The nation’s largest, most influential gathering of conservatives — the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) — was recently held in Washington. Based on the sheer number of attendees (over 11,000, up from just over 100 when CPAC started in 1973) and the level of palpable energy exuding from the ranks, the conference was a huge success.
Speakers ranged from media pundits to elected officials, including most of the Republicans mentioned as Presidential candidates.
The attendees had every right to feel proud: their side had just re-taken control of the U.S. House, made significant gains in the Senate, and added numerous governorships and state legislatures to the "R" column.
Several themes were common throughout the conference: repeal Obamacare, reign in spending, and reduce the size and scope of government. But sometimes, the most noteworthy thing is not what is said, but what isn’t.
Not heard nearly as often was what the Party was for.
If that perception becomes commonplace among the electorate, and the GOP becomes the "Party of No," their recent gains will shrink, jeopardizing the nation’s recovery in the process.
They can certainly be against the liberal agenda, but that will only get them so far. Ultimately, they have to articulate their vision for America by advocating real solutions to float the sinking economy.
By far, the two areas where effective communication is needed most, but is noticeably absent, are health care and energy.
It’s no secret that the majority of Americans oppose the health care plan passed by Obama and the Democratic Congress last year. But an even greater number agree on something else — the system before Obamacare didn’t come close to cutting it. The message is simple: reform is absolutely essential, but national health care isn’t the answer. Pushing to repeal Obamacare, but not articulating a solution to replace it, is a recipe for disaster.
And like everything else, it’s not what you say, but how you say it.
For example, if Republicans argue for "tort" reform, it will result in a mad dash to find out what’s wrong with our nation’s desserts. Instead, a spokesman needs to explain, in everyday language, that health care costs are skyrocketing because doctors routinely order five or six tests when one or two would suffice. That practice of "defensive medicine" stems from the fear of frivolous lawsuits initiated by trial lawyers, who, not coincidentally, are one of the Democratic Party’s largest donors. Illustrating such unchecked greed would make winning the legal reform battle infinitely easier, but it’s rarely done.
Likewise, the GOP needs to question why one can buy auto insurance from any company in any state, but it remains illegal to purchase health insurance across state lines. Communicating why that system must be dismantled — one which allows the big boys to push out their smaller competitors, thus dominating the market and holding citizens and businesses hostage — is a winning issue.
Advocating these common sense solutions in a populist manner takes the stigma out of discussing the complexities of health care. If positioned properly, a few of these reforms would solve the bulk of the nation’s health care problems.
Yet that did not occur when George W. Bush occupied the White House with substantial Republican majorities in Congress. And despite the GOP’s recent electoral gains, the lesson has not yet been learned.
Cutting Cannot Be The Sole Answer
There are two aspects of cutting which play a vital role in any economic recovery, but by themselves will never be the answer.
Cutting corporate income taxes and excessive regulations are crucial first steps. The United States has the second-highest corporate tax in the world — 40 percent. After states tack on their taxes, it becomes clear why companies close their doors, often shipping their operations overseas.
Articulating the results of that policy— padlocked gates, lost jobs, rising unemployment and welfare rolls, and declining revenue — cuts down the class warfare tactics of the Left who think taxing companies and their "rich" executives will solve the nation’s problems. Instead, the average worker, union and non-union alike, would begin to understand why lowering taxes benefits everyone. Closed factories equal lost jobs. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
But hearing that explained is rare, because it’s much easier to blame the Chinese for our economic situation.
Perhaps the point Republicans miss most is that cutting budgets and bureaucracy, while important, will not provide the spark necessary for growth. Just as you cannot tax your way out of a recession, you can’t slash your way into prosperity.
What is needed is a policy that makes growth the centerpiece of any Administration, and nowhere is that goal more obtainable than by instituting energy independence.
Not only will this create millions of sustainable jobs, but it will also significantly decrease the transportation costs of importing goods from across the world. And common sense tells us reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, especially from the increasingly volatile Middle East, will yield positive results. America has more than enough resources to achieve energy independence, including some of the largest natural gas deposits in the world, but virtually nothing has been done to take advantage of this.
Republicans efforts in this area have only been rhetoric, despite the numerous opportunities afforded them:
There was no action taken after the September 11 attacks, when the President Bush would have faced virtually no opposition in responsibly opening up the oil-rich Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Nor after gasoline spiked to $4.25/gallon and oil to $150/barrel in 2008. And none after President Obama pushed for offshore drilling and nuclear power in his 2010 State of the Union address — traditionally Republican concepts adamantly opposed by his biggest constituencies.
Having the best ideas are meaningless if you don’t sell them. The Republicans have time to heed that message, both in advancing their agenda and choosing a nominee to oppose Obama. But if they don’t, there will be two losers: the Party and the nation.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative
reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com
Readers of his column, "Freindly Fire," hail from six continents, thirty countries
and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including
The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick
Morris’ recent bestseller "Catastrophe."
Freind, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in
Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national
television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]