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The Liberal Argument for a Stronger GOP

New America Media, Commentary, Donal Brown Posted: Nov 02, 2008

Editor's Note: A lifelong liberal bemoans the GOP's identity crisis and argues that the party needs to be retooled because, regardless of one's political views, the country needs a smarter and sounder Republican Party. NAM contributor Donal Brown taught in the public school system for 35 years.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Even if Sen. John McCain were to engineer an improbable win on Nov. 4, Republicans are fast becoming as irrelevant as Sarah Palin's "you betchas. In the face of the dismal failures of this last administration, the GOP needs a complete overhaul.

I am offering my thoughts as a lifelong liberal who like all Americans would be better served by a smarter and sounder Republican Party. After all, Republicans could be elected again, and the country cannot withstand another eight years of disastrous Republican rule.

The problem is that the party's conservative brew is way off its ingredients: It isn't truly conservative and in many ways has lost its commonsense moorings. Start with Republican economic rule and forget the vacuous rants against the "tax-and-spend liberals." The proof is in how Republican presidents actually ran things.

Ronald Reagan increased the national debt by 89.2 percent in eight years. George W. Bush doubled the national debt to $9.6 trillion, $5 trillion of which is owed to China, a dictatorship wary of us. The Republicans claim to oppose big government, but Republican presidents have outspent the Democratic ones and presided over weaker economies. The Republicans have become the party of big government, big spending, huge deficits and burgeoning national debt. They have allowed the Democrats to become the party of fiscal integrity.

However repugnant, taxes should not be maligned as the death of all life but as a necessary strategy to occasionally plug in for the wealthy five percent of the population who have the wherewithal to step up as real patriots to help Americans pay the bills.

Sadly, given the present crisis, it will be a number of years before Republicans can take up the cause of conservative spending. Profligate ways and lack of oversight have brought ruin to key banking and investment firms that we now have to shore up with at least $700 billion lest the economy tank for a decade or two. The GOP's true calling is fiscal responsibility, and it needs to reclaim that turf.

The current recession makes it clear that the Greenspan formula failed. We need more regulation difficult for any Republican conservative to grasp. But Republicans can serve the country well, not by opposing all regulation, a sure losing formula, but by providing a brake on the Democrats to guard against excessive regulation that could hurt investment and thwart business activity. Republicans can make free trade one of their principled positions and curb Democratic pandering to the electorate to protect inefficient sectors of the economy.

The GOP has also lost its true conservative calling in another arena. The traditional Republican disdain for big government has been sabotaged by vesting greater power in the executive branch. Under George W. Bush, we have seen numerous power grabs. One of the most egregious instances was his 2005 "signing statement" when faced with a bill including John McCains amendment that put prohibitions on torture. Bush claimed the right to interpret the bill in the way he saw fit.

The Bush-Cheney efforts to extend executive powers are not in the interest of the country. The great conservative document, the Federalist Papers, established the importance of checks and balances in government. The legislature passes the laws; the executive branch carries out the laws. And Republicans must remember once they set these precedents that Democratic presidents could use unchecked executive power to promote liberal values.

The true meaning of conservative should also include the notion that in the realm of foreign affairs we should act with caution, common sense and careful deliberation. What is this quixotic war of liberation launched into the unforgiving Iraqi countryside? Whatever McCain's claims about the surge, Iraq's internal politics remain intractable so there is no winning such a war. We need to remember the lessons of Vietnam and not squander the lives of our fighting forces on such questionable ventures. What happened to the conservatives scorn for Democratic attempts at "nation building?" We are face-to-face once again with the limits of our military power, with exhausted forces still facing extended campaigns in two countries.

Republicans must also shed their current role as haven for bigotry, nativism and covert racism.

There were far too many white faces at the Republican convention in Minneapolis. Remember that young people are less encumbered by the detritus of racism and according to the Census Bureau projections, non-Hispanic whites will only constitute 50 percent of the population by 2050. The Southern strategy is history. Republicans need to reach out to all segments of the population, beginning by isolating the party's immigration crazies.

The Republicans' natural position on immigration is pro-business. The party should not try to wall out immigrants it won't work anyway but instead welcome them as laborers needed in agriculture and onerous enterprises like slaughterhouses. Republicans can focus on maintaining the high quality of workers, keeping out those with criminal records and deporting those who commit crimes while here, and also make America more welcoming to highly trained immigrants.

I may never vote Republican, but at some point I hope I will at least be tempted. In retooling, Republicans can make their party appealing to a wide range of the electorate without abandoning true conservative principles.

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