While the Republican Party is casting about in an effort to recharge its brand and prepare itself for the opportunity this fall to mount a 1994-style comeback, the punditocracy in New York and Washington is decrying the lack of a GOP leader for the people to rally around.
This is less a problem than people think, for two reasons.
First, America is not a country which requires great leaders. We have certainly had them, but our successes as a nation have come mostly through private excellence in peacetime. Most people think Ulysses S. Grant was a lousy president, but it was during Grant’s presidency when the transcontinental railroad was completed by private railroad companies. America’s Gilded Age, when the country was industrialized and progressed from a war-torn proto-nation lacking in infrastructure to the world’s supreme economic power, occurred amid some of the most nameless, faceless presidents in the country’s history.
And so on.
Second, in today’s political climate the Republican Party putting forth a true leader is tantamount to giving the Democrat media/political complex a target. When Sarah Palin was identified as a rising star in the party, every effort was made to destroy her – and she went from an exciting figure to a controversial one virtually overnight (whether some of that was attributable to Palin or not, there is little question she was treated to some of the worst our political culture has to offer). In this climate it might be better for the GOP to hold off until the absolute last minute before galvanizing behind a virtually unknown outsider the other side doesn’t have the goods on – the Scott Brown campaign being a perfect example.
But a leader at the top of the party is an issue more for 2012 than 2010 in any event; a mid-term election is about some 467 different races, not one. Nationalizing those elections is a good idea, particularly amid the voter dissatisfaction abounding across the fruited plain at present, but it requires an agenda to do so rather than a personality.
And so the question becomes, how does the party galvanize behind an agenda? Should a bunch of Republican Beltway insiders sit in Michael Steele’s or John Boehner’s or Mitch McConnell’s office and hand down Ten Commandments on stone tablets to the subjects?
Or should the party operate in a fashion more in tune with its philosophy of individualist, bottom-up, free-market ideals?
If it is to be the latter, the GOP could do much worse than listen to the Tea Party Patriots, who are working on just such a bottom-up agenda. They’ve called it the Contract From America, which is a name much too derivative from the Contract For America of 1994 fame, but in all other respects appears to be exactly what the Republican Party needs. The organization has engaged in a process of whittling down a plethora of conservative ideas to an agenda of 10-12 items, and they’re currently conducting a survey of the American people to see which ideas rise to the top of our concern and which are the most important to include in a new plan for the country.
Bear in mind, this is not a Republican group. It’s a Tea Party group. As such, it’s a double-edged sword of sorts for the GOP. The party does NOT have any claim to loyalty from the Tea Party movement, which generally reacts to the Republican brand with disgust thanks to the poor performance of the party in governing over the previous decade. And to fully fuse the Tea Party movement into a GOP coalition probably will involve the movement taking over the Republican Party in the same manner that the Soros-funded statist/socialist/neo-fascist Left took over the Democrat Party from the Clintonites some time in 2005.
But a Tea Party takeover of the GOP is a good thing. It offers energy, passion, principle and sand to a party which badly lost all of those characteristics during its time of governing. The Beltway GOP has ingested so much legacy media bilge over time that it doesn’t understand conservatism sells. It doesn’t understand that what the American people want, what they’ve always wanted, is to be left alone. It has attempted to make common cause with the Left, when the Left in Washington is doing the bidding of only 20 percent of the American public – when what it needs to be doing is making common cause with the American public.
This is not leadership. It’s not even public service. And the 80 percent of the American people who as conservatives or moderates are a natural constituency for a constitutional conservative agenda know it.
In today’s National Review Online, GOP media strategist Alex Castellanos has a brilliant piece on how the GOP needs to remodel itself; Castellanos suggests that individuals acting in their own interest, otherwise known as the free market, will create order from chaos – and that is the model the Republican Party must internalize in all of its policy formulations. The concept of government as an Industrial Age assembly line is outdated, outmoded and bankrupt, yet it’s the framework for everything Democrats want to do. Instead, he argues, the GOP needs to create government-as-Facebook wherever possible; use the organizing power of individuals working in their own interests to drive societal progress. He argues that people organize into neighborhoods in the same way ants build colonies and water vapor becomes clouds; becoming comfortable with the natural gravitation into organic order as opposed to the command-and-control model of creating it is the key to capturing a generation of young voters unaccustomed and uncomfortable with being told what to do, and it just so happens to be the governing philosophy of our Founding Fathers.
Castellanos’ model is precisely on display with the Contract From America, which admittedly needs a new name. The future of the GOP, if it is to have one, is a bottom-up future. Its 2010 agenda must come from the American people, not Washington. And its next successful leader – hopefully in 2012 – will also come from the people rather than the party.