Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul said the Republican Party has to embrace a message of optimism and “look like the rest of America” to win again.
“If we want to win again, if we want to be a bigger party, not only do we have to be a party that looks like the rest of America – black, white, brown, with tattoos, without tattoos, earrings, without earrings – we have to look like the rest of America but we also have to have a party that has the message of optimism,” Paul is quoted as recently saying.
Actually, it’s not a matter of window dressing. It’s a matter of principles.
Any political party, to be viable and meaningful, must operate on a set of coherent principles. Even integrity is beside the point, if you don’t have principles to either betray, or remain loyal to, in the first place.
Optimism is good, but it comes from a reality orientation. When you’re in contact with reality, you tend to flourish and achieve. Achievement (whether on an individual or social scale) creates a sense of optimism. “What I’m doing is working, because it makes sense and is grounded in reality. I’m therefore confident I can do more.”
The Republican Party is not a party, not by any of these definitions. That’s why they lose, and even when they win elections it doesn’t matter — because the other party always gets what it wants, in the end. This isn’t because the other party is right, in contact with reality, or in any way principled. It just wins by default, because it’s better at the power grab. The Democratic Party has the “confidence” of a criminal. A criminal isn’t rational, logical or adhering to reality. It’s only confident because the night guard is sleeping and offers no kind of challenge whatsoever. That pseudo-confidence would evaporate in two seconds with a rationally based alternative.
If you believe polls, the same majority who reelected Obama believes we’re totally on the wrong track. What alternative is there? Rand Paul knows it, at least to some degree: Laissez-faire capitalism. We cannot get there overnight. But the solutions sound like things that Republicans claim to believe, though rarely put into practice (even when in control of the government, as they have been, at times): Spending cuts, tax cuts, regulation cuts, partial or full privatization of morally and fiscally bankrupt “social insurance” … these things never seem to happen, no matter who’s in charge. Since Obama came to power, we no longer even talk about them. It’s like the elephant in the living room. “Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt? How dare you say that! Shut up! You’re mean!” That’s the level and kind of principle embodied by our present government.
The Republican Party is dying from an internal contradiction. On the one hand, it claims to want freedom and individual rights. On the other hand, it embraces fundamentalist religion as the basis for civilization. But think about it. Religion teaches subservience to a Higher Power, and (at best) a disdain for material things. It also teaches humility, and defines any strong sense of confidence as arrogance. How is self-confident free enterprise, technological development and a firm stance against violent enemies supposed to square with the humility of Christian teachings?
This results in a psychology of desperately wishing to be liked, of constantly trying to appease your opposition and hesitating to take any decisive action if it might make somebody mad. The (elected) criminals in charge are happy to exploit this guilt. This is why, even if you end up with a Republican president next time, it won’t make any difference, not as things stand. That Republican president will spend four years trying to convince the media, academia, the Democratic Party and the various religious leaders (including the new socialist Pope) that he really doesn’t mean it — that he’s really not that mean, and please don’t dislike him for cutting taxes, cutting spending, or facing the hard facts of the bankrupt entitlement state.
Because of its emphasis on fundamentalist religion, the Republican Party defaults to issues important to religious conservatives–homosexuality and abortion. These seem the only areas where they’re willing to take any kind of stand. Yet refusing to permit individual rights in these areas creates a glaring contradiction: You want less government? But you want government telling a woman she must carry a fetus to term? Or two men — or two women — that they cannot have the legally binding contract of their own choosing?
The final absurdity is a Republican Party which — even when in power — essentially gives up on limiting government power and instead launches “culture wars” against behaviors that should be none of the government’s concern.
Rand Paul is right in his conclusion, but it’s important to know the reasons why. Optimism comes from being in touch with reality. Capitalism is the only moral or practical social system ever devised. We have to get government completely out of the economy in order to experience more economic growth and see a more individualist, self-responsible society of innovators and self-starters. It can’t be just talk. Those elected on this platform have to mean it, and they have to show they mean it by acting on it every chance they get. Even when in the minority (as capitalism surely is at present), they have to advance an aggressive policy of cutting government, not just reacting against the constant proposals to expand it by the opposing side.
They also have to move past Reagan. Reagan was only able to cut increases in the growth of government. We have to start cutting government, for real.
Freedom and individual rights work, and they’re the only honest and honorable way to live. Unless you’re a mooch or otherwise seek to live off others, or seek unjustified power over others, freedom is the only rational option. This applies regardless of your race, gender, creed (or lack thereof), your sexual orientation, your eye color, your national origin, or any other attribute.
In the end, it’s not style or window dressing that drives politics. Politics, like any other human endeavor, is driven by ideas. The wrong-headed ideas — or nonexistent ideas — will not save Republicans, even if they make an effort to include everyone on their present mission to nowhere.
Getting a majority of all demographic groups behind an agenda of freedom and individual rights should not be impossible. First, we need leaders who actually mean it. To date, that has not been Republicans.