American presidential elections are somewhat like the pendulum on a grandfather clock. For several decades, one party wins a large majority of elections while the other watches from the sidelines. Eventually, one or a few presidents of the dominant party ultimately destroys his party’s long-held philosophical foundations while the rival party rallies around a new leader with a new vision for the future. It happened to the Republican dynasty when it fell in 1932, it happened to the Democrats in 1968, and the final nail will close the coffin for the latest eround of Republicanism in a few weeks.
At this crossroads in American politics, neither presidential candidate has established a strong party ideology, and with John McCain preaching populist policies and Barack Obama promising spending cuts and lower taxes, the lines are becoming blurred.
In the coming years, it will become imperative for the Republican Party. Many are looking back to 1980 to reinvent the Reagan Revolution, and this strategy may please the party base but it will not win many elections. In 2012, the ideology needs to be conservative pragmatism – similar to the British Conservative Party’s center-right platform adopted by its new leader David Cameron.
Economically, this means low taxes and low spending. It is better to have high taxes and high spending than low taxes and high spending; and the Republicans should establish a policy that tax revenue would be at least equal to government spending. A new conservative vison should develop realistic and meaningful solutions to entitlement programs, and abandoning the leave-social-security-to-the-stock-market idea – if for no other reason than the simple fact that such an idea is politically unviable. It means confronting issues that plague America, such as a crumbling infrastructure and the income disparity between whites and blacks, while standing strong against excessive subsidies, protectionism, and wealth redistribution.
In foreign policy, it means speaking softly but carrying a big stick. Americans do not like war and will not support someone who goes to war recklessly; be tough, but actively promote diplomacy first. The Rummy-Condi-Cheney version will alienate more people than it will please. It means America leading the world, not America separating from the world. Restoring America’s soft power will help restore America’s capacity to once again be a city on a hill.
Domestically, it means making education a top priority. Stop demagoguing the immigration issue and advocate a policy of tall fences and wide gates. Encourage clean and renewable energy; embrace environmentalism but denounce apocalyptic hysteria. Refrain from absolving ordinary Americans of their errors and let them take responsibility for their own lives. Stop acting like the government can give the American Dream away and start acting like it must be earned. And finally, forget the tired notion that being intelligent and successful means you’re conniving and out of touch.
So, what kind of leader can help reform the Republican Party in time for 2012? Forget Palin and Huck. They’re both nice and have cute accents, but they’re too 2004. We can probably forget Romney – he would probably embrace a new version of conservatism, as he did before he tried being the NeoCon Christian hero, but he may have said too much already. Tim Pawlenty and Bobby Jindal are fresh enough to do it. But the best candidate may already be the party’s biggest hero. He has a PhD, a distinguished career, and a proven record of success. His name may rhyme with “betray us,” but he could be the one who redefines conservatism.
Jason is from Mechanicsville, Virginia and is a senior in Political Science. He is excited to have more time to study now that he does not have to follow an undefeated football team so closely.