Admit it. Only in public radio would we dare to launch a critical think-piece about the Republican Party in the language of the Land of Freedom Fries.
Ribbing aside, the question is real: What next for the Republican Party, now that it possesses real power?
Here’s the conundrum for the GOP. The defining philosophical conceit of the modern conservative movement was summed up by Ronald Reagan in his famous bon mot (see, there I go again).
“Government is not a solution to our problem,” he argued. “Government is the problem.”
The trick, though, is that Reagan was wrong, at least a lot of the time. If 9/11 taught us anything, it’s that big problems come torpedoing at our society all the time that have nothing to do with government.
Remember Hurricane Katrina? That wasn’t a gray-faced government bureaucrat causing all the trouble. It was a charging rhino of a storm that blasted a great American city.
And we expected Washington to be up to the task of responding.
These aren’t rare events. A couple of weeks ago, when Muslim extremists tried to ship bombs on cargo flights, no one suggested that we find a laissez-faire, de-regulated, market-driven solution.
The second trick is that even the vast majority of Americans who vote Republican also want (read: demand, in no uncertain terms) a lot of government services.
With the exception of school-age children, all those conservative-tilting seniors use more government programs and receive more government dollars in direct payments than anyone else.
In New York’s 20th district race, one of Chris Gibson’s TV ads featured an elderly voter praising the Republican for promising to protect that most Rooseveltian of programs, Social Security.
Voters also want something done immediately about jobs. And they don’t want Bill Gates or Warren Buffet to do it. They want Washington to make it happen.
Republicans, giddy from last Tuesday, have only begun to wrestle with this challenge
Consider health care. If Republicans succeed in repealing or de-funding healthcare reform, tens of millions of Americans will once again be on the outs, stuck without dependable, reliable insurance.
They talk in vague terms about “repealing and replacing” the current reform package. They offer what amount to symbolic ideas, including tort reform, as an alternative.
Yes, some kind of significant tort reform is a good idea. But no, it won’t seriously change the cost of delivering health care to Americans, or extend care to a lot of additional people.
Being the party of Non! was a great political strategy for a party that was truly on the outside looking in.
The GOP succeeded in appropriating and leveraging America’s anger at the economic status quo. But that’s not good enough anymore.
Now Republicans will need to govern, to legislate, and to come up with smart new policy ideas that solve real-world problems. With the economy still teetering, gridlock and finger-pointing and campaign catch-phrases won’t satisfy voters.
We’ve had two whiplash elections in a row. Unless Republicans pivot quickly and get down to business, look for more to follow.