John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Going Beyond Conventional Wisdom

Posted on February 5, 2013

It can be very dangerous to venture beyond the conventional wisdom.

That is especially true if you are a conservative Republican politician these days.

The conventional wisdom for the Republican Party has been pretty simple. Its economic philosophy could be defined as cut taxes at all costs. Its governing philosophy has been cut spending at all costs. Its defense policy has been to throw money at the Pentagon no matter what the cost. Its foreign policy has been to hunt down terrorists no matter where they live and support Israel, damn the costs.

This absolutism has served the GOP pretty well. Repetition is an essential part of driving a political message. Voters want to know where you stand before they vote for you, and establishing an archetype is important in brand development.

Going beyond those archetypes is difficult for a legislative leader.

If you get out too far ahead of the troops, they just might turn their fire on you.

That is why I admire what Eric Cantor is doing today and what Paul Ryan did earlier this year.

They are both trying to think creatively about how the Republican Party should position itself for the future. They are trying to move beyond the absolutes to give the party some governing ideas to make the government better.

Cantor will talk about workplace flexibility, immigration reform, school choice, and a plan to help people out of poverty. None of these issues are aimed at an obvious Republican political constituency, but all share a similar characteristic: Government policies need to be changed to make things better.

Our immigrations system is broken. Too many schools are terrible. Outdated labor rules need to be thrown out or updated to give parents more flexibility in our increasingly two-parent working world. There is no workable anti-poverty agenda in either party.

In many ways, Cantor and Ryan are channeling their inner-Jack Kemps. To grow our political base, we have to care for people beyond our political base. And it is not just politically smart. It is morally right.

Now, Cantor and Ryan may very well get the Marco Rubio treatment. Hard-right conservatives might very well turn on them for thinking outside the box, just liked they turned on Rubio for pushing for comprehensive immigration reform.

But that is the price of leadership. Going beyond the conventional wisdom is a tough business.