Saturday, November 22, 2014

If I Were a Republican...

After the recent midterm election, Republicans had a good deal to celebrate. They increased their hold on the House and took over the Senate. With control of the legislature, they were in an even better position to assert leadership and authority. And we need a good dose of leadership and authority in Congress after suffering through its least productive stint in American history. Additionally, with an approval rating of 7% (less than one-fifth the approval rating of an embattled President), the credibility and esteem of Congress has probably reached an all-time low.

Politically, I'm an independent. However, if I were a Republican, I would look at the midterm results as a huge opportunity! First, since it will take practically no effort to improve over the prior Congress, Republicans are positioned to be perceived as making government work again. Second, having control of the legislature is a chance for the Party to bring forth legislation that will show people the good things it stands for. Third, as Rand Paul succinctly put it "the Republican Party brand sucks". By setting the right legislative priorities, the Party can visibly belie the stereotype of Republicans as white guys who represent big oil over the interests of normal people. Seizing these opportunities would allow the Republican Party to counteract the mountains of negative publicity it has generated over the last decade.

Now, it's only fair to point out that much of that negative publicity has come from one wing of the party: the embarrassing freak show of the proud-to-be-uninformed Tea Party (think Ted Cruz, Christine O'Donnell, Sarah Palin, Marco Rubio, and Michelle Bachmann). While claiming to defy big government and stand-up for fiscal responsibility, years in office have resulted in these demagogues doing little (perhaps even nothing) to contain the former. As for the latter, they have done tremendous damage by leading the US towards a default that resulted in the humiliation of America having its credit rating knocked down (as if we were Argentina or Greece!). While this asylum of crazies has hurt the Party, intelligent Republicans as far back as the Bush administration nurtured them to secure reliable votes while failing to distance themselves from their rantings. So they've pretty much brought this bad rap on themselves.

Things will change in the next two years. With Republican control of the legislature, the Tea Party's bankruptcy will become glaringly apparent to anyone still blind enough not to see it. This is because, despite all their loud rhetoric, the Tea Party has never stood for anything. They are a mass of malcontents who are against stuff. They're great at filibustering, blocking legislation, and throwing rocks at anything anyone proposes, but the movement and its leaders have proven useless in solving any of the problems they continually squawk about. I'm not even sure they have authored and passed a single piece of major legislation (good or bad). Aside from being re-elected and trashing other Republicans, their only activity seems to be repeatedly sending up doomed bills for repealing Obamacare. What this non-existent track record proves is that the Tea Party is great at using scare monger tactics to stir up their base, but that they are incompetent at leading that base into any constructive political or social change.

They've gotten away with this over the years through a smoke screen of blaming Big Government, special interests, and/or - that root of all evil (in their eyes) - President Obama. That isn't going to work in a Republican controlled congress. Keeping up this approach will, for voters, be like ordering a steak at a restaurant, having the chef come out and tell you he doesn't know how to cook, and then being charged anyway. Americans believe Congress is broke, and they want it fixed. If the Republican Party fails to muzzles its Tea Party wack-jobs long enough to accomplish something, it will be impossible to blame anyone but the Republican Party.

"But what about Obama?" is what any Tea Party lemming who might reading this right now is demanding. (As always, they evade issues by pointing fingers at someone/thing). If I were a Republican my answer to this would be that the Party isn't going to capitalize on the midterm success over the next two years if the platform is simply Obama-is-bad. What they need to focus on - now that Congress is in their control - is ensuring that Americans move that 7% approval rating up. If they don't, the Party will lose the power they have just won and will have no chance at all of taking the presidency in 2016. Luckily for them, with such a low bar for Congress to surpass, the midterm election results really are a golden opportunity for the Party to look really good while expending little effort. More importantly, it's a chance to reaffirm to voters what the party is for. 

If I were a Republican strategist, this would have been my plan for Congress during the first six to nine months:

  • A moratorium on public Obama-bashing. Of course, that won't be obeyed. So party leadership should publicly discourage it by publicly calling it: "the kind of partisan politics the American people are tired of hearing from their leaders". Take the high road for a change; it'll be refreshing for the American people.
  • Don't start with 'stereotypically Republican' legislation that rubs big groups of people the wrong way (e.g., anything related to oil, tax-cuts for the wealthy, etc). Instead...
  • The first bills should be chosen to show people Republicans care about issues beyond the ones  that are dear to white CEOs. These bills should be passed with support from Obama, while the Party proclaims its authorship and bipartisan efforts to get government working again. For example: progress on Pacific trade agreements would create jobs, grow our economy, and reinforce American leadership abroad...all issues with broad appeal (and traditional Republican bailiwicks). Or how about getting that stalled Senate Immigration Bill passed? Bottom line: the Party must prove it can wield political power to do something constructive and that matters to large groups of Americans.
  • Nab some warm-fuzzy bonus points with soundbites of Party leadership humorously bitch-slapping Tea Party ass clowns like Ted Cruz. Most Americans view these people as symbols of the problem, so whittle away at them while the opportunity is there

The net effect of these efforts would be:

  • Demonstrate to voters that a Republican congress can make things happen, which is what Americans want after years of filibusters and do-nothing whiners
  • Remind people that Republicans do in fact stand for something - and critically important things at that
  • Show that the Republican Party and its values are not just for white old farts and tycoons who pump oil so they can buy yachts (and elections)
  • Improve the Party's image among people it needs to reach: women, Millennials, and minorities
  • Erode the poisonous influence of the Tea Party with a long-term goal of marginalizing this political dead end

Unfortunately, if I were a Republican, it's clear the golden opportunity of the midterms is being squandered at light speed. The Party has already announced its initial legislative goals: passage of the Keystone Pipeline and repealing Obamacare. I can think of no way the Party could have better confirmed stereotypes held by opponents and the disillusioned center than the selection of these two issues for the front-burner. First, regardless of the value of the Keystone pipeline, its passage will have next to no impact on most Americans as long as gas prices are falling through the floor. A pipeline is also a bad first priority for a party that's repeatedly painted as being in the pocket of big oil. Second, focusing on the repeal of Obamacare is simply foolish since Republicans know they can't override Obama's veto. Since the effort is futile for the foreseeable future, pushing it won't look like convincing leadership to anyone beyond the hardcore Republican base. Even worse, kicking off the Republican Congress with a repeal of health care benefits in any form reinforces a belief among the poor that Republicans don't care about them. Both of these issues represent disastrous choices made worse by there being nothing else on the table.

Obama's challenge to Republicans: "Pass a bill!"
If that doesn't totally squander the opportunity, then the Party's response to Obama's executive order on immigration this past week will. Whether one agrees with Obama's right to issue the executive order or even likes what the order attempts to do is beside the point. As a Republican out to better the party's brand, the smartest course of action would have been to take Obama's "pass a bill" challenge head-on. By passing immigration legislation, the Republicans would visibly prove that their congress will not be 'politics as usual'. It would have been a resounding slap across Obama's face. Instead, Republicans cravenly took the low road:

  • Party members - apparently with Boehner and McConnell's blessing - have threatened to sue President Obama. To anyone outside the hardcore Republican base, going after Obama legally and turning the American government into an episode of the Jerry Springer show is politics at its worst. By taking the low road, Republicans appear to confess that they can't face Obama's "pass a bill" challenge. Bad message to send at this stage. 
  • Representative Randy Forbes (R-Va) claimed the "well is poisoned" for any further action on immigration. Again this just reinforces the belief that Congress (and remember that's now that's 'the Republican Congress' now) is more interested in obstructing Obama than leading America. 
  • Ted Cruz proposes taking no action on the backlog of political appointees from President Obama. 'Tit for tat' might seem like smart strategy to a fraud like Cruz but, since it impairs the functioning of the government we the people pay taxes to operate, it just comes off as petty and counterproductive. Of course, that suits a do-nothing like Cruz just fine. It saves him from having to offer ideas or achieving anything constructive.
  • Senator Tom Coburn (OK) went on record predicting "instances of anarchy - you could see violence" as a result of the executive order. Aside from the kook-value of this humdinger, it's just slimy for a sitting member of the Senate to even indirectly suggest civil unrest as a response to a political pissing match. And it's positively idiotic as strategy when you think that - given the issue - the violence would have to be largely white people rising up against something that benefits Hispanics. Race war, anyone? Nice 'thinking', Senator.
As an independent, the Republican win in the mid-terms was neither a depressing nor a joyous occasion. It was only a transition of power. Of course, given the stagnation of the past few years, I had hoped the change might lead somewhere positive. We certainly could use a functional government given the grave challenges we face as a nation: Ebola, IS, Russian military adventurism, and the increasingly competitive economy of the world.

If I were a Republican, I'd be extremely disappointed by what the Party has done so far. As an American, I'm furious but resigned to another two years of do-nothing government.

No comments: