Choosing Reed over Roosevelt
By Steven Martinovich
When it comes to the word revolution, the Republican Party comes more to my mind than 1776, considering that the party has gone through several this century alone. Historians of the GOP can point to Barry Goldwater in the 1960s, the Reagan revolution of the 1980s and Congressional Republicans in 1994 as obvious examples.
Two of them can claim at least claim some success. Goldwater moved many Republicans into the camp for smaller government while Ronald Reagan's deregulation and tax-cutting set the stage for the current prosperity Americans are enjoying. What can be said about the Congressional Republicans?
According to journalist Robert Novak's Completing the Revolution: A Vision for Victory in 2000, not very much. After riding unexpectedly to victory in 1994, Newt Gingrich and his party ultimately became "Clintonized Republicans," the fat cat, Washington-insiders they criticized the Democrats as. After signing the Contract with America, one of the few principled stands taken by a political party in decades, the Republicans failed to stand up for their principles and allowed Bill Clinton to steal their agenda, initiative and ultimately their heart for change.
It is a gloomy story as Novak tells it and it began with what he calls the Republican Surrender of 1998, the year that Gingrich and Trent Lott gave in and accepted Clinton's version of a spending bill three weeks before the November mid-term elections. It is Novak's contention that this seminal moment stripped the Republican Party of agenda and its principals thanks to a battering by the media and Clinton. That surrender, writes Novak, is what cost Republicans possible gains in 1998.
With many conservatives convinced that three consecutive terms of a Democrat president would spell utter ruin for America, the stakes are much higher in 2000. To his credit, Novak not only identifies the major problems with the Republican Party today, he also offers a ten point platform which -- even if it doesn't win the presidency or continued control of Congress in 2000 -- offers a principled strategy for Republicans.
Novak's platform is at once similar to and different from the well-meaning Contract with America. Like the failed revolution of 1994, Novak calls for Republicans to give more than lip service to the idea of term limits, but also endorses the unlikely idea of expanding the House to 2 000 members but keeping the current salary pool in order to make it a "somewhat less attractive job." Tax cuts also feature prominently, with Republicans urged by Novak to emphasize freedom of action when the inevitable class warfare strategy is dusted off by Democrats.
Novak also calls for controversial but laudable measures such as the elimination of the IRS and replacing it with a National Sales Tax, the end of Social Security in favour of real personal savings accounts, the embracing of global free markets, opposition to the IMF and bailouts, and a reduction in focus on foreign policy.
The other items in Novak's box promise to cause problems for the so-called "country club Republicans." He wants the party to support meaningful campaign finance reform by limiting money largely to the state or district a candidate is running in and Christian Conservatives should be welcomed in the party as a "force for good" so that they remain within Republican ranks, where they have been since moving their support to Reagan from Jimmy Carter in 1980.
Novak also wants the party to make a concerted effort to reach out to minorities and women -- while not compromising stands -- in order to capture 20 per cent of minority support, enough to win any election with sufficient votes from whites. Finally, he calls on the party to continue its opposition to abortion by making common cause with pro-choice Republicans who are willing to vote for some limits, such as banning late- or partial-term abortions.
These ten items, says Novak, can refresh the moral centre of the party and lead it to victory in 2000, or at least lose in a principled manner.
Novak wraps up his third and final section with a notable warning against anointing a potential nominee too early, arguably what has happened with George W. Bush. Using historical examples, Novak points to several cases where the Republican Party gave its blessing to a candidate early in the nomination process only to see them slip up when it counted, inevitably leading to a loss. Despite his strong showing in the Iowa caucuses, early gaffes by the party's current golden boy make that warning all too real.
Do the Republicans have the courage to once again become a party of principle and fight their battles using a more consistent philosophy? It's a question that Novak answers by drawing a comparison between Republican hero Theodore Roosevelt and the all-but-forgotten by history Tom Reed. Roosevelt is best known as a progressive Republican thanks to his expansion of government, tax hikes and imperialist policies while Reed was Speaker of the House of Representatives who resigned in 1890 rather than support policies which went against the Republican Party's Jeffersonian heritage.
Will the Republicans choose a Roosevelt over a Reed? We'll see in November. If Novak has his way, it will be Reed who will carry the day, but only if Congressional Republicans remember the lessons of the past few years. And his game plan.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer and the editor of the online conservative magazine, Enter Stage Right.
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