5 Issues Republicans Should Address At the Convention (Or After)
Being the more leftist party, I criticize Democrats frequently. But Republicans do a lot of stupid things and have plenty to answer for themselves. Here’s a list of issues I’d like to see the party address prominently to the American people (at the ongoing Republican National Convention would be an ideal choice, but anytime during the rest of the campaign would be good).
Explain Why We Should Trust That Republicans Will Get Spending Right This Time. Republicans criticize the President, and rightly so, for spending like a drunken sailor. His massive and wasteful stimulus was bad enough as a one time deal, but he’s since set the new baseline at post-stimulus levels, and has called for ever more spending each year. But it’s important to remember that the big spending didn’t start with Obama.
Republicans can’t simply excuse Bush’s big spending as a response to an unusual financial crisis. Yes, a lot of money was spent in response to the financial meltdown, and perhaps that can be excused even if it was misguided. But what’s the excuse for creating a massive new prescription drug entitlement? Or the 30% increase in federal subsidy programs? Or the massive increase in regulatory spending? Simply put, when Republicans most recently controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress, they spent like drunken sailors, too. They need to explain clearly how they’ve internalized the lessons of those mistakes, and what controls are or will be in place to ensure they aren’t repeated.
Articulate a Foreign Policy Vision. When then-candidate George W. Bush was campaigning against sitting Vice President Al Gore, he contrasted the humanitarian interventionism of the Clinton years with his vision for a more restrained US foreign policy. In one of the Presidential debates, Bush was asked about US efforts in Somalia, as well as the other interventions in Kosovo and Haiti. He said, “[Kosovo] started off as a humanitarian mission and it changed into a nation-building mission, and that’s where the mission went wrong. The mission was changed. And as a result, our nation paid a price. And so I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building. I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win war. I think our troops ought to be used to help overthrow the dictator when it’s in our best interests. But in this case it was a nation-building exercise, and same with Haiti. I wouldn’t have supported either.”
That went out the window after 9/11. After overthrowing the Taliban and destroying the al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan used to stage the 9/11 attacks…we stayed for another ten years and engaged in nation building.
Republican foreign policy has become increasingly schizophrenic since 2000. There are plenty of threats and potential threats identified – North Korea, Iran, Global Jihad, China – but a collections of enemies does not a foreign policy make. What is the overall strategy? Is it realist? Interventionist? Internationalist? And how should US forces be best put to work around the world? Do we really need to supply Europe with a security blanket – effectively subsidizing their social welfare states? Do we still need an entangling NATO alliance in a world without a Warsaw Pact?I haven’t the first clue how most in the Republican party leadership would answer these questions. So far, the only common thread detectible in Republican foreign policy views of recent years is that they don’t like whatever it is Obama is doing. That’s not good enough. They need a comprehensive foreign policy vision of their own, and they need to explain it to the American people.
Stop Supporting Big Government When It Suits You. Republicans are against big government, except when they’re for it. Like when it comes to attacking pornography, or outlawing internet poker – both items just codified in the party platform. Whatever your views on either activity, enforcing morality is not the proper role of government. It’s role is to defend rights. Certainly, morality and rights often overlap. Preventing murder protects the individual right to life and enforces a moral code. But prohibiting activities between consenting adults – whether it filming or watching sexual activity, or engaging in a card game and waging money – where no one’s rights are violated is not a proper activity of a limited government. Voters want smaller government, but adopting big government policies in some areas not only alienates those who actually believe in limited government, but it undermines the ability to convincingly criticize nanny state policies when pursued by Democrats.
Apply Federalist Principles Consistently. This is similar to the above point. Republicans talk a good decentralized game, but haven’t done so well in practice. From No Child Left Behind, to federal marriage laws, to supporting federal prosecution of marijuana users and growers otherwise in compliance with state laws, Republicans want states to be able to exercise their sovereignty, unless they disagree with how they use it. States are becoming increasingly dependent upon the federal gravy train, and this is a dangerous trend that must be reversed before it threatens the very fabric of our governmental system.
Acknowledge the Problems In Our Criminal Justice System. Conservatives are naturally predisposed toward law and order, which can create a bit of conflict with our other beliefs, such a distrust for government power. It is government, after all, that is tasked with creating and enforcing the law. All too often Republicans think that addressing criminal justice requires little more than a reflexive reminder that they are “tough on crime.” That’s not good enough.
Innocent people should be protected from criminals. Criminals should be punished for their crimes. These are fantastic principles, but they aren’t the only ones that matter when it comes to criminal justice. Innocent people should also be protected from being punished unfairly, after all. And what about a prison system that takes non-violent offenders and turns them into hardened criminals? In what world is allowing that to continue a good policy? Or prosecutors, agents of the federal government, who abuse their power and flaunt the laws they are supposed to enforce, yet go unpunished?
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve also got a police force that has become increasingly militarized and is now using SWAT-like tactics to enforce even petty crimes, and frequently against the wrong people at that. Asset forfeiture laws encourage police to harass law-abiding citizens and steal their property for their own gain. We also have an ever expanding federal criminal code that is turning all of us into felons. And all that’s without even getting into the failed and costly debacle that is the Drug War.
There are some folks on the right seriously talking about criminal justice reform. Right on Crime articulates a set of conservative principles for reform, including transparency, accountability, and a focus on the victims as system “consumers,” among other commendable goals. Prominent conservatives and Republicans have signed onto the initiative, including Jeb Bush, Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich, Edwin Meese and David Keene, among others.
But reforms are less likely if Republicans don’t start talking about these issues to the public. An opportunity to make people safer, protect fundamental rights and save money at the same time is one that Republicans should jump at.