Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal presents the common-sense solution to contraceptive access and to extracting the GOP from a deadly (for them) political fight: “The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists announced its support last month for selling oral contraceptives over the counter without a prescription in the United States. I agree with this opinion, which if embraced by the federal government would take contraception out of the political arena. . . . The latest opinion from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is a common-sense call for reform that could yield a result everyone can embrace: the end of birth-control politics.”
Likewise Jonah Goldberg joins those of us who have been arguing for a full embrace of federalism. He wants to “start with federal marijuana laws. The tide has turned on pot, and states are going to keep legalizing it. Why should Washington stand in their way? The beauty of federalism is that you don’t have to condone legalization in one state or prohibition in another. It’s just not Washington’s fight.” Obviously, the same could and should be said of gay marriage. (As for those hung up about states being forced to adopt gay marriage via the Full Faith and Credit clause, there is an entire body of law allowing states to protect themselves by finding such matters contrary to a state’s public policy.)
These are both tidy, common-sense mechanisms for extracting Republicans from idiotic positions that give the public the idea the GOP is out to lunch. That is certainly a good place to start. But there is a huge swath of federal policy for which Republicans must devise common-sense solutions ( e.g., the debt, immigration, taxes, regulation). These require an affirmative agenda, of the type suggested by figures such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)
That national agenda should stress opposition to vested special group interests and the cronyism that goes along with it (be they Big Labor, big banks or Big Pharm). Sen. Bob Corker struck pay dirt when he helped end the Transaction Account Guarantee (TAG), an unlimited guarantee for non-interest bearing accounts. The Wall Street Journal editorial board explained:
Not that it’s easy to argue that middle-class taxpayers should stand behind an unlimited guarantee for accounts held by corporations, local governments and the wealthy. But small community banks argued that they needed this explicit guarantee to compete with the implied federal guarantee enjoyed by giant, too-big-to-fail banks.
This created an awkward political moment for Democrats. They wanted to keep the subsidy program alive but couldn’t acknowledge that too-big-to-fail banks still exist. That’s because they claim to have ended them with the passage of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law. What that law actually did was keep the giants in place while imposing crushing regulatory costs on their smaller competitors.
That is the sort of anti-bigness, anti-cronyism reforms that Republicans must pursue. Along with the right policies must go a full explanation of why the GOP supports these positions (e.g., they promote freedom, prosperity, opportunity) and what they do to help people. As Arthur Brooks argued, most of these positions should be able to fit the construct: It just isn’t fair.
It’s not fair to force workers to join labor unions against their will. It’s not fair to consign poor minority kids to failing inner-city schools. It’s not fair that rich seniors don’t have to pay for Medicare and are foisting more and more debt on their kids and grandkids. It’s not fair universities charge exorbitant tuition, subsidized by the taxpayers, which leaves them with mounds of debt and degrees for which they have no realistic job prospects.
In short, by all means the Republicans need to stop taking nonsensical positions that are out of touch with the vast majority of Americans. But that is the start. It is not either an end unto itself or a formula for political revival. For that, the GOP will have to show it cares about people, wants to treat citizens fairly (not by income redistribution, by removing favoritism and barriers to success) and is committed to reform of government at all levels. That is a big task, but then again the GOP is in big trouble.