Blueprint for a comeback

It's time for Republicans to reinvent their party for the future by looking to its progressive past

November 06, 2008|By Chrysovalantis P. Kefalas

To move forward, often we must revisit the past. The Republican Party was first organized to fight the expansion of slavery and to preserve and promote "republican" values, namely opposition to aristocracy and corruption. In addition, the infant party advocated a progressive vision of modernizing the United States, focusing on education, banking, cities and railroads.

In many respects, the party has become the party for the aristocracy, a tool for corruption, and anti-freedom. Indeed, modern Republican economic policy has, in part, resulted in the largest income divide between rich and poor since Herbert Hoover and the largest government interference in business since the Great Society. Its effort to reduce (and eliminate) the estate tax has begun to preserve an aristocratic class. The party's members have engaged in corrupt practices of the worst kind (think of the Jack Abramoff scandal).

Moreover, the party's complicity in expanding government to a level not seen in the history of this country, the accompanying record increases in spending, and the curtailing of civil liberties have left this nation less free. Combine that with the resultant divisiveness, and the party has brought us an America less able to address the nation's myriad problems, such as the national debt that consumes nearly 10 percent of the federal budget in interest payments.

Add to all the party's domestic problems its unqualified support of the military-industrial complex and the notion of the U.S. as the world's police force, and the Republican Party is unrecognizable from its origins. With more than 4,000 American lives lost in a war initiated as a consequence of a lack of thoroughly vetted intelligence, and the recent Wall Street collapse, the GOP's crushing defeat Tuesday was hardly a surprise.

The party's resurgence will not come by reverting to the Karl Rove playbook of attacking its opponents and relying on the strength of evangelical Christian and Southern support. No, we need a new-generation Republican Party and a broader base of support that embraces the party's past to preserve and advance America's future.

How do we get there? It begins with recognizing America's limitations (we cannot fight or intervene everywhere) and by shepherding an agenda built on the bedrock principles of Republicanism: realistic economic liberalism, anti-corruption, fiscal conservatism and personal freedom. Moreover, like the first Republicans, new-generation Republicans must advance a progressive vision of modernizing the United States.

A new-generation GOP should focus on attacking the federal deficit, which handcuffs America's economy, job creation and national and individual prosperity. The party should also commit to streamlining the federal government and reducing our military footprint in other nations while investing in America's infrastructure and strengthening foreign intelligence-gathering.

Further, Republicans should champion increasing transparency in government and adding more teeth to the public ethics laws. The party must advocate major reforms of America's educational ("choice" should be the keyword) and criminal justice systems, which disproportionately fail our minority communities. In addition, to leave this nation better than how we found it, "government-lite" health care, environmental and social reforms must find a place on the agenda.

On the latter point, here are two suggestions: Let's get the government out of the business of marriage altogether, leaving that to religious institutions, and into the business of equal rights. On the abortion issue, we should focus narrowly on an achievable national legislative consensus to end the practice of partial-birth abortion.

In short, a new-generation GOP must start with getting government back to the basics and making sure it does the basics well, to build a lasting foundation for America's renaissance. By trying to be everywhere and do everything, the government has overburdened American resources. By attempting to do all that we want, we have limited our ability to do what we need. It's time for a new Republican mission, steeped in old ideas that once served us well.

Chrysovalantis P. Kefalas is a Maryland attorney and former deputy legal counsel to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. His e-mail is

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