Many of the conservative Republicans who opposed John McCain even after he was the last Republican Presidential Candidate of 2008 rightly observed that the differences between McCain and Obama (or McCain and Bush, or Obama and Bush) were largely cosmetic in nature. They were not swayed by the rhetoric of change from the Obama campaign, but they would probably have welcomed a real substantive change even from a Democrat if any were offered. Over at the Financial Times today, Clive Crook captures the truth of this foresight in his column:
Mr Obama’s campaign always exaggerated the difference he would make on foreign policy. His style could hardly be more different from the caricature of US supremacism projected by George W. Bush, but the underlying issues were unlikely to be any easier to deal with. So it has proved. In many areas of foreign and security policy, in contrast to the clear break he is attempting in domestic policy, Mr Obama is mostly rebranding Mr Bush’s approach.
Mr Crook is absolutely right here except in his categorization of government policy as either foreign or domestic. I would say that a more accurate categorization would break foreign policy into military and trade policies while breaking domestic policy into social, monetary, and security policy. Of those categories the difference between Republican and Democratic positions are only cosmetically different on military, trade, monetary, and security policy. The only substantial difference between the two parties recently (if there is any substantial difference to be found) is in social policy.
Once upon a time the Republican party stood for something different from the Democratic party, but somewhere that changed so that functionally (meaning without regard to what both parties say) they all stand for codifying the status quo – whatever that may be on any given day.
I have some advise for a Republican party that is grasping for an identity – stand for something. Become a party of change that voters really can believe in. Everyone knows how hollow it sounds to have Republicans harping about lowering the deficit spending and not propping up "private" enterprise. It does not matter that those are good ideas that are worth standing for. In order to stand for something Republican parties around the nation need to demonstrate by their actions in those areas where they have some power (various governors and state legislatures) that they will act upon the principles that the party is vocal about. As they do that the next step should be to replace most of the Republicans in Congress with a new generation of Representatives and Senators who have not been betraying their avowed principles (or even actively standing in opposition to accepted party positions).
A clean break wtih the past and a clear adherence to party principles will be the only thing that gives the party a chance to re-emerge in its own right. Otherwise the national GOP will have to wait for people to get fed up with the foibles of the Democrats, just as they have becaome fed up wtih insincerity within the Republican ranks.