Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Republican Defeat: Looking to the Future

A close look at the election results shows hope of a comeback for the Republican Party. It will not happen by itself. These are the issues I believe need to be addressed.

Millions of African American voters were inspired to come out and vote for Barack Obama. Looking into the faces of my older Black neighbours, I empathised completely,even though I voted and campaigned against Obama

There was a footnote to the election results that really should be a banner headline. Voters who put Barack Obama in the White House voted like religious conservatives when given the opportunity to do so. Proposition Eight, which legally defined marriage in California as being between a man and a woman, was defeated by the electorate, with a margin strengthened by African Americans and Hispanics.

Barack Obama was able to command personal loyalty, but when something appeared on the ballot that did not coincide with tradition then it lost.

On the one hand this shows a triumph of advertising over common sense. Obama’s voting record was public knowledge, as were his friendships and religious affiliations. People wanted to believe, and they were willing to suspend disbelief in order not to wake up from a dream. We have four years to reflect on the wisdom or folly of this collective decision.

There are those who scold John McCain for trying to be “bipartisan.” I am almost tempted to join them. Closer examination of the election results leads me to another conclusion.

McCain wanted to win liberal support by making enough concessions to his opponents to win them over. Instead, he created apathy among his base and emboldened his opponents. McCain’s mistake was not his alone but of the Republican party in general. Instead of “reaching across the aisle”, he should have questioned existing boundaries as well as their underlying premises.

There are social questions such as abortion and gay rights. There is the pressing issue of one parent families. The government creates a favourable regulatory climate for business. What about promoting marriage? There are countless clergy who are promoting this for religious reasons. There are sound social and psychological reasons as well. Marriage itself is in danger of becoming an “alternative life style”. A generation is growing up in which millions of children see very dysfunctional models of relationships between men and women. It is creating a ripple effect of mental illness and crime. The best “program” to promote social stability is the family.

The family has to be “funded”. The soundest way to do this is work, which ideally funds itself in the context of the greater economy. Henry Ford recognised that he could become wealthy by paying his workers enough to buy the cars he produced. He did not only spur a revolution in automobiles but in ideas about labour as well.Many of these ideas need to be rediscovered.

Companies that employ American residents at wages that do not require subsidy should be rewarded. Companies that send jobs overseas are not helping as many American residents as those who employ workers in America. This is a simple fact. Tax laws should address the hidden social costs of “outsourcing”.

There is an alternative to pitting American workers against workers abroad. It involves widening the circle of consumers and increasing market saturation. A perfect example is India. Instead of having Indians undercut American workers, would it not be better to design a car for India? The car has already been designed. If it takes off, a huge new market can be created that would complement instead of undercut American workers.

There is another issue that needs to be addressed. Food stamps do not just subsidise families. They subsidise corporations as well by supplementing their payrolls. It would be great to have every grocey bill paid for with cash instead of food stamps. Moving towards that goal will take creativity and time. We have not even taken the first steps.

Prison reform is another issue that should be tackled. There is a higher percentage of African Americans in prison. Many could be helped by training, therapy and education to earn a living in a constructive way. They should be separated from those who need to be removed from society.

Affirmative action can and should be redefined. There are impoverished areas in Appalachia which should be targeted for educational opportunities. There are wealthy African Americans who no longer need this extra helping hand. Poor or socially impoverished people who show potential should be given remedial help and then an opportunity to succeed in a university environment. This colour blind approach would probably gain widespread support among fair minded people of all ethnicities.

These are a few concerns that I would like to see addressed by a revitalised Republican Party.

The concerns of African Americans have a resonance in the larger society. I look at New York with great frustration. We have in the Big Apple an entrenched Democratic machine that passes out goodies at taxpayer expense and stays in power that way. There is a wellspring of social conservatism in the African American community that has no political voice to speak of on the local or national level. There are conversations at dinner tables across America that are amazingly similar. Anyone who can create a movement that will recognise this can reshape the American political spectrum.

Our political and religious institutions were created in a segregated time. Much has changed in American society. I do not agree with the “reaching across the aisle” approachewhere one waters down principles in the hope of attracting opponents to one’s side. It is far better to be forthright and have a contest of ideas.

The bane of our political culture is low level class warfare. The major faiths in America focus on cultivating the goodness of the individual and transcending class divisions. The heart of altruism is focusing not only on one’s own family or class but considering the needs of other societal sectors as well.

We should attempt to extract a coherent social program from America’s Judeo Christian tradition. There is an argument in the field of constitutional law about seeking out the intent of the founding fathers versus adapting the constitution to modern times. There are similar arguments about religious faith as well. We need to face honestly the demands of faith upon the individual and upon society.

There is a natural and deeply ingrained conservatism among many African Americans. It is possible to put together a social agenda that will unite people of all races. It can unite Christians, Jews and all people of faith and good will. It has not yet happened because we have not made it happen. If the idea exists, if the dream persists, then so too does the potential. It is up to us.

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