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Brian Till
27 Jan 2010
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The New Opposition

Comment

The Republican Party has turned inward, imploding upon itself as it grapples with an ethos for the 21st century. And while the threat of a Democratic super majority has been overblown, the depth of the trough that the new opposition has fallen into may very well be understated.

We are six months removed from the trouncing of the Obama revolution, and approaching an important fundraising season for the next round of congressional races.

The party faces a choice: It can either hold onto the ground it's hollowed out for itself, as the party of the old (young voters went for Obama 2-to-1) and socially conservative, hoping for the political pendulum to swing back in its favor, or it can attempt to reinvent itself for a new century. Both have their pitfalls, both their advantages.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the party is its duality. It is both the political refuge of small-town social conservatism and big-moneyed interest — although corporate funds did bum rush Obama faster than Kenyan villagers in Nairobi once the political winds shifted.

Those considering and debating the avenue forward ought to recognize that the middle class has always been the key to controlling the republic — and that truth stands firm. The listening tour that some prominent Republicans have embarked on — including Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush — is an important start. I was struck by Obama's use of the tactic early in his race for the Democratic nomination, both in Iowa and New Hampshire; while the thoughts general citizens offer are sometimes fascinating, what's more enrapturing is the bond formed between pol and voter as a public figure articulates back the emotions and angst of the general public. It's a powerful bond that, while reminding leaders what party loyalists see as their founding principles, also sends a message of renewal.

This is a time for compassion. Infusing strong, Christian ideals on issues of public health and welfare — Michael Gerson Republican values — is an important step in the right direction. But party leaders also need to recognize something they likely won't hear about on their tour: the places where the GOP is up against the tides of modernity.

If it's to be viable, the party should move away from the divisive crutch it's used to hold its coalition together for so long — narrow social conservatism. The party's stances on homosexuality, immigration, abortion, climate change, and Darwinism are up against the weight of history. Just as with the civil rights movement and women's suffrage movement, some debates — regardless of the fervor they produce — eventually run their course and must succumb to both justice and rationality. Republicans can no longer expect to wield these discordant issues as the glue holding the coalition together.

The party must replace that solder with a return to the origins of their thought.

Those arguing that that the party has no message, and has no niche, are entirely misguided. There are ideas in the conservative arsenal that still speak loudly to the American populace — but they're messages largely undercut by the failure of the Bush years. The idea that government shouldn't spend beyond what it brings in; the idea that government should be tamed, and not allowed to peer into our lives; the idea that advantages should be received based on merit, rather than race or any other factor; and the idea that those that play by the rules should have a leg up on those that have turned to backhanded means, all remain enduring, unifying themes that will find renewed following in the years to come.

Mostly, the party needs a rock star. It needs a figure that can pull it together, remind it of the ideals upon which it is built, and contend why those concepts are under assault. It needs a messiah to breathe energy back into the values that still resonate.

It is very difficult to be an opposition party in the American system; the Democrats, even after recapturing Congress in 2006, were almost completely impotent to beat back the Bushies. But the Republicans will resurge; how long it takes, and how enduring that resurgent party is, will likely be a function of which shards it chooses to lift from the debris.

Brian Till, one of the nation's youngest syndicated columnists, is a research fellow for the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington. He can be contacted at till@newamerica.net. To find out more about the author and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.



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