Headed to the Ham House

Every month Bob Inglis has a "Lets Talk" session at the Ham House. This month he invited Furman professor Dr. Brent Nelson to speak. I enjoyed things immensely. He took a few stances that made many republicans in the room uncomfortable. Many at the meeting seemed to think he is shaming the GOP with his language, because it does not call for a stronger move towards the Republican base. In fact, he goes the opposite direction. His article, posted in the Greenville News earlier this week lays out many of his points on the issues: "What will happen to the GOP now?"

Republicans must create New Republican Party By Brent Nelsen • November 12, 2008

Greenville News The Democrats are celebrating total victory; they haven't been this happy since 1964. The Republicans are licking wounds; they haven't been this discouraged since Nixon resigned. Each party sees nothing but success (Democrats) or failure (Republicans) from now to eternity. Both are wrong.

The beauty of the American two-party system is that neither party can hold its dominance for too long. Sober Democrats will recognize that governing a country at war and in recession will be difficult. But as hard as the next few years will be for Democrats, it is Republicans who will spend the next years in agony. But what will emerge will be a New Republican Party.Parties stung by a major defeat spend months waging civil war. Political hacks write poisonous opinion pieces followed by backstabbing books that blame opposing factions for the defeat.

Ideological extremists accuse the campaign managers of sacrificing principles for votes and call for a return to party purity. They usually get the upper hand in the short run.Such a lurch to the right by the Republican Party will only prolong the agony of defeat. The party is in deep trouble as a viable national political force, and the earlier it recognizes its fundamental weakness the faster it will recover.What ails the Republican Party? The short answer is that too few Americans call themselves Republicans.

According to the Pew Research Center one third of registered voters identified with each of the parties in 2002. By 2008 voters identifying as Democrats rose a modest 2 points to 36 percent, while voters identifying as Republicans dropped 6 points to 27 percent. If you add independents "leaning" toward each of the parties, 51 percent of the electorate identifies with the Democrats, but only 37 percent with Republicans.Such a decline in support is not unusual for long-ruling parties, especially if they engage in unpopular wars and preside over crashing markets. But more is going on here.

As Alan Abramowitz of Emory University has pointed out, the most reliable Republican voters are white, married and Christian. Unfortunately for Republicans this group is in relative decline. White married Christians in the 1950s made up nearly 80 percent of the electorate; now they make up just over 40 percent.To add insult to injury, young people are flocking to the Democrats. Exit polls from 2006 showed 43 percent of 18-29 year olds identified themselves as Democrats, but only 31 percent as Republicans. Exit polls from Nov. 4 report 66 percent of young voters opting for Obama. The only age group McCain captured was the over-65 crowd. These trends, if not countered, spell long-term disaster for Republicans.

Republicans must embrace their time in opposition as an opportunity to create the New Republican Party. The New Republican Party must find a way to move beyond its shrinking base to attract more non-white, non-married, non-Christian voters -- and to reconnect with young people. No return to hard-line principles will do the job.

So what to do? To win national elections in a more diverse America the New Republican Party must define itself by what it is for -- not what it is against. It cannot be a party of curmudgeons known only for its stand against abortion, gay marriage, gun control, illegal immigration and taxes. Such a party alienates; it strikes many as mean.

I suggest the New Republican Party offer a vision based on the traditionally conservative notion of responsibility. Conservatives understand that people are capable of great good if given great freedom -- but also great evil if not disciplined by customs, markets, laws and institutions. Citizens must be free to excel, but required to act responsibly; they must be trusted to make decisions for themselves, but encouraged to consider others when choosing.

New Republicans will rely on free markets to distribute resources, but recognize that markets remain free and politically acceptable only if government checks greed and smoothes the sharp edges of economic change. New Republicans will defend the rights of individuals to speak freely, bear arms, and enjoy the privacy of their bedrooms, but will also strengthen the communal institutions that restrain human excess -- families, religious organizations and community groups. New Republicans will pursue American interests abroad, but consider the impact of our actions on the community of nations we lead. And New Republicans will value economic development, but recognize the need to be good stewards of creation.

The New Republican Party must be comfortable with a culturally diverse America. It must welcome the immigrant shopkeeper, the single mom, the black entrepreneur and the Muslim cleric -- as well as the home-schooling dad and the wealthy broker. All can be united by a New Republican vision that encourages every person's ambition but supports the institutions that check the darker angels. Such a vision can revive a defeated party.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more. If republicans follow his advice, democrats will be forced to evaluate themselves no matter how well Obama serves as Prez. Looks like the right might be starting to get "it" right.