Posted: 6/3/2008 3:16:56 PM EDT
Republicans need to start offering answers
By David Frum
Last Updated: 3:01pm BST 02/06/2008
If the 2008 presidential election were all about Iraq, John McCain would win.
According to the authoritative Pew poll, Americans have become steadily more optimistic about Iraq over the past 15 months. Almost one-half the American public now thinks the Iraq war is going "very" or "fairly" well - up 18 points since before the surge.
The public is now evenly divided between those who want to maintain the commitment to Iraq and those who want to begin winding it down - an 11 point shift. Only 14 per cent of Americans want an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.
Yet even as the Iraq poll numbers improve, the Republicans' standing deteriorates. President Bush's approval rating has sunk below 30 per cent. A record 81 per cent of Americans describe the country as on the "wrong track." Republican fundraising has collapsed: Despite the costs of a continuing primary contest, Barack Obama ended the month of April with more than twice as much cash on hand as John McCain, raised from a record-shattering 1.4 million individual donors.
In March, a Democrat won the Peoria Illinois congressional seat formerly held by House Republican leader Dennis Hastert. A few days later, one of the most conservative Republicans in the House told me: "There is not a safe Republican seat in the country. I don't mean we will lose all of them. But we could lose any of them."
Republican political strength has been corroded by America's gathering economic weakness. Look at the world from the point of view of a middle-income voter, earning $44,000-$45,000 a year. His wife earns another $26,000, bringing them up to the median married family income of about $70,000. In most parts of the United States, $70,000 is a reasonably comfortable income. Adjusting for inflation, our hypothetical couple is earning no more than they did eight years ago. Yet they must stretch stagnant incomes to cover rising costs for food, college tuition, and fuel.
The price of petrol has surpassed the once unimaginable level of $4 a gallon. Petrol now consumes almost as much of Americans' disposable incomes as it did in the worst days of the oil shock of 1979.
Through the early 2000s, this hypothetical median couple could console themselves for their stagnant incomes with the rising value of their principal asset, their house. If necessary, they could borrow against the house to consume more than their incomes permitted. Not now: housing prices are declining nationwide, with no end to the slump in sight.
In 20 major US cities surveyed by Standard & Poor's new house-price index, prices have declined every month for almost two full years. If anything, the decline may be accelerating: in February, March, and April, the index declined faster than before, more than 2 per cent per month.
Perhaps even more lethally, the GOP's historic advantage as the party perceived to have greater integrity and competence has been damaged by a wave of scandals in Congress and the mismanagement of Iraq and Hurricane Katrina by the executive branch.
Almost 10 million migrants have entered the United States since 2000, the majority of them illegally, depressing wages, adding to the cost of local government and pushing an ever rising portion of the American labor market into lawlessness.
The magnitude of the disaster facing Republicans is perhaps best summed up by this statistic: Since 1980, the proportion of Americans who identified as Republicans has steadily risen, until by 2002 - and for the first time in the history of polling - Republican identification caught up with and equaled Democratic identification. Since 2002, two decades of Republican gains have been wiped out. Republican identification has tumbled bump, bump, bump all the way back to 1980 levels, with the steepest decline among young voters.
Republicans still hold important strengths. Most important, they offer Americans a much more intelligent and accurate analysis of the country's economic troubles than do Democrats. While Democrats blame free trade and greedy speculators for the stagnation of wages, Republicans correctly argue that the real culprit is the malfunctioning of the American healthcare system.
What employers pay for labour did rise during the Bush years, and handsomely. All of that extra money was devoured by the skyrocketing cost of employer-provided health insurance.
Astute analysis however only takes a political party so far. Voters want answers, not insights. And it is on answers that Republicans have fallen short.
John McCain's health plan contains many worthy pro-competitive elements, but falls short of the scope and scale of public urgency on healthcare.
In the late 1970s, the great Democratic thinker and politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan paid his opponents a rare tribute: The Republicans, Moynihan said, had become the party of ideas. Sadly, the inventory of ideas amassed by Republicans in the 1970s has not been adequately replenished in the three decades since.
Underlying the party's political, financial, and moral troubles is an intellectual exhaustion. Tenacity may yet lead the United States to better success in Iraq than might have been anticipated. What's needed in this election year, however, is more than bulldog grip: It is flexibility, creativity and careful attention to policy consequences.
"As our case is new, so we must think anew," said Abraham Lincoln when reproached with ideological unorthodoxy. That's advice from which Lincoln's party could benefit again today.
Dance, please respond to the PM I sent you a week or two ago.
the republicans have offered their response, and it is: "what are you gonna do? vote for a democrat?"
I will ignore the message and instead attack the source:
ARRRRRRGGGGGH, you dirty source!
We have been abandoned by our party
Why offer answers if they can question your patriotism for not following lock step?