As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Davis Unbound

This is a pretty smart assessment by former Republican Rep. Tom Davis of the troubles of the modern GOP. Sure there are some fallacies ("We're victims of our own success!"), but in general it's pretty honest.

With the heavy lifting out of the way, we indulged in more trivial pursuits – and this led to trouble. We talked to ourselves and not to voters. We became more concerned with stem cell policy than economic policy, and with prayer in schools rather than balance in our public budgets and priorities. Not so long ago, it was easy to paint the Democrats as the party of extremists. Now, they say we’re extremists, and voters agree.

As a result, we’ve seen our support erode. Urban centers remain under Democratic control. Exurbs and rural areas remain under Republican dominance. But in the battleground that lies between – the suburbs -- we were winning them; now we’re not. Our candidates are safe in a swath that extends from North Texas across to North Alabama and up through Appalachia. Elsewhere, we are on the run. Almost every voter who can be convinced – who sometimes votes Democratic, sometimes Republican – now votes Democratic.

We’ve long-since given up on the African-American vote. We’re forfeiting the Hispanic vote with unwarranted and unsavory vitriol against immigrants. Youth vote? Gone. We ask for nothing from these idealistic voters, we offer little except chastisement of their lifestyle choices and denial of global warming, and we are woefully behind the Democrats in learning how to connect with them.

Soccer moms? They’re not comfortable with much of our social policy agenda, so many are gone as well. NASCAR dads? They’re our last redoubt, and the trends even there are not encouraging as unemployment rises and 401 (k)s are decimated. They want clean, competent government that meets basic challenges.

This is generally right, although Davis isn't willing to admit that the GOP lock on rural voters is starting to unloosen as well. What we saw in 2008 is a fall in support for Republicans from virtually all demographics except seniors. But if Davis can be forgiven for that oversight, I think the solutions he comes up with are a mixed bag.

First, we eliminate checklists and litmus tests and focus on broad principles, not heavy-handed prescriptions. Free trade. Strong defense – at home and abroad. Government as small as is practicable in these times. Economic, education and energy policies that promote growth, energy independence and a competitive agenda that will allow businesses to grow and compete, not be protected by artificial barriers [...]

Remind ourselves the first principle of conservatism is not tax cuts or free trade or even smaller government. It is prudence, and prudence should be our guide.

Prudence dictates we take seriously the concerns of those who elect us and tailor our policy proposals to counter the government-mandate-heavy ideas bound to emerge from the other side.

This is essentially a call for fiscal conservatism (right when such a strategy would doom us to depression, and is also deeply unpopular) with a nod toward "strong national defense." Now, I think the electorate has basically spoken and called those policies unnecessarily cruel toward the weakest among us. And while he's right that conservatives ought to "stop talking about how much we hate government if we expect people to elect us to run it," his prescription that they have to "reduce it to its ideal size is basically the same exact philosophy with different language. But what's interesting is that Davis essentially counsels the GOP to tell social cons to go pound sand. As Markos says, that's just not going to work.

That is the current GOP agenda minus one big, glaring omission: nothing about "Strong family values". In fact, he ignores the issue altogether, pretending that the modern GOP isn't beholden to its Sarah Palin wing. I have no doubt Palin cost McCain support among independents and Democrats, but she certainly energized McCain's campaign by bringing aboard its most motivated foot soldiers. Who does Tom Davis think will knock on doors for GOP candidates if you strip out its evangelical base? Wall Street Rockafeller Republicans? Stockbrokers? Bankers?

They made a corrupt bargain back in the 1970s to use the religious right as a grassroots army. They can jettison it now, but then they lose the only piece of the electorate that they're holding, and their entire volunteer base.

People have basically seen the outcome of conservative policies and they didn't like it. They may see the outcome of Obama's policies, call them "liberal," and decide they don't like them either. But the GOP's influence on this debate is largely irrelevant. They can use the Twitter and the Facebook and reinvent themselves all they want, but their path back to power is out of their hands. It depends on whether or not the Democrats waste this moment.

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