It's your move, GOP

March 29, 2010|By Douglas MacKinnon

With President Barack Obama's victory in the passage of "Obamacare," I've heard a number of Republicans say, "The Democrats have won the battle but lost the war." Really? Prior to that, as Mr. Obama lost his footing on the utopian pedestal he was idealistically elevated upon, I heard other Republicans say, "He's a one-term president like Jimmy Carter."

These have indeed been tough days and weeks for the Obama White House. That said, myopic comments like those can only be music to the ears of battle-tested Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod. Leaving the merits of Obamacare aside (I strongly oppose), the president, Mr. Emanuel and Mr. Axelrod understand what these shortsighted Republicans do not. Effective politics is much akin to champion chess. It's not the next move that matters, but often move 15 which results in a perceived victory.

Many in the GOP are still loath to admit it, but clearly, one of the secrets to the success of Bill Clinton was that he was an exceptional political chess player. Mr. Clinton understood then what President Obama understands now: Winning politics means advancing your pieces to the spot that most resonates with the broadest cross-section of Americans.

To win in 2010 and 2012, the GOP is going to have to cast aside canned political pabulum and come to the chessboard armed with credible, easy-to-grasp alternatives that speak directly to the electorate. Understanding that, and given their recent, stinging reminder about the power of incumbency and majority rule, the Republicans must strategically select issues that most expose the weaknesses and hypocrisy of Team Obama. One such issue for the taking is school vouchers for low-income families.

As one who attended a few horrific and dangerous inner-city schools as a child, this issue has never been theoretical for me. Additionally, as one who has worked political communications for a number of years, I have long believed that this is a hot-button subject that resonates with a majority of Americans.

While the Democrats have their share of problems, the Republicans have one they must confront immediately if they hope to survive as a party in the coming decades: the changing complexion of our nation. As an independent conservative married to a Hispanic-American, I know that much of "minority" America has an intrinsic distrust of the Republican Party. I also know that -- leaving party labels aside -- many of the African-Americans I grew up with, as well as the Hispanic-Americans I know now, are intuitively conservative in their thinking. As such, Republicans who leave the political rhetoric at the door have a real chance to change such deeply ingrained thinking.

They need to look at that chessboard. What is the next logical move that will most effectively advance their agenda? If the GOP agrees that it has no choice but to reach out to minority America, then the school voucher issue is tailor-made.

As has been reported, the Democrat-controlled Senate -- for purely self-serving reasons -- killed the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a program which, since its inception, has allowed hundreds of needy children to flee abysmal public schools and find refuge and true hope in private schools. Why would the majority of Democrats and the Obama White House want to end such a desperately needed program? Simple. Their allegiance to (and fear of) powerful teachers unions.

Most of these children are from minority groups, and this is an issue that speaks to their parents in the loudest voice possible. It's also an issue that is portable. If I were the Republican "leadership," I would start appearing on minority media and within their communities and aggressively and repeatedly ask, "What do the Obama White House and many Democrats have against poor and minority schoolchildren?" Or, to quote the rhetorical question posed by California Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein, "What is everybody scared of?"

Nobody likes a bully. The teachers unions are the biggest, baddest bullies in the schoolyard. With the help of the Obama administration, they continue to protect bad teachers, lousy schools and the massive wasting of taxpayer money at the expense of innocent, poor and minority children. Children for whom quality education may literally be their one and only chance for a better and safer life.

It's your move, GOP. What's it going to be? Tired, useless clichés -- or a cause that truly matters?

Douglas MacKinnon was press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole. He is also a former White House and Pentagon official and a novelist. His e-mail is douglas.mackinnon@verizon.net.

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