parks and wildlife refuges. Instead of working to reduce tensions in the Middle East by pushing Isreal to accommodate Palestinian interests, the conservative Republican majority decided to use the war on terror as an excuse to invade Iraq and depose a dictator it had once supported. It justified this behavior by stating that spreading democracy throughout the Middle East was the solution to the problems in the region.
The end result of this retreat from long held Republican Party values is that the Republican Party I joined over 25 years ago is now just a shadow of its former self. Over the next two years, internal disagreements over Democratic majority proposals will increasingly fragment the Republican congressional caucus. Republicans with "safe seats" in staunchly Republican districts or states will still support the Bush administration, but those with more divided constituencies will face strong pressures to stake out positions opposing the Iraq war and subject other policies to oversight.
The U.S. news media, which has frequently focused on disagreements and disorganization within the Democratic Party, will now portray the Republican Party as being increasingly divided and in disarray. President Bush's low approval ratings and the unpopular Iraq war have eroded support for the party among independent voters. While the Democrats currently hold a slim one seat majority in the US Senate, Republicans face a difficult task regaining control of the Senate in 2008, when 21 of their Senate seats will be up for re-election versus only 12 Democratic seats. Thus it is much more likely that the Democrats will capture additional Senate and House seats in 2008 and strengthen their control over Congress.
Beyond 2008 Republicans face another worrisome trend among new voters. Young people and immigrants who have recently gained the right to vote are largely identifying themselves as either Democrats or independents, affiliations which history has shown are likely to remain entrenched for most of these voters lifetimes. The resurgence by Democrats at the state level (which began in 2006) in terms of control of Governorships and legislatures will result in redistricting changes following the 2010 census which will favour the creation of more Democratic majority congressional districts. This is likely to cement control of Congress in the hands of the Democratic Party until at least the next census in 2020.
Maybe the prospect of spending 12 or more years out of government power will be just the medicine the Republican Party needs to treat what currently ails it. My party needs to do some serious soul-searching and decide if it wants to reclaim the values of economic conservatism (balanced budgets), protection of the individual’s constitutional rights and realist foreign policy strategies. I intend to be a part of this debate and push Republicans to abandon the divisive fear tactics they have used to get their representatives elected over the past 12 years. We must also stop catering to the narrow interests of religious and social conservatives if we ever hope to reclaim a position of power in the US Federal Government. A painful period lies ahead for the Republican Party, but I hope that from this pain Republicans will gain a new sense of what our party could and should stand for. Only time will tell if this is a realistic hope

No comments: