Give President-elect Obama credit for one thing. His central campaign theme was correct. Time and again, he pounded home the message that the policies of the last eight years have failed.
Most of them did.
The irony is that they were NOT Republican policies. They were spendthrift, traditionally Democratic policies trumpeted by a very wayward Republican Party.
The unfortunate part is that much of the GOP bloodbath was absolutely preventable. But as Voltaire always said, "Common sense is not so common."
Common sense tells you that you can’t win something with nothing, but that’s been the Republican Party’s unchanged strategy for years.
Only when you look back at your mistakes, and commit to learning from them, can progress be realized. The sheer simplicity of this rule makes it seem obvious, yet it remains a foreign concept to the GOP.
The Republicans controlled the White House and enjoyed substantial majorities in both houses of Congress for six straight years. By calling all the shots, the Party’s fate would live or die on what it – not its opponents – did. The results are apparent:
1) The national debt doubled since 2000, topping $10 trillion. It is now so large that the National Debt Clock in Times Square ran out of numbers earlier this year. Deficits are also at record levels.
2) Claims by many Republicans that Congressman Barney Frank and the "liberal Democrats" are responsible for the economic crisis, especially in regards to the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debacle, need a refresher in Civics 101. Only the Congress can appropriate money. Not the President, and not the minority party; just the party in power. Despite Frank’s desire to spend, spend, spend, the Republicans did his bidding, placing its imprimatur on every bloated budget and pork-filled spending bill. And blaming Bill Clinton didn’t sell, either, because the GOP controlled both chambers for six of his eight years in office.
3) The Republicans had no messenger. No one can be upset at John McCain for being the Party nominee, but clearly, he was the default candidate in a very weak field. This highlights one of the GOP’s most glaring weaknesses: no bullpen. There are very few younger Republicans being groomed to take the mantle of the Party. Instead, the "It’s your turn" mentality still runs rampant throughout the Party hierarchy. Instead of choosing the best candidates, the GOP seems to coronate the old guard simply because they have "been around" for a long time. Bob Dole and John McCain are two prime examples. It is nearly impossible to have a message of "reform" and "reinvigorating ideas" resonate when the party leader is a 30-year Beltway insider who never held a private sector job in his career. While Obama’s resume is paper-thin, he had the advantage of playing the outsider against an unpopular incumbent party.
4) Despite all the aforementioned issues, the presidential race could have, and should have, been significantly closer. Many voters still felt uneasy about the President-elect, but pulled the lever for him anyway because they viewed the McCain campaign as "more of the same." Incomprehensibly, the true Republican message was never articulated.
There was never any love lost between John McCain and George Bush, so why the Republican nominee didn’t differentiate himself from the unpopular president remains a mystery. While campaigning on optimism and hope for the future is important, McCain should have hammered home how he was different from the President. In doing so, he would have energized an irritated base and gained immense credibility with the Independent swing voters who no longer knew what the Republican Party stood for. And since McCain was always known as a fiscal-hawk "maverick," he would have been convincing.
He could have said that it wouldn’t take him seven years to veto his first bill, seven years to call for domestic drilling, seven years to build a border wall, and seven years —and counting— to make the tax cuts permanent. He could have also highlighted his 2004 statement of "no confidence" in Donald Rumsfeld, and that he repeatedly called on the Bush Administration to listen more closely to America’s military leaders regarding Iraq War planning.
Instead, the campaign changed themes on a regular basis and only at the end drew distinctions from a Republican Party that had gone adrift.
Because the Party lost its identity, and forgot what it was and where it came from, it can now only play defense in an attempt to block Obama Administration policies. That only gets the Party so far. If the GOP ever wants to again be proactive in shaping the hearts and minds of America, it needs to eradicate party hacks and return to its core principles. Only when the Republican Party rediscovers its roots in the mold of Ronald Reagan will it be able to lead America once more.
Chris Freind can be reached at [email protected]