In Monday’s review of The Moral Center, I mentioned that David Callahan had offered his moderate platform for changing America to either Democrats of a third party. It wasn’t until after I hit “Publish” that I considered the possibility that the platform could be good for the ailing Republicans.
But after some consideration, I decided it wasn’t an important enough possibility to merit a change. After all, Republicans—both the George W. type, and the small government type—are often resistant to change.
More importantly, over the last 20 years, their bread-and-butter has become a pretty stable platform. Lower taxes, fewer regulations, smaller social welfare programs (while giving billions to “national defense”), and, perhaps, placing more emphasis on Christianity.
Compared to this, the Democratic platform looks absurdly vague. Democrats are for lower taxes unless they come at the expense of social welfare programs. They oppose unlimited military spending, but only if they can still look strong on national defense. They’re not against Christianity, but they’d like to keep it out of government.
This seemingly nebulous platform has been a rather large problem for Democrats over the last few decades. It allowed Reagan and George W. to beat them by calling them weak, intellectual, and un-American.
But over the last few years, with George W. Bush proving that strong base principles are no guarantee of competent governance, the Democrat’s platform has come to appear as a strength. People are now betting that Democrats—whatever it is they stand for—will probably be more competent than W.’s party.
Seeing weaker and weaker performance in the polls, the most obvious thing for the Republicans to do would be to announce that they’ve had a change of heart. That maybe they really don’t need privatized Social Security, that maybe they’ll look into greater government involvement in assuring that all people can get health care. That, perhaps, suspending justice in the name of “security” is not really a wise move.
But the more I think about this, the less likely it seems. They have ideological and tactical reasons to avoid this tack.
Primarily, as I’ve said, the Republican’s problem is not really that they’re losing any issues in the hearts of most Americans—after all, to many Americans, terrorists don’t really deserve American justice, and Social Security and health care aren’t killing us, thank you very much.
Bush’s problem—and so his party’s—is that people don’t really trust his judgment any longer. Citizens are aware of all the errors that have occurred in Iraq and it’s made Bush and his party look rather incompetent.
For this reason, it would be wise—at least once they finish appealing to the base for the primary—that Republican candidates break more strongly with Bush. Their endless offers to “double Guantanamo” aren’t really appealing to people increasingly aware of the problem Guantanamo poses to America’s credibility abroad.
But breaking with Bush’s flair for incompetent governance won’t require a new platform. Especially because, now rid of Karl Rove’s hope to create a permanent conservative majority, the Republicans can do all they want to remain tied to their current platform—perhaps they may even narrow its appeal.
As some have argued, they’re already trying to do this. Their “no surrender” defeat of the immigration compromise illustrates that point. And the fact that Univision canceled their Spanish-language Republican debate because only John McCain would participate doesn’t help their image as anti-minority. Nor does the fact the the only Republican to speak specifically to a group of black voters is Tom Tancredo—a relative unknown most notable for his position against any immigration compromise (who thus appears anti-Latino).
Perhaps the more important question here is not “will the party’s platform change?”, but “should it?” That question, however, is one that will take years to answer.
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