A New Tune for the GOP

Note to Readers:  See how many song titles you can find in this article. Extra credit goes to those who can name the artists as well. Send your responses to me before the end of October and the winner will be named in the November T.E.A.M. Report (You don't get the T.E.A.M. Report? Sign up here!).  Democrats and independents can play along, too (grin)!

The Republican Party has been all out of love since the last election and who can blame them? Election Day hit the GOP like a sledgehammer, knocking Republicans out of office across the country, even those with high job approval ratings – Maryland’s gubernatorial race is Exhibit A.  None of the GOP presidential contenders seem to be able to inspire and unify the coalition of fiscal, social and national security conservatives that Ronald Reagan created in 1980 and which held the party together until last year. The GOP is also suffering from a credibility gap when it comes to its strongest selling points. It can’t declare itself the party of fiscal responsibility when it spends government money like a material girl, or the party of national security when our leaders are all shook up over how to fight the war in Iraq, or the party of family values when Representative Foley and Senators Vitter and Craig are looking for love in all the wrong places. With the 2008 Presidential election just around the corner, it’s time for Republicans to put a quarter in the jukebox and pick a different song. Here are some of my favorites:

Get back – If there’s one thing that Republicans can do to rebuild, they need to remember what it means to be a Republican. That means being the party of limited but effective government, less regulation, lower taxes, national security, personal liberty, and community values. You’ve got to stand for something, and it should be something different than your opposition so the voters have a real choice to make.

Don’t be cruel – The term “compassionate conservative” has become a punch line because we’re perceived as mean-spirited and uncaring, the party that always says “no,” usually accompanied with a sour expression and angry tone. It doesn't have to be that way. Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee likes to say, “I’m a conservative — but I’m not mad at anybody over it.” He’s generally perceived as a friendly and funny guy, even though he’s an unapologetic conservative. Ronald Reagan was known for his optimism and pictures usually captured him with a smile on his face.  It’s entirely possible to be conservative and kind – in fact, most of us are. We just need to try a little tenderness in our demeanor and teach our leaders to do the same.

Working for a living – What is the most pervasive stereotype about Republicans? That we’re the party of the rich. I know that’s not the case – my bank account is evidence of that (grin)! Still, to the casual observer, it does appear that the GOP’s leadership devotes more time to policies directed at Wall Street and K Street and left Main Street to the paternalism of the Democrats. We need to start talking about the issues that families sitting around their kitchen tables talk about, and offer solutions to the problems that bring them the most anxiety – health care, education, and jobs, just to name a few. Most importantly, we need to address the kitchen table issues like Republicans, showing the American people some respect as adults who have earned the right of self-governance and are capable of making sound decisions if given viable market-based choices and the freedom to choose.

Reach out and touch – If we as Republicans do not believe government is the solution for the social problems that challenge us, we need to do more than stay "no" to entitlement programs - we need to say "yes" to voluntary collective action that helps those who can't help themselves. The most effective weapon we have against the Democrats pandering to the needy with your tax dollars is for you to meet their needs - straight up. One of the most powerful lessons of Hurricane Katrina is that while government at all levels failed the people in their hour of most urgent need, private companies, community service organizations and churches responded quickly, delivered effectively and continue to be engaged today. The liberals believe that we as a people are neither capable of nor willing to meet the needs of our fellow citizens and the only way to fill the gap is to take the fruits of our labor and redistribute them to those whom the government deems worthy. They have forgotten the amazing power of volunteers with something to believe in who give unconditionally of their time, talent and treasure. They need a champion and the GOP can certainly fill that role, but we also need to be working right alongside them. If we want to lessen the power of government, unleash the power of love and fill the gap that government is trying to fill but is ill-equipped to do so.

That's the playlist for a new GOP. It's time to let the music play, and it had better be the real thing this time because if we go astray, the voters won't get fooled again.