Commentary - December, 2006

REPUBLICAN VISION

POSTSCRIPT to the 2006 Elections:
A NEW REPUBLICAN VISION, FOR A CHANGE

 

The battle for the heart and minds of the 65% of the electorate that did not vote for Republican candidates on November 7th now begins. There is a vision for change in the results, but it is not a Democratic Party vision. It is a Republican vision for real change for America, a vision that could be endorsed by a future electorate. For now, the American people get to register their desire for change primarily via polls. Thus, throughout 2006, historically low percentages of people polled (28-30%) said they approved of the performance of the Republican-dominated Congress. So, why was there so much surprise in the election results?  Voters finally registered their opinion via real polls, those that count on election day. They rose up to say that what should have become, starting with the “Republican Revolution” of 1994, their own, the people’s branch of government, had become the best Congress that money can buy, a poor, weak one for all that.

 

Yet, most people are basically conservative in the best sense of the word. We like to recall the songs our fathers loved. Most Americans would like to honor the deepest, most cherished values of our national tradition -- those which have made us the beacon of hope for other peoples over two centuries: honesty, tolerance, independence, self-government, a sense of the future and, yes, dynamism -- the value of change itself. Ironically, for all the talk of “values” during this political year and earlier campaigns, the continuing battle is not basically over values but how to fulfill those that most of us already share. The fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats is not about WHAT values and goals are primary but over HOW to achieve them.

 

The key is empowerment through community. The biggest news of the last two elections has been jumps in voter turnout. There is now a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild the American political community. Our political traditions point the way -- from the bottom-up, not from the top-down -- focusing on the grassroots community level, not on what’s happening in Washington. Members of the media punditry or “chattering class,” talking or writing of 2008, make note! -- A “white knight” charging into the White House is neither a sufficient nor an appropriately American basis for change.

 

The basic question is: Do the American people want real change or just the appearance of change? Do they want change that enables them to reclaim their political heritage, the “by” and “of” in Lincoln’s “Government of the people, by the people and for the people”? Real change means the empowerment of real people so that they can have an effective voice in the decisions that effect their lives. It means the politics of participation, not just politics as a spectator sport watched by the rest of us while professional political types play their games and advance their careers. The great majority of the American people do not have the time or the money to be bouncing back and forth between their homes and state capitols or Washington, D.C. Thus, political participation is fundamentally and most effectively local, as in the old saying “All politics is local.”

 

Decentralizing government -- moving power and money out of Washington -- has long been a Republican goal. It is a key part of the Reagan legacy but its fulfillment had already been stalled under the “New Federalism.” This succeeded in moving some power and money out of Washington, but not much, and only down to the state level. Yet, to most people, state capitols are hardly closer than Washington with respect to their familiarity with what’s coming down to effect their lives. The best government is that closest to people.

 

The new Republican vision is a practical vision. It means taking such steps as:

 

Ÿ         Providing increased funding from national agencies directly to local governments and community-based organizations to help people solve problems at the local level.
Ÿ         Using national and state political party resources to help rebuild and revitalize local political committees, clubs and affiliated, community-based organizations -- the foundation of any political party.
Ÿ         Liberalizing election laws.
Ÿ         A new approach to campaign finance reform, one that values most people’s time far more than a few people’s money.
Ÿ         Reform of local governments to encourage people’s participation in government and politics.
Ÿ         Shifts of power and money, not only from the national level, but also from state capitols to local elected authorities.

 

So, empowerment through community is the crux of a new Republican vision. Many aspects of a new Republican agenda follow, including new approaches to old issues such as abortion, economic development, globalization, unemployment, family issues, social services and others that generate a lot of heat but little light. These implications can be fleshed out in due course.

 

For now, let us simply note that Republicans say “YES” to change -- change to recover the greatness of our past, not a vague hope for the future. The Republican vision is what America is all about. It is not an isolationist view but a vision illuminated by the unique role which America has played in the world since 1776. We need but to challenge ourselves as we have challenged the world with our great American experiment -- to:

 

v     Continue the American revolution.
v     Underline and advance the dignity and value of the individual; strive to build a society that enables each and any individual to reach his or her unique, full potential.
v     Keep faith: with our God, each other and the future.
v     Continually nurture the seeds of our dynamic society, so that it continuously renews itself through science, entrepreneurship and innovation; and
v     Learn how to learn and how to change so that the source of change are many and the benefits of change are shared.

 

When someone asked Ben Franklin, as he emerged from the Constitutional Convention of 1787, “What have we got, Mr. Franklin?,” he answered: “A Republic, if you can keep it.” This is just as great a challenge now as then. A new Republican vision is the best way to “keep it,” especially if we want “it” to be our Republic, not that of a monied oligarchy.

 

Peter Bearse, Ph.D., Danville, NH, 4/19/06; author of WE, THE PEOPLE: A Conservative Populism, peterJ@politicalcommunity.us

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