Friday, July 13, 2007

Waiting to be Wooed

By DAVID BROOKS Published: November 30, 2006
I’ve never been a swing voter before. For most of my adult life I’ve felt the Republicans tended to have the best approaches to expand economic opportunity, meet foreign threats and restore a culture of personal responsibility. But over the past few years I’ve grown estranged from many Republicans, especially the ones leading the House. I’m one of those suburbanites who thought the G.O.P. deserved to lose the last election, and now I find myself floating out there in independent-land, not a Democrat, just looking for something new.
It’s like being the belle of the ball, because the Republicans really need to woo back people like me. I hope they won’t mind if I offer a little advice on how to do it.
First, don’t listen to your consultants. Over the next few months, pollsters are going to pick out the key demographic groups (left-handed Catholic orthopedists) and offer advice on how to kiss up to those people. Majorities are never built that way. You end up proposing inconsequential micropolicies and selling your soul.
Don’t focus on groups, focus on problems. If you have persuasive proposals to address big problems, the majority coalition will build itself.
Second, be policy-centric, not philosophy-centric. American conservatism grew up out of power and has always placed great emphasis on doctrine. Today, in the wake of this month’s defeat, Republicans are firing up the old debate among social conservatives, free-market conservatives and others about the proper role of the state. This stale, abstract debate will never lead anywhere and only inhibits creative thinking.
The Republican weakness is not a lack of grand principles, it’s a lack of concrete policies commensurate with the size of 21st-century problems. If they would shelve the doctrinal debate for a second, Republicans — while not doing violence to their belief in the market, traditional values or anything else — could find plenty of policy ideas to deal with China and India, the entitlement crisis and so on.
Third, create a Republican Leadership Council. In the realm of ideas, Democrats own the center. Moderate Democrats have the Democratic Leadership Council, the Third Way and various cells within the Brookings Institution, such as the Hamilton Project. Republican moderates are intellectual weaklings. They have no independent identity, so it’s no wonder centrist voters prefer Democrats on one domestic issue after another.
Fourth, support stem cell research. This has become a symbolic issue denoting fundamental attitudes about science and progress. Moderates can understand why somebody is anti-abortion. But opposing stem cell work seems to close off research that could alleviate human suffering for the sake of a theoretical abstraction.
Fifth, support free trade, while responding to the downside of globalization. When the industrial age kicked in, many European nations built an elaborate welfare state, but didn’t aggressively expand educational opportunity. Americans didn’t build as big a welfare system, but, as the blogger Reihan Salam pointed out recently, we spent a lot on schools to foster social mobility.
The American way is to help people compete, not shield them from competition. Today that means nurturing stable families in which children can develop the social and cultural capital they need to thrive. (A significant expansion of the child tax credit would ease the burden on young parents.) It means publicly funded, though not necessarily publicly run, preschool programs in which children from disorganized homes can learn how to learn. It means radical school reform: performance pay for teachers, an end to the stupid certification rules, urban boarding schools where educators can set up local cultures of achievement, locally run neighborhood child centers to service an array of health and day-care needs.
Sixth, spread assets. Every citizen, from birth, should have an I.R.A.-type savings account. The tax code should encourage personal and employer contributions. These accounts would enhance savings and encourage an investor mentality, and once Americans became comfortable with them, they could be used as tools to reform Social Security and health care funding.
Seventh, raise taxes on carbon emissions and use the revenue to make the tax cuts on capital gains and dividends permanent. This would spur energy innovation and encourage investment more generally.
Over the past few years, the G.O.P. has become like a company with a great mission statement, but no domestic policy products to sell. Now’s the time to get granular. And the thing to remember is, we disaffected voters are easy. We want to go home with you if you’ll give us a reason.

My Comment:
I was delighted to see David Brooks article on how the Republican Party can woo the voters. He offered seven specific proposals. I agree with all of them. A couple, I was really excited about. His point number 4 was Support Steam Cell Research. yes!. I am pro-life, but we have allowed the nuts in the pro-life movement to weld too much power in the party. The Terry Shivo issue and steam cell research opposition is extreme pro-life. I know the difference between studying a frozen zygote that was to be discarded anyway and killing babies. And, I think most Americans to do.
His point Seven was Raise taxes on Carbon Emissions. YES! No one wants to pay more for gas, but we need to. Democrats believe in global warming, were out front on the issue and they own the issue; but, they don't have the guts to do anything about it. The science is in, it is for real and we need to do something. The public is concerned about Global Warming and I think they would embrace a call for a carbon tax if it was offset by an increase in the standard income deduction and other tax reform. If someone would lead, I thing the public would follow. If we would raise the price of gas and then all of the alternative fuels could flourish.
These two points I was delighted to see and other were also good.
I would add a commitment to ending poverty. Not subsidizing it, but continuing well fare reform and addressing the problem of the permanent underclass.
The Republican Party of today is not the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan. I feel like I have l ost the party I was committed to and cared about and believed in. Spending like drunken sailors and the Iraq fiasco leaves me feeling not at home in this party anymore. I want to be wooed also.
Rod Williams Nashville TN 37203

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