In the break room at work we have a TV that runs news programs throughout the entire day.Since the office is primarily Republican, I get an earful from Fox News every second away from my desk. Fox News retains 25% of the population’s attention, and appears to have a clear understanding on whom to market their outrage to. Listening to their undertones and self promotion demonstrates one firm conclusion; the Republicans are starving for an identity.
What exactly do Republicans stand for? Under the Eisenhower era military prudence was tied directly to Republicans. In the Regan era conservatism was embraced. Under the Clinton era Newt Gingrich led the Republican New Deal urging smaller government. Over the past several decades, all of these ideals have been forgotten. George W. and his Republican dominated leadership increased the size and scope of government to record levels. The federal budget under his watch jumped 38% as President Bush did very little to control this rise in spending. Yet when I watch Fox news, I am led to believe that the Conservative ideals are alive and well.
To agree with Frank Rich, Fox News and the Republican Party are screaming into an echo chamber. The louder they scream, the more they believe themselves. Take for instance the stimulus bill that just passed congress. To the Republican right an absolute disaster; to 51% of Americans, a step in the right direction. Or how about Obama’s cluster of tax cheats nominated to cabinet positions? To Rush Limbaugh, a strong demonstration of Obama’s inept decision making ability. To 68% of Americans a forgivable offense in which they still offer support for the president.
Besides identity fallout, what hurts the Republican platform is the negligent insistence on tax cuts to solve all economic problems. We tried that in 2002 and 2003. How did we fare? Many on the right will incorrectly point to the tax cuts as the key driver of the four year boom from 2002-2006. The truth is that falling interest rates and leveraged equity were the real contributors. The tax cuts in 02-03 put money back into the pockets of the super wealthy, who then proceeded to watch it disappear in the securities fallout. Many still cling to the supply side theories of Reagan’s policies to bolster their tax cut claims. Two problems with this belief: Jimmy Carter had already started lowering tax rates on the upper class with little success, and two, Reagan was the recipient of Paul Volkner’s rate-slashing Federal Reserve. What has been forgotten by Republicans is that conservatism at its root does not drive tax cuts. Conservatism preaches smaller government, in which tax cuts are a byproduct.
The GOP’s lack of identity and shrinking base impacted the elections of 2006, 2008, and most likely 2010. The extreme big government policies of the last eight years, coupled with an unfavorable war, pushed moderates to the left. However, the biggest problem for the Republicans going forward is their shrinking base, which is wedging out the younger demographic. Fox News and the Republican leadership had a field day teeing off on Howard Dean in the 2004 primaries. But it was Dean who inspired many of the college age kids who turned out in droves in 2006 and 2008 to vote Democrat. The GOP has kept a single eye on big business and the religious right, and has failed to court their future base.
Republicans need to regroup and tell America what they stand for. The American people are ready for extended dialogue and genuine conversation from both sides of the aisle. If the GOP can’t embrace a persuasive identity, and continue to use tax cuts as a substitute for thinking, change will continue.Unfortunately, it’s probably not the change the Republicans desire.