The temptation for the right is to return President Obama’s undiluted partisanship and radicalism with their own brand of partisanship and radicalism. If he is dismissive and contemptuous of the opposition, they become so as well. If he goes left, they go right. They should resist the temptation.
This is not a game of tug of war in which Obama pulls left so Republicans pull right. If the Republicans drop the rope and let him tumble off the left end of the playing field, then they can lay claim to the center, which he has ceded.
Obama has taken a large gamble in unabashedly proclaiming his leftist vision. As the American Enterprise Institute pointed out last month: “President Obama’s re-election and recent surveys provide some evidence that America is more centrist than center-right. A straightforward way to evaluate the question is to examine self-reported ideological identification. Some national surveys show moderates narrowly outnumbering conservatives among adults, but others show conservatives leading them. Liberals continue to lag both groups. … [T]aking self-reported ideology at face value, America seems to be somewhere in between centrist and center-right.” In other words Obama is appealing very stridently to a minority of the electorate. That leaves the majority of the electorate receptive to a center-right appeal.
How do conservatives do this?
They co-opt the language of moderation Obama discarded in favor of rash leftism. The GOP wants reconciliation, cooperation and reform. They reach out to all moderate Democrats in the House and Congress who feel ill at ease with the idea we can run up our debt, accept long-term unemployment and decimate our national security.
The GOP becomes the party of growth, jobs and upward mobility, the party of the little guy and scourge of big government, big business and big labor. The GOP breaks up “too big to fail” banks, ends corporate welfare and closes corporate loopholes. They want to bring back good jobs in the private sector by making businesses want to set up and expand here. After all, we need wealth to have revenue to pay for the government we need.
The Republicans become the party that says if you work hard and play by the rules you can achieve your dreams. They insist that welfare reform protect the dignity of work and champion policies that help the working poor.
Republicans become the party of youth and young people’s futures in which they can choose their school, their health care and their career without the burden of debt.
The GOP becomes the party of fairness that doesn’t transfer wealth from young to old or give rich people benefits they can afford to pay for on their own. They don’t allow public employees to take government from the hands of voters and taxpayers. They won’t let oil companies or green energy companies get breaks other companies don’t have.
They are the party of legal immigration.
And they champion states, communities, localities and civic organizations that want to work without interference from bureaucrats who inhabit cubicles thousands of miles away.
This doesn’t sound all that Republican, does it? Well, that’s a comment on how poorly the GOP has explained its policies and presented its views.
This approach requires Republicans to not scream at the media or the president but to talk in calm voices to the American people. It requires them to find spokespeople, governors, senators and congressmen who can carry this message in a language comprehensible to the American people. And it requires them, frankly, to ignore the president and put forth their own agenda with their own explanations.
It is how successful politicians, from former governor Jeb Bush to president Ronald Reagan to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) won elections and advanced their conservative goals. The president’s strident leftism may be scary, but it leaves a lot of running room for smart conservatives.
Here’s an example: “The GOP wants to end regulations that pummel small business and community banks. They are going to end slush funds for the big banks. They aren’t going to let an EPA bureaucrat in D.C. tell a farmer in Iowa that dust is a pollutant. They aren’t going to allow the Labor Department to deprive workers of the right to a secret ballot or to force them to join unions. They are going to end the Obamacare regulation that taxes wheelchairs for seniors and EpiPens for kids.”
Or on the debt: “Republicans think it’s immoral for us not to pay our bills and instead hand them to our kids. Republicans think it isn’t fair to pay Warren Buffet’s medical bills while Medicare goes broke. Republicans believe that Medicare should always be there for those who need it and that no panel of bureaucrats can tell you and your doctor what treatment you should have. Republicans think that states and communities that have rooted out fraud, found cost-saving ways to provide health care for the poor and deliver better services should be able to have control over their Medicaid programs.”
There is nothing in there about “free market capitalism” or “crowding out capital.” They don’t waste time talking about “small government” and they don’t use the words “Republican” or “conservative.” They talk about what works to make people’s lives better. It is the language and the agenda for ordinary people who don’t want a radical new America, just one where the economy is a little better, college can be more affordable and their kids will have better opportunities.
What Republicans are against (illegal immigration; spending; debt; burdensome regulation; high taxes; and gay marriage) is replaced by what they are for (legal immigration; giving taxpayers value for their dollar; pay our own bills so our kids don’t have to; reasonable regulation; a fair and simple tax code; and state control of marriage and respect for religion).
In other words just about everything Republicans have been saying and the way in which they have been saying it must change. They won’t suddenly be in favor of mushrooming debt or high taxes or more regulations. Instead, they achieve their aims of lower taxes, modest regulation and fiscal responsibility by showing how that makes people’s lives better and why the status quo needs to change. And they might even survive Obama’s second term.