Patrick Ruffini wrote a post on his Next Right site yesterday where he sees a golden opportunity for the GOP to gain some political ground by running on an agenda that includes healthy cuts in the size of government. He believes the GOP is “galivinized” to make cutting government by a third - back to 2007 levels - the centerpiece of a revival even if, as he realistically points out, not much will change given the huge advantage currently enjoyed by liberals in Congress.
It’s an ambitious proposal and is predicated on the idea that people will reject the naked statism being advanced by President Obama and come home to the party of smaller government as a reaction to the bail-out culture as well as the heavy handed attempts by the Administration to gain outright control of companies like GM and AIG.
But will they? Obama still enjoys broad support among the American public and beyond that, you have to wonder how much people really care that government has instituted policies that are destroying the free market and limiting freedom. The small percentage who are paying any attention at all to what is happening in Washington will hear this by Obama and be satisfied:
Let me be clear: the United States government has no interest or intention of running GM. What we are interested in is giving GM an opportunity to finally make those much-needed changes that will let them emerge from this crisis a stronger and more competitive company.
If the lie is told often enough, people will believe it - especially when the media doesn’t think it’s their job to call Obama out for his prevarications. Have you seen any article (outside of the Wall Street Journal and a few reactionary newspapers) or any news broadcast beyond a few CNBC and Fox segments that even discusses the possibility that what Obama is doing is nothing short of a government takeover of GM? If you can fire one CEO, hire another, force bankruptcy, and guarantee warranties, not to mention deciding which “changes” GM should make in their business plan, that sounds an awful lot like “running GM” to me.
But the average voter doesn’t hear any of that. All they hear is the president standing up on national TV and solemnly proclaiming one thing while his Administration is blatantly doing exactly the opposite. The key to any good propaganda is to make the lie believable. And for the moment, the people trust the president to tell them the truth. Right now, people just aren’t that upset with what is going on save the minority of us who are paying a little closer attention to what’s going on in Washington. And don’t forget, there’s another minority of people paying attention who are supporting the President and urging him to do more. Liberal activists have only just begun to hold the president’s feet to the fire and before all is said and done, America could potentially be a place that you and I wouldn’t recognize from just two years ago.
Patrick makes this point in his post:
The end result of this agenda, the size of government at 2007 levels, may seem minimalist in any broad sweep of history, but it is galvanizing in a way it wasn’t before because of the sheer scope of what’s changed in six months. The yawning gap between where we are now and where we were two years ago gives conservatives an ambitious goal to reach for and a reason for being again, even if the end result is little change over time. And if we get a mandate to actually cut government significantly — and I think the public mood will shift there in a few years if not sooner — it might not be that much harder to cut it to below pre-Obama or pre-Bush levels because current levels are so out of whack that people would not be able to tell the difference between that and what the status quo was in the mid-2000s — only that it is change.
Unfortunately, history is not on Patrick’s side. The most conservative president in history couldn’t shrink the size of government. The most conservative Congress in history barely made a dent in the size of government during the 1990’s and then turned around and became the biggest spendthrift Congress in history. “Shrinking” the size of government to 2007 levels can’t be done simply because it is not 2007 anymore. A great tide washed over the country last November and when it ebbs, no one knows where we will be. But there is an historical certainty there will be no road back the way we came. As powerful as the Obama wave seems to be today, even he cannot erase all the contours of what Reagan built many years ago. Similarly, if, as many suspect, Obama’s victory was a transformational moment in history, the next wave of change cannot entirely undo what has been done by his Administration.
The game has changed. Nationalized health insurance is on the way, more top down solutions to education are being contemplated, wholesale changes to business and industry as a result of the green craze will be forced on the economy, the defense budget will be drastically cut, and that’s probably only the beginning. Patrick believes the voter will rebel against these changes. That remains to be seen. But what is certain is that they won’t turn to Republicans for the answers no matter how “galvanized” the GOP becomes.
For Patrick’s proposal to succeed, the word “Republican” will have to be rehabilitated with the voter. The damage done to the party during the Bush years - as Patrick rightly points out - will not be fixed by simply reiterating what the party’s message has been since LBJ’s presidency. It won’t be repaired by offering the same small government mantra no matter how much “big government” is screwing things up. Ruffini points to history to buttress his argument:
The Welfare State mentality of the ’60s that created the conditions for 1980 and 1994 systemically excused bad behavior at an individual level, creating millions of individual tragedies. Obamanomics systematically excuses bad behavior at the wholesale macroeconomic level, creating a vicious circle of irresponsibility with major consequences for every American.
If nothing else, the first 70 days of Obama — with an assist from the last 4 months of Bush — has left government economic policy so off-kilter that it may take a decade or more to fix. Remember that exhausted to-do list? Not a problem any more.
For the first time in decades, Republicans could run on a platform of cutting government by a third and not seem wild-eyed or mean-spirited. When we talk about the dangers of governments running private businesses, we will have contemporary object lessons to teach with, not bogeymen that are decades old or oceans away. When we talk about getting the government out of our lives, more people will nod their head knowing exactly what we mean, having just footed the bill for bailout after bailout, instead of yawning or dismissing it as a non-issue as they did in the prosperous, laissez-faire post-Reagan America.
All of that would be true if the GOP wasn’t totally and deeply discredited as a political party. The difference between 1980 and 1994 and the situation today is that in both those eras, Republicans were competitive across the country. Now, whole swaths of the United States are almost no-go zones for the GOP. Bereft of national leadership, having no counter-agenda that is accepted by the party regulars, and unable to escape the economic legacy of George Bush, Republicans have a lot of work to do in order to be taken seriously - even when they pledge to “shrink” the size of government.
And it isn’t just the map that is the problem. Vital segments of the voting public have decisively rejected the party including the 18-35 age group and Hispanics - two groups who are growing in number and becoming more politically savvy at a time when the Republican social agenda is receding in importance to voters and on issue after issue a decisive advantage accrues to the Democrats. Couple this with the thought that Congressional districts will be redrawn in 2010 with a probable increase in Democratic seats as a result and you have not only problems with party ID but systemic hurdles to overcome as well.
Patrick is not talking about an opportunity for the short term but it is hard to fathom at this point where the GOP can begin to close the gap. Ruffini is attempting to reduce the online activism gap but that too is a long term project. Can these problems be overcome by running on a platform “We are not socialists?” In the end, I think Patrick expects too much of the voter, projects our own anger on to them when I am convinced it will take more than what Obama has done so far to rile them up.
What Patrick has latched onto is an illusion of opportunity. The people aren’t ready. The party’s not ready. The elected representatives certainly aren’t ready for what he is proposing. And before we’re through, history will have a say as well. For that, no one can predict what the outcome of Obama’s assault on capitalism will be nor how well the GOP can respond given the limits imposed on them by their own stupidity and arrogance in the past.