Leading A Republican Reformation

Photo courtesy of Donkey Hotey

Assuming that the coin tossed into the air Tuesday does not land on its side, just a few days from now Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will make their final speeches of the campaign.

One candidate will be jubilant. The other will have to force the phoniest smile of his life. He’ll read from a prepared text he barely has seen and didn’t prepare that doesn’t convey how he feels. And he’ll spend the next several months in a state of depression, a scapegoat for many in his party and on his side who are angry, frustrated and eager to blame.

The grief on the losing side will be especially acute because the race is so close. Each team is going into Election Day expecting to win — and the expectation of winning is a poor defense against the shock of losing.

If Romney were to lose, his fellow Republicans would erupt in recriminations, spiked by the fact that they never really liked him anyway. He’d be ridiculed by his supporters for not winning in the worst economy since the 1930s. They’d complain that he was too stiff and awkward, that he couldn’t bond with people, that he blundered by not releasing his tax returns and divesting from Bain long ago, and that he ran too far to the right in the primaries, which doomed him in the general election to be either a flip-flopper or a right-winger.

But I hope that if Romney loses, a group of Republican elders will gather to think more constructively about the state of their party.

Today’s Republican Party is not one that seeks to “promote the general welfare” in line with the principles of limited government. Instead, it has become a party whose core principle is to advance the interests of rich people and corporations. In essence, Republicans are seeking minority rule.

Minority rule, of course, is what democracy was designed to prevent, so achieving it requires strange contortions and manipulations of laws and public opinion, including:

—Passing voter ID laws designed to minimize the influence of poor and minority voters.

—Exploiting court rulings and campaign finance laws that maximize the influence of corporations.

—Suppressing scientific evidence, most obviously in the case of climate change, to protect corporate interests in the energy sector.

—Promoting economic ideology that favors the rich. (A Congressional Research Service report recently found that reducing top tax rates does not help grow the economy or create jobs. Republicans in Congress protested, and the study was withdrawn.)

—Appealing to anti-immigrant sentiment and other polarizing views (the birther movement) to attract voters whose economic interests are not served by a pro-corporate agenda.

Those are signs of a party that has come to the end of an honest strategy.

If the Republican Party does not confront its lagging appeal to women and young people and gays and African-Americans and Hispanics and other expanding demographics in the country today, then the games it will be forced to play to try to win a majority of the votes while serving a minority of the voters will become even more bizarre and destructive, not just to the party but also to the country.

That is why I’m hoping that a group of party elders will gather and lead a Republican reformation (Tom Friedman’s term). I would nominate leaders such as outgoing Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. John McCain of Arizona. That makes three Republican governors — one from a red state, one from a blue state, one from a swing state — and the party’s 2008 presidential nominee. All four have bucked aspects of their party’s most destructive orthodoxies. Jeb Bush has shown he’s not remotely intimidated by Grover Norquist, and — as someone who’s been married for nearly 40 years to a Mexican-American woman — Bush could help heal the rift between Republicans and Hispanics. Mitch Daniels is a pragmatic budget expert who has spoken eloquently against the harsh rhetoric that adds emotion and that strips reason from politics. Chris Christie is the most audaciously blunt man in American politics today and brilliantly countered the anti-Muslim prejudice that confronted one of his state court nominees. And John McCain, still the maverick, has been brutalized for his fierce honesty about the corrupting effect of corporate money in politics.

Those four may have the stature to begin turning things around.

But only if Romney loses.

If Romney were to win the White House on Tuesday, deep reflection would go into the deep freeze. Republicans would not bother to correct any of the things that they would have blamed for their defeat if they had lost — because no matter how serious the flaws are, as long as they aren’t fatal, they don’t matter. In politics, the only unforgivable flaw is losing.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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