Wednesday, May 6, 2009

No More Business as Usual for the GOP?

Just when you think the GOP is destined to wander the political wilderness for 40 years, paying penance for having lost its moral and ideological compass, a glimmer of hope emerges that the party might still regain its bearings. Although it's been in the public domain for a week, I just stumbled across this incisive and important op-ed by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, in which he calls on his party to distance itself from the creeping Chamber of Commerce socialism on the march in Washington and elsewhere.

Although they've long been caricatured by their enemies as the tools of big business, Republicans actually won elections in the 70s, 80s and 90s by preaching the gospel of political and economic liberty, according to DeMint. And the party won't regain public support, or its soul, until its leaders make a clean break from the business and political elites behind the corporatist convergence currently taking place.

Wrote DeMint:

"For decades, the Republican Party has been portrayed by liberals (and the media) as a political country club - interested only in serving the interests of oligarchic corporate elites, insensitive to the needs of "real" Americans in the bottom 95 percent.

And for decades, Republicans consistently won elections - because the caricature was false. From President Richard Nixon's silent majority through President Ronald Reagan's realignment and the Contract With America, Republicans were not a party of economic elites as much as they were a party of economic freedom. They represented a clear, philosophical contrast to the watered-down socialism of the Democrats. Even when Republicans fell short on their promises of limited government, Americans believed the promises to be sincere nonetheless.

I doubt many Americans believe the promises anymore.

For the past eight years, the Republican experiment in big government hollowed out our core identity. In battles over immigration, spending, education and other "compassionate conservative" priorities, small-government conservatives were attacked by leading Republicans for choosing principle over poll-tested politics. It was in these battles that the long-alleged marriage between the Republican Party and corporate America was finally consummated . . . .

. . . . The road back to Republican success is not to reinforce our weakened coalition of corporate interests, but to drop it altogether. Republicans shouldn't be the party of business any more than they should be the party of labor - we're supposed to be the party of freedom. We should get out of the business of picking winners and losers in the marketplace. We should not care who wins in fair fights between Microsoft and Apple, between CitiGroup and community banks, or between Home Depot and mom-and-pop hardware stores. All we should demand is a fair fight.

If Goliath beats David, so be it - just so long as he does it without corporate welfare.

Similarly, we should not tip the legal scales for either side in negotiations between Ford and the United Auto Workers. Instead, both sides should simply know that if their contract leads to competitive disadvantage, layoffs or bankruptcy, there will be no federal bailouts there to reward their mistakes.

It is none of the government's business - let alone the Republican Party's - whether banks make or deny risky loans, but only that we ensure lenders and borrowers bear the consequences of their own decisions.

When free markets are allowed to work by punishing failure and rewarding success, everyone benefits. The results are higher quality, lowered cost and innovative breakthroughs. But in a system of corporate welfare, those who suffer most are Americans who pay higher taxes funneled to well-connected companies.

A party of freedom is not a party of any one competitor, but a party of competition itself - what you might call the true "spirit of enterprise."

Republicans will succeed again when we realize our true allegiance is not to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but to free markets, free people and freedom itself."

Whether DeMint's Declaration of Independence from creeping corporatism will be heard by fellow Republicans -- and heeded by leaders in the business community as well -- is unknown. The problem, from the standpoint of the "practical" politician, is that this is where most of their campaign funds come from. But if the Republican Party is going to successfully reinvent itself, and wants to offer a real alternative to the party now in power, DeMint seems to be pointing it in the right direction. The GOP won't regain lost ground by offering socialism lite, or statism lite (if you take umbrage at my use of the "S" word), but by redefining itself as the party that champions economic, political and personal freedom -- even when that puts it on a collision course with the corporate welfare-chasers at the country club.

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