The 2012 Election Must Be Used to Reestablish the GOP as the Party of Ideas

Bookmark and Share Once the dust has settled and the final field of Republican presidential candidates has emerged, the Republican Party will have the opportunity to capture the nations political attention for anywhere from a good three or four months. The fact that President Obama is unlikely to face any significant challenge to the Democrat Partys presidential nomination in 2012, will to a large degree, give Republicans the stage to themselves. That opportunity is too precious to not take advantage of in significant ways. But for the G.O.P. to make the most of this opportunity, they must be unconventional. Instead of using the long nomination process that Democrats will not be experiencing, to simply have the candidates attend a string of conventional debates, Republicans need to transform those debates into forums that allow the nation to participate in a national discussion of ideas and reforms.

Little more than three decades ago, New York Democrat Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously declared that the G.O.P. had become the Party of ideas. He was correct. Since the early 1960s a growing segment of dissatisfied Republicans were beginning to coalesce around a group of core beliefs..limited government, less taxes, the defense of traditional values and the sanctity of the U.S. Constitution. At a surprisingly early stage in the development of this Republican coalition, they succeeded in dominating the thinking of the G.O.P. by successfully orchestrating the presidential nomination of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. In November of 64, President Lyndon Johnsons landslide defeat of Goldwater could have been the end of the beginning for the modern conservative movement. But it was not. Part of the reason for that was Johnsons implementation of liberal extremism with Great Society, big government programs. These acts of government overreach only helped to fuel the energy of the novice Goldwater conservatives. And from then on and into the 1980s, figures like Ohio Congressman John Ashbrook, activists F. Clifton White, William A. Rusher, and many others including later in the game, New York Congressman Jack F. Kemp, fueled the emerging conservative movement with an injection of strong anti-communist postures, a belief in American superiority, and reforms which ranged from the limiting of the federal governments powers, to basing the prosperity of individuals on a tax system that took less but afforded more opportunity through free markets.

By the time Senator Moynihan came to his conclusion about the Republican Party being the Party of ideas, former California Governor Reagan had brought these ideas to the legislative steps of Washington and the conservative movement which was brutally defeated in its first national contest, became the status quo and the modern conservative movement. But thirty years later, that same conservative wave can no longer be considered modern if it runs on the same old ideas. That is why it is time for the contemporary conservative dominated Republican Party to modernize and rejuvenate itself.

For the most part, many of the concepts that were once considered new conservative ideas, have been applied with so much success, that today they have become principles that are taken for granted and even agreed upon by Democrats. So when it comes to things such as the belief that lower taxes empower the people and strengthens our economy, these principles need not be turned away from. Rather they need to be built upon. The success of ideas based on conservative principles, such as Jack Kemps creation of Urban Enterprise Zones, must be expanded upon and applied in new ways to new areas of life in America. The conservative belief that over taxing the rich does not help the poor must be turned in to a coherent policy that is derived through a new innovative tax system. The principle of school choice must finally go from the conceptual stage on some federal drawing board and turned into a legitimate, realistically applied path for states to take advantage of.

By turning his ideas into actual legislative action, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, has set us on the right road with his economic Path to Prosperity. It offers the American people a forceful legislative alternative to the failing application of big government programs. Through a wealth of reform minded ideas, Ryans plan goes beyond rhetorical vision and provides us with substantive options for the way we govern.

Ryans example needs to be followed by all those who are running in the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination.

The rejuvenation of the G.O.P. and its ability to continue to be the Party of ideas, can not occur through the use of the normal format that has come to typify todays modern presidential debates. Such forums only allow for the type of simplistic, tabloid soundbites that merely serve to echo some sort of shallow, pseudo-populism. Instead, the G.O.P. needs to recapture the inspirational intellectualism of innovative ideas that it had prior to the mid 1980s. And one of the fastest ways to begin this process, or at least create this impression, is for our candidates to come forward with more than just issue positions but precise programs.

The time has come for our Party to move the government reform discussions of the last three decades to the launching pad. Let us take talk about true tax reform and take it from the drawing board to the Presidents desk. Instead of talk about tinkering with the existing, arcane, tax code by lowering tax rates for all or just for some, let us present plans to scrap it and adopt a new, and fair tax code that is equitable and related to economic growth and greater opportunity. On this front, Herman Cain has taken the lead. Although I disagree with his particular suggestion of a national sales tax, I give him credit for coming forward with the fortitude and courage to approach an old issue in a new way, and to create a debate that as the Party of ideas, the G.O.P. needs to be in the forefront of.

This lead should be followed by the likes of Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich and others like Mitch Daniels and Sarah Palin, if they too enter the race. But beyond the need for the individual candidates to utilize the political center stage that the G.O.P.s 2012 nomination contest will provide them with, the time should also be used to specifically devote time to the driving conservative convictions that are at the heart of the G.O.P.. It would behoove conservatives to take advantage of the national election process by a string of debates that are sponsored in conjunction with, or directly by, the Republican National Committee. These prime time events should be designed to give the Republican candidates an opportunity to prove their understanding and conviction to our core conservative beliefs.

In addition to the usual debates, let there be four debates specifically designed to discuss the issues of:

  1. Limited Government and lower taxation
  2. Peace Through Strength
  3. Freedom and Personal Responsibility, and
  4. The American Free Market

Such debates can help articulate and define the message that is behind conservatism and demonstrate the type of intellectual seriousness that can inspire many just as it did during the early days of the movements evolution. These forums can take those who up to now, have had only the most abstract and detached understanding of what conservative thinking represents and promote a better understanding for the reasoning behind Republican thinking. Such forums will also give true conservatives the opportunity to get a feel for which Republican candidate has the best and most sincere understanding of conservatism.

Elections are only as valuable as the candidates involved in them, make them. For Republicans, the process to nominate our standard bearer could and should be used by the presidential candidates to do more than promote themselves. It should be used to advance the conservative thinking that they are suppose to be representative of. If they are willing to do that in a contest of ideas rather than just soem stump speech-like recitation of policy positions, and during a discussion of the future role of conservatism in America, then and only then will this election be profound enough to effect not only the next four years, but the next few generations.

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