John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Updating the GOP

Posted on November 7, 2008



            How would you like to be forced to use a cell phone from 1980 for your business?  Or a personal computer from 1994?


            So, why are Republicans going back to the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan and the Contract with America to find a winning message for the next 20 years?


            Conservatives keep saying the reason Republicans lost in 2008 is because we didn’t make the government smaller. 


            I don’t think so.


            We lost because when Republicans had the chance to govern in those heady days following the 2004 elections, they blew it. 


            Instead of coming up with a real solution on entitlement reform, they wasted a year on a Social Security plan that went nowhere.


            Instead of dealing with the issue of the uninsured, they punted.


            Instead of doing something to clean up the government, they had several of their Congressional members resign in disgrace.  One leader even tried to change the rules so he could still serve in his leadership position while he was indicted.


            And instead of effectively dealing with the worst natural disaster in our nation’s history, our government leaders pointed fingers, patted each other on the back, and let a great American city collapse in ruin.


            And don’t forget two other things. 


            First, Republicans did successfully cut taxes, but they lowered taxes so low that fully half of America doesn’t pay any income taxes any more.  Hard to keep the tax issue alive when so many Americans essentially get a free ride.


            And second, the war in Iraq, despite its recent success, still hangs over the Republican brand.  It isn’t just the fact that the President was wrong when he said that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.   It was also the various sordid stories of war profiteering coupled with bureaucratic incompetence that bedeviled so much of the early stages of the war. 


            The President lost his credibility on Iraq and despite our recent successes there, especially with the surge that one fact remains.   Once a President loses his credibility, he can never get it back. 


            The hangover from this last moment of Republican dominance is still with us today.  To most voters the old Reagan rhetoric of smaller government and lower taxes just doesn’t resonate.  The rampant Republican corruption makes it awfully hard to make the case for moral superiority.   And even on the issue of national security, long a strong suit for the GOP, we are losing to liberal Democrats.


            Two things must happen for the Republicans to get their brand back.


            First, they have to go through a process of listening and learning before they can get back to leading the country with sound alternatives.


            Second, the Democrats have to over-reach with an anti-jobs agenda of high taxes, crippling regulations, wasteful spending giveaways to special interest groups, and incentives for trial lawyers to sue and labor unions to organize. 


            I don’t worry about the second thing, because that is quite obviously going to happen.  That’s what Democrats do.


            But I do worry about the first thing.  Republicans right now still seem stuck in the 1980’s.


            Different parts of the conservative coalition are plotting their revenge, consolidating their base, meeting in secret, mobilizing the fellow believers, flexing their muscles, trying to prove how tough they are, and praying to the altar of Ronald Reagan.


            Damn few of them are working on an agenda that will play in all 50 states or attract new voters or reclaim old allies. 


            What the American people want is not less government, but less incompetent government. 


            While they don’t want the government to nationalize the petroleum industry, they are tired of rapid fluctuations in gas prices, and they don’t want to be beholden to Hugo Chavez of Venezuela or some sheiks in the Middle East for our energy security.


While they don’t want government-run health care, they will take it over no health care at all. 


They aren’t comfortable with the government taking over the banking industry, but they also don’t want their 401ks to go down the drain.


 They may care about uncontrolled entitlement spending, but they care more about Social Security being for them when they retire, and they certainly don’t trust the stock market now. 


They want local control of schools, but they wouldn’t mind a little help from the Feds and they want to know that their kids are getting the best education possible so they can lead productive lives when they grow up.


And while they want us to win a war against the terrorists, they are far more worried about crime in their communities, drugs in their schools, and gangs in their neighborhoods.


All of these issues require competent government.  Not more government, just more competent government.


So, this is the charge for the Republican leadership.  Not more government, just government that can actually do what it is supposed to do, at less cost, with smart people,


Government that can both control the borders and allow reasonable, humane and productive immigration into the country.


Government that can remove barriers to affordable health care.


Government that can stop criminal gangs from terrorizing our cities.


Government that doesn’t go completely broke.


Government that can provide decent schools so the next generation can compete with the rest of the world.


Republicans can promise this kind of government.  They can update their message.  They can stop using messages from decades ago.   They can promise better government and responsible choices.  And they can get their brand back in the process.


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