Survival Strategy

The Republican Party could rebound if it can attract the aspiring masses who don't like limits.

Barack Obama’s victory will not kill the Republican Party, unless Republicans help. Opinion polls and two elections show that Republicans became a minority three years ago. In pre-released 2010 census data, Inlander commentator Robert Herold sees further GOP decline: “I have some bad news for… marginalized [conservative] voters,” Herold wrote recently, “Barack Obama is as good as you will get. The America that Sarah Palin referred to as ‘the real America’ continues to decline in political and economic importance.”

Incredibly, some Republicans think preparing for a rough future means defending Bush-era policies. Read the anti-terrorism section of Newt Gingrich’s new book Winning the Future. Democrats harvested five presidential victories from the failures of Herbert Hoover; Republicans did the same from those of Lyndon Johnson and 1972 Presidential candidate George McGovern. Even George W. Bush and John McCain now acknowledge anti-Bush sentiment was a major Republican negative in 2008.

A more promising light-at-the-end-of-the-(Republican)-tunnel may be conducted by Barack Obama and those around him.

Loud Obama condemnation of Bush-era military and security policies is often accompanied by adoption of kinder, gentler versions. Consider Afghanistan. “Let slip the dogs of war” was Shakespeare’s phrase for military adventurism — unpredictable, like a pack of dogs released at the peak of excitement. One hopes Obama took broad counsel before ramping up the Afghan/Pakistan war.

When failure comes to those in power, duty joins opportunity for the loyal opposition. I suspect failure will come with greatest force in foreign policy, meaning war. Another source of trouble for Democrats may be attempts at radical redistribution of income or favoritism toward politically popular groups. Obama understands the wisdom of Lincoln’s quip that “each favor I grant makes me one friend and 10 enemies.” His followers are another matter. During the campaign, Obama deftly sidestepped the radical left’s equalitarian demands with Franklin Roosevelt’s also famous line: “Go make me do it.”

The hard left is doing exactly that, their every success giving Republicans fresh ammunition.

A majority cannot be above average in anything, including wealth and income. However, a majority can aspire to above-average accomplishment in anything. In the low expectations 1930s, most Americans believed the “rich,” against whom Franklin Roosevelt thundered would never include themselves or their children. Upon such perceptions, Roosevelt built the coalition that sustained the Democratic Party for decades. In my Depression-reared, Midwest-farmer-turned-unionized-factory-worker family, Roosevelt’s artful use of negative expectations made voting a straight Democratic ticket a matter of class loyalty.

Then came a cohort of young Americans who saw better possibilities. Many of us entered adulthood during the 1960s with expectations beyond family circumstances and class loyalties. No matter. We set our own goals and pursued them, but the American left turned on us. My anxieties arose more from insult and threat than actual loss. Others like me were less fortunate.

I took pride in paying a price for my education, chopping brush in summers, round-the-clock study, palm-sweating examinations. Then, the rising “new left” provided another reality. The degrees I had earned or saw near my grasp were gifts, freely granted those of my race and class. Other experiences suggested a similar conclusion. The new Democratic Party’s concept of “fairness” no longer meant what it did to Franklin Roosevelt and my father, a common set of rules upon which all willing could build satisfying lives. It would be years before Americans learned what post-1960s left-wing “fairness” really meant.

On the road away from Woodstock and Chicago ’68, we children of the Roosevelt Democrats became Goldwater-Nixon-Reagan Republicans. Our transition was guided by ready leaders. The only thing the 1964 “Goldwater Republicans” lost was the election. Honed for future campaigns was organizational machinery and a philosophy of individual freedom, personal responsibility and limited government — exciting concepts for a hopeful young man.

Those who aspire fear limits more than they crave guarantees, making them recruits for individualistic politics and against equalitarianism. Aspiration is an attitude rather than a physical or economic condition. Its frequency within the population cannot be statistically projected. Democrats can (and early signs suggest they may) drive aspirers toward other political homes. The Republican Party is one possibility, though not the only one.

War and events yet unknown provide additional reasons a delivering horde of frustrated voters may move toward the Republican Party. Making ready for them requires many tasks, some non-controversial: improving traditional organization, embracing the digital age, healing factional wounds, reaching out to youth. Other tasks will be discomforting and divisive.

Few organizations are good at accepting newcomers, particularly granting them access to power. To put it mildly, the Republican Party needs improvement in this area. Also needed is fresh thinking about dispelling negative images. The Website I have listed below addresses these issues. Along with wonky-stuff are (hopefully entertaining) video clips and movie references showing how negative images of Republicanism and conservatism have entered popular American culture.

Robert Herold and other liberal scalp-dancers are wrong to predict the demise of the Republican Party and conservative movement. However, they correctly point out what lies at the end of the path of least resistance. This conservative Republican thanks them for that warning.

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About The Author

Robert Stokes

Robert Stokes provided commentary for The Inlander from 2001 to 2009. He served in the Army in Germany, taught economics at the University of Washington, loved to fish and had two daughters and four grandkids over in Seattle. But he never quite left Spokane Valley; he returned in the mid-1990s to take care...