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A new act for the elephants

Over breakfast recently, a Republican with deep credentials in Washington, D.C., lamented what confronts his party’s leaders.

As he ticked off issue after issue, he began to sound a lot like the health care professionals trying to contain the swine flu outbreak.

Government spending and regulation? Way too late to be the party to contain spending or hold the line on oversight. A Republican president, George W. Bush, started the bailout wagon and doubled the debt.

President Barack Obama has the intention – and the votes – to spend money to get out of the recession. And most Americans think lack of regulation brought on the collapse of the mortgage industry to begin with.

Cutting taxes? Obama is raising them on the rich, and most people feel that’s just fine.

Ending abortion? It hasn’t happened with a court with seven of nine justices appointed by Republican presidents. With as many as four Supreme Court appointments possible during his presidency, Obama could nail down Roe v. Wade for good.

Stem cells? With the stroke of a pen, Obama unleashed federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Once out of the test tube, how do you put them back in?

Values? How do you compete with this first family – two kids, a dog, a garden, and an active adult partnership – that the media have lapped up and idolized as the picture of a new American family? You certainly don’t do it with angry, if familiar, faces shouting on cable TV from a 1994 script.

So what’s a Next Generation Republican leader to do?

He or she might start by doing something that a lot of politicians aren’t good at – mea culpa – and focusing on two fundamental points.

One, most Americans believe in the two-party system and are inherently skeptical of concentrated power. They are not as dead-set sold on Obama’s policies as the Democrats think, especially on spending, and they want reasonable-sounding ideas from Republicans.

They want those ideas to be relevant to their daily lives. And they don’t want them delivered via how-to-live-your-life sermons.

Two, with opinion polls showing Republicans at historical nadirs in both trust and membership, a new generation of GOP leaders might best earn credibility by acknowledging how they got into their predicament.

Americans are passionate believers in second chances – how else do you explain George Foreman or Bill Clinton? And contrary to what GOP leaders might hear from the most rabid partisans around them, most Americans do not equate “I made a mistake” with “I am weak.”

You might drive home these points in a speech that begins this way:

“My fellow Americans, I belong to a political party whose first president freed the slaves, whose members stood against bigotry to help pass civil rights legislation, a party that believes in effective but limited government, a proud party that never wavered in the belief that a strong America was the warm beacon that would end the Cold War.

“Our party stands anew for hard work and initiative, for fair and common values, for a reasonable partnership between business and labor, for a foreign policy based on mutual respect, and for a government that never grows beyond the means of the people or unnecessarily burdens their tomorrows.

“Recently, however, our party lost its way. Some of our leaders ‘went Washington’ – with their selfish spending, their revolving doors and, in some cases, their corruption. To new Americans and some that had long been with us, we kept putting ‘Do not enter’ signs on the Big Tent – one that Ronald Reagan himself never claimed to be a purification tent.

“At the beginning of this new century, we returned to power with so much promise, and we believe even more passionately today in that promise. But in the ensuing years, although we kept the country safe from another 9/11, we did not always do what we said we would do. And no amount of blowing smoke at Democrats or polishing the rear-view mirror will change that.

“Indeed, this is not the time for smoke-and-mirrors politics. It is not the time to wish that this president fails, but to help him help America succeed. It is not the time for us to point fingers of blame at fellow Republicans. In fact, both parties should recognize that this is not a Republican time or a Democrat time. It is America’s time.

“We must think beyond survival. We are more than the next news cycle or quarterly report. The challenges we face are rare, but our party’s principles are not, and they have stood America in good stead since Abraham Lincoln. They can help us not only to survive, but to thrive. Fundamentally, they are shared by every American who wants nothing more than a safe, fair and prosperous America.

“Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.”

Chuck Raasch is political editor for Gannett News Service. E-mail: craasch@gns.gannett.com


Raasch’s blog

Get more behind-the-scenes reports, context and analysis about politicians and the political process in Raasch’s Furthermore blog. Look for it here.

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