Change You Can Believe In

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.

6 comments for “Change You Can Believe In

  1. March 30, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    I do not believe that most people favor radical change. It is for this reason that most of our political debates revolve around a handful of relatively fringe issues. We strain at the gnat but swallow the camel.

    Actually, most people don’t want to change the camel much. They just want normalcy. Each major party consists of such a large conglomeration of interests that neither can help but be relatively close to center.

    Our politicians operate in a political culture that attracts and retains people that function well within that culture. Most of us wouldn’t consider it a very pleasant culture. As with any statistical model, there are the outliers — politicians that are either unusually good or unusually bad — but most group around the average of the culture.

    If you want to change the way our politicians act, you have to change the political culture in which they operate. That is a very challenging task that nobody wants to take on in real life.

  2. March 30, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Some of us are eager to take on the challenging task of changing the political culture. (No, I have no illusions that it will be guaranteed, fast, or easy.) You are right though about why the two parties stay so close to “center.” The key is to help define a new center around which they can orient themselves – one that recognizes a few economic realities for example.

  3. March 30, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    I was a broken record on this subject during the campaign. That’s why I was dismayed that Reach Upward and others scoffed at the idea that Ron Paul was the only real alternative.

  4. March 30, 2009 at 4:25 pm


    You were among the foremost people in my mind when I wrote about “conservative Republicans who opposed John McCain even after he was the last Republican Presidential Candidate of 2008.”

    I applaud your frankness on so many subjects. (No pun intended.)

  5. March 30, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Frank is right about where real conservatives should have ended up during the campaign, but David, honestly, it is hard to take a post seriously when it begins with a statement that there is little difference between Obama, McCain, and Bush.

    I’d argue such a statement warrants a bit more backup sourcing and example than you’ve provided, lest the entire premise be based on a supposition that is far too easy to poke holes in, simply because there is little truth behind it.

    The argument you make can be made (and would carry more weight) without stretching the boundaries of reality in order to make it.

  6. March 30, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    I would like to see anyone who believes there are real substantive differences between those political figures in any area besides social policy (where I admitted that some difference might be found) to show some evidence of those differences. Obviously there are some significant differences of style or rhetoric, but in the end even the order to close Guantanamo did not change the fact that the new administration is fighting in the middle east much like the previous administration. They focus on the withdrawal date, but that is significantly closer to the status of forces agreement that the Bush administration made than it is to the campaign promises of Obama. Had McCain become president by some miracle a withdrawal similar to what Obama is doing would have been much more likely than the 100 year occupation that McCain was accused of promoting.

    You must live in a very narrow reality if it is a stretch to say that McCain, Obama, and Bush are more alike in practice than they are different (and more alike in practice than in rhetoric).

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