Not long ago, Chairman Michael Steele of the Republican National Committee published his “Blueprint for Tomorrow — En-route to a Republican Revolution,” outlining his view of the future for the Republican Party in the U.S.
My concern is that Mr. Steele’s view is too shallow on at least two counts: 1) The “Republican” brand is not “badly tarnished,” it is non-existent, and 2) because there is no “Republican” brand, many of Mr. Steele’s plans will fail. The party needs a wholesale “house cleaning,” not reforms or improvements in their IT systems.
Chairman Michael Steele:
I am a conservative. I even count myself among “Republicans,” yet. I have just finished reading your “Blueprint For Tomorrow — En-route to a Republican Revolution” (“Blueprint”).
It may well be that the Republican Party will benefit in the coming election cycles from the radical direction the Obama administration and our current Congress are taking us. However, there is a difference between an externally driven “backlash” and what the Republican Party truly needs. What the party truly needs is an internal “revolution” or, perhaps better and more to the point, a “house cleaning.”
In “Blueprint,” your first “key point” is “Our brand is badly tarnished.” My hope is that this was an intentional understatement. From a commercial marketing standpoint the “Republican” brand is not “badly tarnished.” The “Republican” brand is essentially non-existent. Or, more properly stated: getting folks to buy the “Republican” brand today is akin to getting folks to believe that the New York Yankees of today are the same team as the New York Yankees of the 1950s and ‘60s (when I thought the World Series was “some team getting to play the Yankees at the end of the season”).
People today have little or no respect for or trust in the “Republican” brand. There have not been enough Republicans in the Senate, the House of Representatives, the White House, or even in governors’ mansions over the last 20 years who have taken a solid and forthright stand for anything more substantial than assuring their own re-election that would identify the term “Republican” with anything correlating to a “principle” or an “ideology.” (I am not saying that there have not been any, I am saying there have not been enough to constitute a “Republican” brand.)
You say, “We were the Party of competent management,” yet why were the Republicans not wailing more loudly and incessantly when President George W. Bush (a man I respect for many, many reasons) permitted the Federal Reserve to artificially suppress interest rates well below what a free market would have supported for more than two years? This action recklessly supported the already badly managed FNMA, FHLMC and FHA mortgage programs that encouraged the promotion of sub-prime mortgages. (And do not try to tell us that the Republicans have not done their share to support the programs promulgated by FNMA and the like.) The market, thus intoxicated by “easy money,” made bad capital investment choices ranging from real estate through manufacturing and distribution channels and all the way to Wall Street and the capital markets themselves.
Sound economists were not silent on the dangers inherent in this “bubble.” However, except for a few somewhat weak attempts to speak up over the years, Republicans have remained content to see “economic growth” — even if it was supported by nothing more than federal policy “hot air,” bad monetary policy, and bad banking. Instead of these weak attempts, there should have been an incessant howl raised by conscientious Republicans against what was happening.
You and I both know why there was, for the most part, little more than an occasional “squeak” of warning. The fact is, far too many Republicans — just like Democrats — receive significant campaign support from the financial sector. Indeed, the incestuous relationship between Wall Street and Capitol Hill is the single largest reason that so many financial institutions have been granted the “too large to fail” marker and handed bailout money. And, of course, when hyper-inflation comes our way in the near future, it will be the financial sector that reaps the rewards. Why? Because the financial sector gets hold of the freshly printed fiat money before price-inflation takes effect. Therefore, with billions or trillions of dollars of inflationary currency in their hands, they get first option to buy whatever assets they choose at pre-inflation prices.
This is the sickening symbiotic connection between politicians without moral anchors or sound principles and a monetary system that can readily be manipulated through a central bank. No wonder Senator Dodd needs only 5 individuals from his home state to support his campaign while he garners hundreds of thousands of dollars from out-of-state individual donors.
You say, “We were the Party of competent management,” but Republicans — just like the Democrats — have allowed the Social Security system to become nothing more than a Ponzi scheme that makes Madoff look like a piker. The only difference between what Madoff did and what the U.S. Congress — Democrats and Republicans — have done with Social Security is that no one has arrested any Congressmen or Senators (yet). Apparently this is because no matter how immoral or how unconstitutional or how (otherwise) illegal or deceptive an act of Congress might be, it is still “legal.” The fact that Republicans have participated in this — almost to the equal of their Democrat cronies — makes it virtually impossible for the “Republican” brand to mean anything to anybody anymore.
You say, “We [the Republicans] were best equipped… to stand squarely for fiscal restraint [and] smaller government.” Refresh our memories, please. We poor folks outside of Washington, DC, are having a really hard time remembering just when that time was.
Oh, we remember a few brave folks who stood up — who really stood for something — against the winds and tides of public opinion. But, even when Ronald Reagan was president, were it not for the strength of his personal will and integrity, there were those Republicans in his staff, cabinet and Congress at the time that would have readily jettisoned his economic policy for some good press and slap on the back.
Here is the thing about “brands.” Brands are not merely “names.” Behind every outstanding brand is an “idea” or an “ideology.” People who buy “Michelin” tires over some other brand are not buying “Michelin”; they are buying “safety” or “security.” People who by a “Rolex” watch over some other brand are not buying “Rolex”; they are buying “prestige.” These associations are built up over years and years. However, a “brand” that may take decades to build can be destroyed in a week of bad press.
What does the “Republican” brand stand for today? It stands for nothing. And the reason it stands for nothing is because for at least the last decade — and likely more than four decades with only spotty exceptions — the great majority of those who bore the title “Republican” have stood for no ideals and no principles. (Oh! Wait! I take that back, most of them have stood for one principle — get re-elected by any means.)
Mr. Steele, you speak of building “coalitions” and “collaborating and coordinating with center-right think tanks, grassroots organizations, and online networks.” The Republican Party’s present image is so tarnished and so degraded that you may very well have to commence these efforts by stealth.
Tell me why any organization that has, in fact, invested in building a solid reputation and “brand” around limited government, free market economics, or sound monetary policy would want to bear the risk of saying that they are “collaborating with” or in any way connected to the Republican Party at this present time? Since there is so little evidence that the Republican Party represents any of those principles or ideals, the organization with which you seek alliance puts their own “brand” at great risk in agreeing to such an association. How many Republicans speak great and marvellous things when they are stumping, just to go to Washington or the state house or elsewhere in government to give in time and time again to so-called “political expediencies.”
Here I pause to give you a specific and local example. You are, I know, well aware of our own supposedly upwardly mobile star, Governor Tim Pawlenty. Here is a man that I respect for many reasons. However, this man is a supporter of subsidies for the ethanol industry. There is at least one word in that phrase alone that should be anathema to a principled Republican: “subsidies.” A free market needs no subsidies for industry. Subsidies cause capital to be misdirected, thus damaging the economy overall. And, of course, that is not to mention the fact that this particular subsidy causes our machines to become competitors for our very food supply with little or no proven offsetting benefit of any kind.
Again, you and I both know that this nothing more than a political expedient for Governor Pawlenty. He is willing to sacrifice the principle of free markets and to extract taxes from the people he governs for this senseless waste and, in the end, for nothing more than political gain.
Is that the “Republican” brand? Because that is what many of us out here, who are trying to figure out what the “Republican” brand is, seem to find everywhere we turn.
Here is another pertinent example. Congressman Erik Paulsen recently supported the COPS Act of 2009. I wrote him the following: