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The Ornery Observer
June 20, 2008

The GOP Adrift
by Paul Gottfried

[Breaker: Time to navigate by principles instead of pragmatism]

From all accounts, the Republican Party is bracing itself for a drubbing in November. The party has already begun to lose congressional races in traditionally Republican districts. Despite the abrasive infighting among the Democratic presidential candidates, on the basis of current polls Obama could beat McCain in the fall election. Even more sobering for the GOP, the Republican base in places like Kentucky and Missouri seems rather indifferent to the Republican candidate. Much of this base is likely to stay home at election time or vote for a third-party contender.

This development may point to a larger problem of identity for the GOP. The transparent strategy of the current Republican leadership is the result of reaching leftward for Democratic constituencies while pursuing a neoconservative-guided aggressive internationalism. The two policies are not necessarily incompatible. Actions that lavish federal funds on public education and subsidize medical programs, praise the icons of the civil rights movement, and favor a decidedly liberal approach to immigration can coexist with wars of choice intended to fight terrorism and spread democracy.

These government emphases can be joined together if public funding is available for both and if a constituency can be found that will support them. Fortunately for those who favor the present GOP course, extensive neoconservative media, including the Fox News Channel and the Weekly Standard, remain on their side. These media outlets are generally in favor of moving tactically toward the center on certain issues while promoting democracy outside our borders, if necessary by forces of arms. The forthcoming nomination of McCain indicates that advocates of this direction can even get one of their own accepted as the GOP's candidate for president.

However, this course is not likely to make the Republicans the majority party. Judging by present electoral trends, the course will probably hasten the party's decline. A majority of the voters does not embrace the global democratic foreign policy espoused by Senator McCain and President Bush. Although John or Jane Q. Public may spout some questionable opinion picked up on the Fox New Channel or in a civics course about "democracies never fighting wars with each other," they do not wish to invest their lives and treasure in a fool's errand. By pushing the present foreign policy line and by making bellicose statements about the Russian and Iranian governments, McCain will lose votes not only to his Democratic rival but also to the Libertarian, antiwar candidate on his right.

As for the reaching-out stuff, here too the GOP is falling short. It cannot outbid its opposition as the dispenser of social programs or as the friend of the NAACP, La Raza, or the National Gay and Lesbian Alliance. And every special effort the GOP makes to ingratiate itself with the social Left will irritate its own base, which is overwhelmingly WASP, married, and traditionally Christian. Unfortunately, the Republicans' white Protestant base is also being weakened, as those of its members who have been exposed to cultural elites are moving leftward on social issues.

What can the GOP do to regain its political momentum? The only course open to it if it wishes to escape becoming an adjunct of the Democratic Party -- albeit one with a disastrous foreign policy -- is moving rightward on domestic issues while pursuing restraint internationally. The GOP should go back to being what it was in 1950 -- the party of small government, a vigilant but not meddlesome foreign policy, and equal protection for all citizens under our laws. It should eschew playing the race card but also indicate in no uncertain terms that it opposes affirmative action and set-asides for designated victim minorities.

And it should work to give the federal government a less prominent role in the expanding crusade against "discrimination." Such escapades as the outing and prosecution of alleged verbal harassers and insensitive opinion-givers in the workplace and in education are not activities in which those who value freedom wish to see the government indulge.

The government has moved into these areas like a bull in a China shop, at the cost of our right to privacy. If fewer public favors were being done for these objects of surveillance, the government in all probability would have less justification for controlling them behaviorally.

What is being suggested is not a course that will produce immediate dividends but rather one that may yield long-term advantages, particularly once the Democrats have overplayed their hand. (And given their constituencies of self-proclaimed victims, a Democratic administration will inevitably do so.) The GOP may have no choice but to act like the party I once admired as a boy if it hopes to survive.

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The Ornery Observer is copyright © 2008 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
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