If the Republican Party is to win national power again, it will have to define itself but also limit its purification, particularly along religious lines.
What of the Republicans? With George W. Bush an empty vessel and John McCain sunk, the national Republican Party has to think on its rejection. Should it change itself?
I invited four folks to a conversation about that: Reed Davis, former candidate for U.S. Senate and professor of political science at Seattle Pacific University; Mathew Manweller, chairman of the state party platform committee and professor of political science at Central Washington University; Mary Lane, political consultant and stay-at-home mom; and Philip Gold, military analyst and author. The first three have been Republican activists. Gold broke with the party over the Iraq war.
Iraq was our first topic. It has burned the Republicans. They are the nationalist party, having learned intransigence from 50 years of fighting the Reds. Maybe Republicans need to start thinking of war as just another government program.
This group was skeptical of war to spread democracy. “We’ve got to revive the politics of the national interest,” said Davis. Lane reminded the group of President Bush’s 2005 State of the Union speech, which sounded like Woodrow Wilson, and how Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan had mocked it.
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Manweller said he was “not ready to give up on the war yet” — I noted the “yet” — and reminded us that Bush had sold the Iraq invasion as necessary to the national security. Spreading democracy came later.
These Republicans did not mock foreign aid, but saw it a gentler alternative to harsh policies. Lane praised Bush’s African initiative on AIDS. Gold wanted to fight terrorism with programs to empower Muslim women. Manweller wanted to bypass the Republican dilemma on immigration — the nationalists versus the farmers — with a “Marshall Plan for Mexico.”
We turned to domestic topics, one of them health insurance. There came another unexpected idea. Manweller proposed that the federal government pay everyone’s medical expenses above $5,000 a year, with individuals responsible below that. This is far more welcoming of federal involvement than anything in the state party platform.
Davis said he liked Manweller’s idea.
Lane said she liked the idea of mandatory health insurance.
Gold touted Social Security Advantage, a federal program that allows choice among several insurance plans. I was fairly flabbergasted by all this acceptance of governmentalism.
Notable also, particularly from the two professors, was the unease at the Republicans being the anti-intellectual party. Being religious is all right, Davis said, as long as the faithful speak “the language of reason” when in public. But he said, “Somehow we have ceased being a party of ideas.” Manweller said flatly that Sarah Palin had been a disaster: “She cannot be the face of the Republican Party.”
She won’t. She hurt the ticket.
What, then? What ideas will define Republicans on the national level? National security, the market economy, and the right of economic choice; the responsibilities of the traditional family and, Manweller said, support of “things that are fundamentally private.”
If that sounds vague, it is of necessity. If the Republican Party is to win national power again, it will have to define itself but also limit its purification, particularly along religious lines. And that is a problem: Republicans tend to religious belief, which can quickly lead to ground of no compromise.
Yet a big party has to keep doubters in the tent. One way is to say loudly that you want abortion illegal and run candidates who say they would love to do it in some other world.
Republicans now have time to think. They will have to, if only in reaction to what Obama and the Democratic Congress do. There will be overreach, and opportunity will call again.