Friday, December 14, 2012

Where Now, Republicans?

Having missed a grand opportunity to defeat Barack Obama, Republicans seem increasingly to be in disarray.

Dealing with a president who sees politics as conflict and who wants his opponents to grovel, they have precious few viable options.

It seems inevitable that they will lose the “fiscal cliff” skirmish. The party will split between those who will yield on taxes and those who want to stand for principle.

It looks as though they lose either way.

As it did during the election campaign, the Republican Party needs a leader. Mitt Romney was not a leader; neither was Paul Ryan.

For now, Republicans are stuck with John Boehner and he seems incapable of providing leadership.

Republican prospects would improve if the party could find a better communicator, but the man who is arguably the best it has to offer, Chris Christie, came down with a case of Obamaphilia at a most inopportune moment and has, for now, sidelined himself.

But, it also needs a master political strategist to lead it out of the dead end that Obama, with the help of the electorate, has put it in.

For now Republicans seem to be at war only against themselves. They have been trapped in the political kabuki theatre that Barack Obama has staged.

The Republican National Committee might adopt as a motto the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin: “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."

This morning Peggy Noonan suggests that Republicans need to sit down and have a talk, the better to develop new ideas and new thinking.

Noonan seems to have lit on the problem, not the solution. Republicans are engaged in a large, unruly public conversation. Without a leader who can provide a working concept that will define the party, the conversation sounds increasingly cacophonous.

Republicans need an attitude adjustment. In place of bleak pessimism they need confidence and optimism. They need to be optimistic about their future and optimistic about America’s future.

Franklin Roosevelt was an optimist. Ronald Reagan was an optimist. Margaret Thatcher was an optimist. John Boehner cries in public.

As you know from your personal life, any time anyone tells you that you all need to sit down and talk things out, nothing good is going to come of it.

Republicans should begin by understanding what they are dealing with. They are not just dealing with an economic crisis and a lingering recessionary environment. They are dealing with an electorate that has largely abandoned any hope that anyone can solve the problem.

In a way, the American popular mood is like the Republican mood: they think that no matter what they do, they will lose out.

If Americans thought there was a solution they would have voted for a problem solver.

To succeed in such an environment a political party must first offer optimism, hope for the future, a sense that our best days are ahead of us.

Increasingly, the nation believes that its best days are behind it.It does not believe that it can compete with the Chinese. It has amassed so much debt that it does not believe that it will ever be paid down.

Americans seem reconciled to decline and have decided to throw themselves one last party, damn the cost.

In the last two elections Barack Obama spoke to the national despair. He offered an antidote: hope.

By now everyone knows that it was false hope. Having seen hope betrayed, they have refused to believe that the fault lies in their own poor judgment, for having elected Barack Obama. They prefer to believe that no one could possibly have solved the problem.

The American people seem increasingly to believe that depression, whether psychological or economic, should be medicated.

They do not believe in solving problems, confronting danger and uncertainty, being self-reliant and hard-working.

They believe in masking symptoms by giving artificial mood enhancers.

The psycho-pharmaceutical approach to clinical depression resembles the  Obama/Bernanke approach to the economic depression.

Our nation has been masking the symptoms while waiting for the great reckoning.

We have an economy that is running on anti-depressants, or better, on amphetamines and stimulants. We have been treating economic problems with fiscal stimulus, monetary stimulus, deficit spending and money printing.

We allowed it because we have been told that the alternative is much worse. Without the stimulus the economy would have fallen off a cliff and into a debt spiral.

The policies have produced a lingering mild depression. Our leaders have consoled us with the thought that it could have been much worse.

For now Democrats are married to the economic policies of Obama and Bernanke. If Republicans hope to regain their political leverage they will need to start selling optimism about the future.

They are not going to succeed by selling nostalgia for the glories of past Republican administrations.

They are not going to succeed by selling criticism of the current administration.

They will only succeed if they develop a strategy that will convince Americans that their best days are ahead of them.

They must know that things are going to get worse before they get better. They must know that you can only forestall the reckoning for so long.

When it comes, Republicans will want to be the party that can see through the slough of despond toward a better and brighter future.

Without an optimistic vision austerity will feel like unnecessary deprivation, not like a path to a better future.