Sunday, November 16, 2008


Troubles for Republicans

Following the election of November 4, Republicans have been thinking out loud - well, at least in print - about the future of the Republican Party. Some of the Party theorists, like Richard Viguerie, argue that the Republicans lost the recent election because they didn't live up to their beliefs while in office. These beliefs include small government and low taxes, fiscal discipline, and respect for and encouragement of individual initiative and responsibility. They argue that while George Bush gave lip service to these ideals he contrarily increased the size of government and embraced perpetual borrowing to pay for the bloated government.

Other thinkers, including several Republican governors, realize that the national Republican Party's problem is at least partly due to the incompetence of the Bush administration. Katrina comes to mind. The Party will have to rebuild its reputation as a competent governing group if it is to regain the trust of enough American voters to regain some of the power it had just a few years ago.

My diagnosis, that of a life-long Democrat, is that the basic message of the Republican Party is out of date. I remember hearing a local Republican business man in my home town tell me about 75 years ago that "government should leave business alone." Other Republicans have said quite often that "government spends too much money." That was one of President Gerald Ford's favorite sayings.

One serious problem for the Republicans is that many middle-class professional and retired persons, like myself, who used to be loyal members of the Party have left it. Many well-to-do persons see the Republican policy of reducing taxes on the rich as simply a hypocritical gimmick to reward some of their election campaign funders. Almost nobody takes seriously the argument that rich folk must be allowed to keep a lot of their money so that they will have money to invest in new enterprises to provide employment, etc., etc., etc., and that taxing them will discourage them from such investment.

As a counter example, consider Microsoft. This was a firm started with a very small investment. All Bill Gates needed was a personal computer with enough capacity to write and store code. His most important investment was to buy an operating system from another engineer who had named it "Quick and Dirty Operating System" or QDOS. Gates changed the name to "Disk Operating System" or DOS. He then had a product that manufacturers of personal computers needed to help sell their machines to a public that knew nothing about machine language programming.

A better counter example is the state of the economy during the Clinton administration. Clinton increased taxes to put the federal government on a pay as you go basis. These "high" tax rates certainly did not stifle the growth in business during the Clinton years. The "low" tax rates of the Bush years don't seem to have had the effect of stimulating the economy. Recent experience does not provide an proof of the Republican theory that letting the Rich keep more of their money will stimulate the economy. The short word is "trickle-down economics." The Republicans promoted it when I was a child and they still promote it today. It's an idea that they should discard.

A huge problem for the Republican Party is that it has allowed a rather small but very dedicated group of Conservative Fundamentalist Christians to dictate many of the policies of the Party and of any Republican administration. Party leaders, such as Nixon and Reagan, cultivated this particular bloc and made them the core constituency of the Party. The class of professional people has tended to leave the Party as a result. The Party is coming apart. What it needs is a new leader who can put together another coalition that will hold together.

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